EDITOR’S NOTE: Like tonight’s Los Angeles Dodgers victory, this recap might be shorter than expected. That’s because, like tonight’s Los Angeles Dodgers victory, everyone present at this recap is currently fending off heat exhaustion.
Adrian Kempe’s first five games of 2017-18 raised a lot of questions about his role on the Los Angeles Kings. His last three games have largely quieted them.
I know, it’s strange for me to be so individually focused before even mentioning the score. Can you blame me, though? It was hard not to walk away from this 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators talking about the rookie center. He may have been in the right place at the right time at various points tonight, but he did a lot to make sure he was there, and he took advantage.
For one, he ended up between Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. I don’t know if Kempe’s best future lies at center, but tonight he got to skate between bona fide offensive wingers, and offense happened. Despite losing 86.7% of his faceoffs, he won his first one back to Alec Martinez, who slapped a dipping shot past Mike Condon to put his team up 1-0. More importantly, the trio managed to be the one line that controlled play no matter where they were on the ice. Spending most of their time against Erik Karlsson, without the benefit of favorable zone starts, they had strong possession numbers.
(Also, good on Brooks Laich, Andy Andreoff, and Nic Dowd for playing good, solid low-event hockey.)
It was the end of Kempe’s night that made headlines, though. With the Kings out of steam after 58 minutes, Toffoli dumped the puck in and Kempe forechecked, and Condon panicked and gave him the puck. Condon made it back to the crease and two Senators made it to Kempe, but Kempe kept his composure:
We’ll get to his shootout winner, but first, some other notes:
- The opening 20 tonight were familiar: lots of shots, a goal given up in the midst of it all, and a head-pounding moment. Dion Phaneuf mirrored Martinez’s goal with a knuckler past Darcy Kuemper, while Nick Shore went headfirst into the boards after a tangle with Alex Burrows. Fortunately for both players, he was fine.
- It’s easy to see why Alex Iafallo played a career-high 19:15. Though not outwardly dynamic and still goalless, he simply complements top players so well. Iafallo set up a couple Anze Kopitar opportunities and helped tilt the ice in overtime after Ottawa dominated the first few minutes of it. If Karlsson hadn’t blocked Kopitar’s bid for a GWG on the goal line we’d be talking about him again.
- As you can see above, Martinez (a team-high 29:23) and Jake Muzzin continued their rebound. All the defensemen looked solid tonight in their own end, blocking shots and containing Ottawa. Kuemper also did his part in stopping 28 of 30.
- However, puck movement and handling was an issue. The Kings’ first power play in the third was nightmarish, and Nate Thompson capped it with a shorthanded go-ahead goal. Maybe it was just a lack of energy during their third game in four nights, but the Senators’ defensive pressure clearly troubled LA down the stretch.
- No one wants to cover Karlsson in overtime.
Okay, anyway, AFTER all that: a shootout decided this one. Michael Cammalleri was a somewhat surprising opener, but he’s taken 50+ shootout attempts in his career, and his goal showed it. No one could have finished this game (and this recap) off other than Kempe, though. His goal gave the Kings two key points heading into a rematch in Montreal.