As the NHL (and the world) took a couple days off for the holidays, the Los Angeles Kings did the same after three months of mostly good work on the ice. Sure, the Kings find themselves in the unfamiliar position of having allowed more shot attempts than they’ve taken this season, a far cry from past seasons of leading the league in that metric. And yes, there’s plenty to work on, starting with the league’s 28th-ranked power play and an offense that finally showed signs of missing Jeff Carter in the last couple weeks. Overall, though, LA has done what they did in 2015-16 — and didn’t do in 2016-17 — by using the first part of the season to put themselves in a comfortable spot in the West.
On December 23, they had a chance to make it three straight wins going into the break, and they could have been alone in first in the Western Conference at Christmas. Instead, they flopped in a difficult environment. A collision in the defensive zone between Torrey Mitchell and Andy Andreoff was the first costly mistake by either team, as Marcus Sorensen used the resulting lane to score the game’s first goal at the game’s midpoint. At least Sorensen’s matter-of-fact description after the game was worth a chuckle: “"I saw two guys skate into each other and the puck was right there.”
LA chased from there, and Martin Jones was solid, before the Kings’ PK faltered for the seventh time in the previous eight games. Jonathan Quick’s third straight stellar effort in goal kept the Kings in it, but he couldn’t do much against the guy who probably deflects more pucks in on the power play than anyone in the league. Joe Pavelski set himself up after a faceoff win, Brent Burns got a shot through, and Pavelski tipped it in with 12:55 to go. LA had survived a huge push from the Sharks before that, but again, the Sharks capitalized quickly on a mistake.
The final numbers paint a picture of an even game, as LA got 61 shot attempts on Martin Jones, against San Jose’s 62 against Jonathan Quick. That’s a bit misleading for two reasons: LA only really managed to gain ground after they trailed, and they had 21 shots blocked compared to the Sharks’ 16 (as per LA Kings Insider). All in all, not a strong effort aside from a second-period burst in response to San Jose’s first goal... and a third-period burst in response to San Jose’s second goal. Much has been made of LA’s impressive +25 goal margin in the third period this season, but it’d be nice if they weren’t forcing themselves to find goals in the final frame so often. Credit Jones for making that a difficult task on Saturday night, forcing the Kings’ first shutout of the entire season.
The Kings got a crucial third-period goal two nights earlier, though! LA managed to take down Colorado on their brief return to Staples Center, earning a 2-1 win on the back of a dramatic game-winner from Dustin Brown. On a night when Brown was celebrated and Marian Gaborik was honored, though, it was the same two guys who collided on the ice on Saturday that set up a key equalizer against the Avalanche. Mitchell, Andreoff, and Jonny Brodzinski cycled the puck in the offensive zone, and Mitchell and Andreoff ended up with assists on Alec Martinez’s shot as Brodzinski provided the screen.
The game largely followed a similar script to Saturday’s loss, as Colorado looked like a far better team in the first period and clamped down further in the second. They also scored first in the second, doing so after a truly dire LA power play fueled the Avs and helped Gabriel Landeskog convert a scoring chance the other way. The rest of the night didn’t follow suit, though. One key difference was that LA’s penalty kill didn’t hand out a goal, which was an easier job given that they only went to the box twice. The other difference, of course, was that they got that goal from Martinez.
It was a nice surprise, but maybe we should’ve known that the script was going to have a late twist and everything was going to feel right at game’s end. The best forward all night was Dustin Brown, starting with a deflection onto Semyon Varlamov’s post in the first minute and continuing with several excellent chances. Martinez’s goal meant that Brown would get more chances to score, and though he couldn’t find the net in the opening minute of the game, Brown did so in the opening minute of overtime.
This time it was two Avs colliding, not two Kings, and after losing out on a goal they all contributed to against Philadelphia after review, the Kings’ three leading scorers combined for that OT game-winner. The offense slowed down on the road trip and struggled for much of the night, and since Brown, Anze Kopitar, and Drew Doughty will have to drive the offense in 2018 as well, it was an appropriate and much-needed ending.
The game that started with Marian Gaborik being honored for his longevity (yes, longevity) before home fans that had been waiting for LA’s return. I’m thinking the fans will be more pumped than expected for the next home game, on Thursday, against Vegas. Brown will get more kudos on that day, and hopefully, the Kings will wrest first place back from the Golden Knights.