When the tale of the Kings’ 2017 is written, the focus will be primarily on April, when LA missed the playoffs, fired Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi, and moved into a new era. The Kings have done quite a bit in the last few months to make sure we’ll have some other things to talk about when we discuss this year, but they saved one of their best overall performances for their final game of the year. And it underscored the biggest change in LA’s philosophy and performance, as the offense looked niiiiice.
The Kings’ 4-3 win in Vancouver was notable for several reasons, not least among them the fact that LA has struggled mightily within the Pacific Division this season. Mostly, though, it’s worth pointing out the many players that excelled tonight. The usual suspects — Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, and Dustin Brown — played reasonably well but didn’t see their efforts result in flattering scorelines.
Oh yeah, there’s another usual suspect, and Drew Doughty nearly ended up in the paragraph above. Former Shark Nikolay Goldobin was given a chance after Kurtis MacDermid failed to get the puck down the ice, and he made Doughty look helpless after Doughty committed and missed on defense. Goldobin’s backhand was the only real moment of note in the second period, but it set up Doughty for some redemption.
Before that, it was a whole lot of Marian Gaborik, Trevor Lewis, Tyler Toffoli, and Adrian Kempe. The four forwards consistently made plays, got to dangerous spots, and set up chances, and a few of them even went in. Kempe, appropriately roasted by yours truly for yet another undisciplined penalty, responded by throwing his weight around properly and doing some work in the offensive zone. Troy Stecher scored the game’s first goal for Vancouver by ticking a shot off Alec Martinez’s stick, but Kempe came back and steered through the defense to set up Marian Gaborik for some delicate navigation of his own. Toffoli had plenty of room to tuck home the puck from Gaborik’s setup to tie it up.
Exactly one minute later, it was Gaborik himself on the power play. The Kings still aren’t drawing calls, and they finished December with just 27 power play opportunities in 13 games, but they did score their third PPG of the month on a beautiful rush.
Gaborik hit the post two other times in this one, one of them on a breakaway right after Goldobin’s goal, and he was dangerous all night. Lewis was too, which is slightly more surprising, and he needed to be after Nic Dowd put the Canucks up in the third. (Of course he did.) Lewis got the puck to the front, and after Kyle Clifford failed to baseball-bat the puck out of midair, he converted a much simpler opportunity when the puck landed at his feet.
LA had to be a bit worried that their efforts wouldn’t pay off, and it would’ve been a real shame. Every single Kings skater finished with at least a 50% Corsi For%, and the scoring chances were decidedly in LA’s favor. It took that bit of Doughty redemption to put the Kings over the top, though. He broke in with a handful of Canucks hounding him, but when his shot was blocked, it was a blessing in disguise.
That goal — set up by Tyler Toffoli, natch — made it 4-3, and that was enough for a team that hasn’t lost in regulation when scoring three goals. LA enters 2018 in second in the Pacific, and after this game, they should be feeling great about the way they played for the first time in a few weeks. Not a bad ending.