There have been quite a few bones to pick with recent efforts from the Los Angeles Kings, despite their last loss being their first in nine games. So a better effort needed to come on Friday night, and it did. The end result was a loss, though, and after the first period once again got the better of the Kings it wasn’t a shock.
That sounds like I’m glossing over what LA did right against the New York Rangers, and maybe I am. The Kings’ early deficit painted the rest of the evening with a tone of desperation and reckless (by Kings standards) abandon, and the sizable disparity in shot attempts was somewhat misleading as the Rangers were protecting a lead for the majority of the game. The first lead came off a series of missed opportunities. A borderline call against the disciplined Jussi Jokinen put LA on the PK, and Alec Martinez got good wood on a clearing attempt but sent it straight to Chris Kreider. After 20+ seconds of pressure and a difficult Quick reflex save, the Rangers got a shot to the front, and the puck deflected off both Jake Muzzin and Kreider as they jostled in front.
At that point in the game, the Kings were controlling the play at even strength, so maybe it’s unfair to say that they only won the possession battle because they were trailing. Regardless, the shot count on the scoreboard seemed to be increasing more slowly than expected, because New York kept getting in shooting lanes. The Rangers blocked 25 Kings shots on the evening, with several coming after nifty LA passing or effective cycles. The hard work was snuffed out too often.
Marian Gaborik got rewarded for his hard work on the third line, though. Facing his old team in his 1000th regular season game, Gaborik helped tie the game twice. LA took a while to equalize after Kreider’s goal, but Drew Doughty sounded optimistic during the intermission interview, and Gaborik backed him up. His 2-on-1 with Jokinen didn’t seem to offer him a prime scoring chance, but he squeaked a hard wrister through Henrik Lundqvist for his 401st career goal.
He didn’t have to wait much longer for his 401st career assist. New York converted a much more threatening odd-man rush later in the second period, but once again, the Kings tied after the break. Gaborik managed to settle a deflection off Kevin Shattenkirk and effortlessly slid by him to the net. Two other Rangers played catch-up as well, and no one saw Torrey Mitchell trailing behind to clean up the rebound off Lundqvist’s initial stop.
That line’s contributions were crucial, as the top six was unable to break through despite some solid cycling (Iafallo-Kopitar-Brown) and some nifty passing (Pearson-Kempe-Toffoli) throughout. The most dangerous forward on Friday night wasn’t a King, though; it was Rick Nash. Nash was incredibly active in the first period, missing a couple golden chances and getting denied by Quick on one or two others. It felt like Nash was destined to score, and a Christian Folin mistake in the final four minutes gave him the push he needed. Quick was beaten short-side by a quick shot after Folin lost the puck in the neutral zone.
Gaborik came out as an extra attacker at 1:50 or so... good work on the earlier goalie pull, Coach! He helped generate a couple decent looks, but a Drew Doughty shot was (appropriately) blocked and the Rangers took it the other way to seal a 4-2 win. The Kings would be well-served to retain some of that intermission optimism, even if the goalies and defensemen struggled a bit. Road games are tough and they have another one today... let’s hope they get rewarded. And avoid hitting guys with pucks.