Here we embark on a six-game road trip—a significant early test to determine whether the best start in Kings history is for real. The Columbus Blue Jackets, entering the game, were 5-2-0 for third in the Metropolitan Division.
The Blue Jackets paid tribute to Willie O’Ree, the first black player in the NHL. The importance of United States history to the Blue Jackets is evident, with their team name, and a humble rendition of the Star-Spangled Banner by Leo Welsh. And after every goal, the Blue Jackets broadcast switches to a closeup of their goal cannon, with perfect timing.
Boone Jenner made his season debut with Columbus. Jenner is a heavy-hitting young player who scored 30 goals in 2015-16. And Brooks Laich, the latest Kings signing, made his season debut.
A 2-on-1 chance early on by Columbus was called offside. A 4-on-2 chance was disrupted by an errant pass. More pressure, and a hard hit on Oscar Fantenberg, led to an Adrian Kempe penalty. Blue Jackets announcers predicted that the power play would go through Artemi Panarin, the former linemate of Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks. They were right. Panarin, who was traded by Chicago for Brandon Saad, passed the puck through the legs of Derek Forbort. The puck was shot home by Columbus captain Nick Foligno for a 1-0 lead.
But one minute later, Dustin Brown, new assistant Kings captain after Jeff Carter’s injury, won a puck battle to center it to current captain Anze Kopitar, who tied it up with a flutterpuck.
Then whoa! Trevor Lewis made a stick move to beat Ryan Murray and whiz a gnarly backhand past Sergei Bobrovsky! Did you know that Lewis is a first round, 17th pick? After nine seasons in a low-scoring utility role, he is finally producing like a first rounder, with his second goal in seven games.
But only 27 seconds later, after a Foligno faceoff win, Jonathan Quick failed to control the rebound after David Savard shot it on a 2-on-1 chance. Michael Cammalleri could not catch the speedy Oliver Bjorkstrand, who put it away.
The red light behind Quick malfunctioned and stayed on. It was a bad omen as Columbus defended well, anticipating the Kings’ attack. Forbort was called for a relatively ticky-tack penalty for tripping with 8:22 remaining. The Jackets, with the quickness of their ability to forecheck and put traffic in front of the net, were too much for the Kings to handle. A sliding-right save by Quick on Panarin was a beauty, but Columbus kept pressuring. The Kings could not box out Josh Anderson and Matt Calvert in front of the net, and it led to a goal by the latter:
The Kings managed a few prime chances. A shot by Tanner Pearson, left all alone, was wide. And a breakaway by Kempe, after an array of stick moves, went right into the outstretched glove of Bobrovsky.
Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, who were centered by Nick Shore after Carter’s injury, were largely quiet. Columbus had 10 shots, with 8 being within the hash marks.
After a weak Kings start, icing by Columbus led to a Jake Muzzin wrist shot to tie it up! Then Drew Doughty tipped a point shot by Dustin Brown for a squirmy-alien reaction by Bobrovsky and Doughty’s third goal of the season, which video review confirmed. The new strategy of John Stevens is a gold mine for Doughty.
A 2-on-1 for the Jackets morphed into a wraparound chance, which Quick aggressively came out of the crease to save.
The Shore-Toffoli-Pearson line made some noise. Inability of the Jackets to keep the puck in the zone led to a breakout by Shore, but without a second man to pass to. The battle for the crease intensified, with some scrums after a few puck stoppages.
The Kings obtained the edge offensively. A wrist shot by Alex Iafallo led to a dangerous loose puck that could not be converted by Kopitar due to a good boxout by Panarin. With Kings forwards too deep, the Blue Jackets easily broke out to counter. Oscar Fantenberg checked Sonny Milano but Milano bounced clean off with the puck, leading to a dangerous 2-on-1 down low. Milano scored unassisted to tie it up.
After a Jack Johnson penalty, a careless pass on the Kings power play led to a short handed chance for Columbus that Quick had to cover. Even when you think you have the edge, the Blue Jackets never go away. They are always looking for ways to attack quickly, and force the Kings to make passes more uncomfortable than usual.
At the end of two periods, the Jackets outshot the Kings 22-20, and outhit them 21-4. It’s almost as if Columbus has inherited the strategy of Darryl Sutter, but with foot speed to supplement it. The Jackets even established the cycle along with their odd-man rushes.
John Tortorella stated that the Jackets needed to keep the game north-south, and simple. But he added that the Jackets could not get into a track meet with the Kings. (Huh?)
In the early minutes, the Kings defense absorbed the Jackets chances well. A Milano penalty was cancelled by Cammalleri, who took down Seth Jones behind the goal line. In the short power play, Jenner walked right into the net but Quick was up to the task.
Two dangerous rebounds were somehow covered by the Kings—the second one beating Quick but squirting off the post and away from the net.
A few nifty passes by the Kings first line, and a shot by Toffoli, were not successful. Then the Kings could not hold the blue line, leading to a foot race between Doughty and Milano for the puck. Milano was upended by Doughty at the last moment, but no penalty was called.
The last five minutes felt like a playoff game—a chess match of dangerous chances and shrewd defense. With 4:30 left, fans chanted “Beat LA.” A break by Iafallo was stick-checked away. But with 2:14 to go, the combo of Brown and Kopitar connected for a stunning, game-winning slam dunk. And Kings fans yelled to rejoice, as they could now breathe again!
The Columbus Blue Jackets, with their relentless buzzing attack, were the most daunting test the Kings faced so far this season. But thanks to their big-game experience, the Kings passed with flying colors. The Kopitar-Brown-Iafallo line all finished with a sizzling +5. And fans are in disbelief—did they just see their formerly low-scoring team tally six goals against a very solid playoff contender?
Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs are next, on Monday, October 23.
Note: In the third period, I thought of the death of Brittanie Cecil, who was struck by a puck that went out of play in 2002 in Columbus. It led to the installation of protective netting in NHL arenas behind and above each goal. Rest in peace.