We’ll start with a positive. Well, three: Nick Shore, Marian Gaborik, and Trevor Lewis. Despite starting in the offensive zone no more than two or three times all night, the trio regularly drove play and generated chances, and they were rewarded with a pair of goals. And both plays came off of puck control; Gaborik wheeled around the net before finding an open Shore for the game’s first goal, while Trevor Lewis made a clean zone entry around Marco Scandella before feeding across to Gaborik (via Shore) for the goal that made it 4-3. Tanner Pearson got a goal as he often does, but LA was looking for goals from their “bottom” six and they got them.
Unfortunately, so did Minnesota, and Jonathan Quick was left slamming his stick in frustration after allowing five goals. And the Wild did it despite the absence of Zach Parise and Jason Pominville. Or maybe because of the absence; Ryan White was thrust into a larger role and took advantage in his Minnesota debut, while probable scratch Jordan Schroeder instead picked up a goal and an assist. There wasn’t much Quick could’ve done on the first two, but he might look back on his positioning for goals three and four and wonder if he could’ve sealed up better. Every goal for Minnesota was when they were trailing by a goal... except for the last one, that is.
Remember when Kings-Wild games were boring?— Jewels frm the Crown (@JFTC_Kings) February 28, 2017
As we so often have done in these recaps, let’s address the adventures of Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez. They’re on separate pairings now, but last night, every goal for either team was scored with one of them on the ice. So while Drew Doughty and Derek Forbort skated together for 20 minutes of fairly uneventful hockey, pucks were flying around the defensive and offensive zones and past Dubnyk and Quick. Aside from the third goal, which was actually scored by Muzzin (5), the defensemen didn’t play pivotal roles in the goals that were scored, but Martinez (and partner Brayden McNabb) were on for a ton of shot attempts, while Muzzin got all four of his shots on net and was out with Kevin Gravel for a couple other goals.
Unfortunately, as borne out in Rank the Players, Muzzin’s struggles on goal #1 and Martinez’s presence on the other three goals against left a negative impression.
(For the record, your current bottom three NHL defensemen in on-ice save percentage are Kevan Miller, Jake Muzzin, and Alec Martinez. This has been the case for a while.)
The last goal, however, saw Doughty on the ice with Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter in 3-on-3. And, to the everlasting credit of Mikael Granlund, he did what no one else has tried to do against the Kings: he went for the jugular immediately. When teams retreat and try to set up against LA in overtime, the well-oiled Kings usually snuff it out and grind out the attack. Granlund took an alternative approach, catching every King off guard and beating Quick for a gorgeous game-winning goal.
Kopitar lost the opening faceoff and was the guy who found himself on the ice flailing at Granlund, so he caught most of the flack for the goal. And whether getting blamed for that last goal is fair or not, Kopitar had a brutal evening. The Kings didn’t threaten when he was on offense, and they gave up two goals with him on defense. He whiffed on a potential goal with plenty of room to shoot past Dubnyk. He didn’t pass either the eye test or the numbers test, and over the course of the evening his line played less at even strength than that Gaborik-Shore-Lewis line. And though Kopitar came out ahead in his head-to-head battle with Martin Hanzal, Ryan White’s line scored on his line twice.
Kopitar and Brown aren’t exactly unfamiliar linemates, and even with Adrian Kempe, that line should be carrying some of the offensive load and locking down defensively. Neither happened yesterday, and all eyes will be on Kopitar tonight in the first of four pivotal matches with Calgary down the stretch.