The Calgary Flames have been a thorn on the Kings’ side in two of the last three seasons. After a close race in 2014-15, the Calgary Flames finished just two points ahead of the Kings in the standings, leaving Los Angeles on the outside looking in. And let’s not forget about then-rookie Matthew Tkachuk’s audacious elbow on Drew Doughty last March, which suspended Tkachuk for two games. Like it or not, the Flames have emerged as one of the Kings’ most annoying rivals, and they have beefed up their roster last summer. However you slice it, the Kings cannot enter the postseason without first cooling down Calgary.
But last night was not the inspired, energetic start that the Kings hoped for against a Pacific Division rival. After a penalty by the struggling Adrian Kempe, Tkachuk scored only 3:56 into the game on a rebound try after a wraparound. Jake Muzzin gambled by anticipating a pass to the slot, leaving an opening for Tkachuk to pivot into Jonathan Quick’s doorstep.
Less than four minutes later, after a breakout that was well-defended at first, Michael Frolik dropped the puck off to Johnny Gaudreau at the faceoff circle. Muzzin foolishly gambled with his stick to attempt to steal the puck, leaving a hole for Frolik to slip through, receive the puck from Gaudreau, and put it in past a hapless, outstretched Quick.
Mike Smith, the new starting goaltender acquired by trade with the Arizona Coyotes, made some athletic saves reminiscent of those of Quick. Compared to the relatively fallible goaltending of Brian Elliott last season, Smith is another reason, besides Tkachuk and Gaudreau, why the Flames are a popular, exciting team to watch for in 2017-18.
Calgary mostly neutralized the Los Angeles breakout in the first period, leaving the Kings unable to unleash their offensive creativity. The Kings outshot the Flames 15-13, but most shots were harmless ones from the point, with no traffic or tipping—a depressing reminder of last season’s anemic play.
The Kings continued to be stagnant. A Kyle Clifford shoulder injury led to retaliation by Andy Andreoff for a double minor. After two successful penalty kills, it seemed the Kings offense was lulling the crowd—and the Flames—to sleep. But at 15:44, a wrist shot by Anze Kopitar through inadvertent traffic by Matt Bartkowski zinged off the post, for his third goal in three games:
The Kings offense finally came alive, with the return of quick passing and breakouts, and successive peppery attacks.
Alex Iafallo got his first NHL point! Three Flames were too preoccupied with the rookie behind the goal line, so he passed the puck to Doughty for a knucklepuck point shot that is tipped by—guess who—Dustin Brown! Whoa!
Less than two minutes later, Dustin Brown did it again! He too got his third goal in three games. This one was from a point shot by Derek Forbort. Credit Iafallo, who created confusion by skating in from the high slot to set up the shooting lane. Is Iafallo the winger that Kopitar is finally looking for?
When’s the last time both Brown and Kopitar scored for two games in a row? The Kings imposed their will on offense in the third period. But in the seventh minute, Brown’s hat trick bid was denied by Mike Smith, who kept the game competitive with his heroism at net.
It would prove huge, as Tkachuk wristed the puck past Quick to tie the game, after the Kings failed to secure the puck in the neutral zone.
With 5:55 remaining, Frolik pressed Doughty’s face against the glass, another reminder of last spring. But this time it was met with a response by the Kings. The rest of the game was a ruckus. Hooking on Doughty with 4:31 left. Then a Tkachuk penalty for interfering with Quick led to another scrum, a takedown of Nick Shore, and priceless footage of Doughty jawing with Tkachuk at the penalty box. More minors by Troy Brouwer and Brown. Doughty got angry out of the penalty box and shot a wild slap shot, and Quick made two big saves on odd-man chances by Mark Giordano and Tkachuk.
But in overtime, inability of Shore to hold onto the puck led to a Calgary 2-on-2 rush, with the third man trailing. T.J. Brodie fed the puck to Sean Monahan, who shot it into a wide-open net.
It was an exciting game for a general audience, with momentum shifts, rough action, and beautiful offense and defense. But Kings fans are left scratching their heads as to why John Stevens would put Trevor Lewis and Nick Shore in as the second overtime line, ahead of Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. The Kings are now 24-8 in games decided in 3-on-3 overtime. Per Jon Rosen, with this loss, Calgary has overtaken Los Angeles for the NHL’s best 3-on-3 overtime record.
Jaromir Jagr was quiet in his Flames debut, with no shots in 13:38 of ice time.