What a game this was. Despite sitting two of its better players in Travis Konecny and Shayne Gostisbehere, the Flyers were still an impressive team, shutting down the Kings for large swaths of the game.
In the unspoken NHL rule of “young player must learn from the press box,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol, who has done some impressive things with that roster so far this season, scratched Gostisbehere and Konecy for what seems like the millionth game in a row. That should’ve been an advantage for LA, who were coming off two days of rest (technically, even though one of the days was a get away day, to borrow a term from baseball) after winning their fourth straight game. To an extent, it was an advantage of sorts. Without the speed and skill of a player like Gostisbehere on the back end, the Kings slowly started to impose their will throughout the second period, piling on shot after shot against Michal Neuvirth.
This certainly felt like a mid-winter game for LA. Excellent corsi (all shot attempts towards the net, including blocked), but something just felt off. Despite what seemed like assertion of will in the second period, this game had all the hallmarks of a typical Kings game from December to February — great cycling, working as five-man units on the ice, throwing everything possible at the net and somehow still not scoring. It was pretty telling when the Flyers only had 16 shots on goal with four minutes remaining in regulation. That was to the Kings’ 26 shots at that point.
It should be noted that Neuvirth had an .888 sv% coming into this afternoon’s tilt. You are shocked, obviously, that LA had trouble beating a backup with below average numbers. But alas, it is true. Full credit goes to the Flyers, though. Yes, they were largely (almost entirely) bailed by their netminder, they did a pretty decent job of keeping the Kings to the outside. They didn’t allow anyone to really set up too long in the offensive zone, especially in front of Neuvirth.
At the other end of the ice, Peter Budaj was great as usual. It seems an odd sentence to write considering the 34-year-old Slovak went from a Professional Tryout (and only signed because he was a warm body who could goalie) to NHL starter in a span of two years. There admittedly wasn’t a lot of faith in him at the beginning of the season and fans were dubious that he’d be good enough to backstop this team to the playoffs. But great he was in Game 52. By no means did he steal this game; he did, however, make several key saves, especially early on, before the guys in black found their legs.
The last 10 minutes of the first period was the most even part of the game, with Philadelphia slightly getting the better of LA. But they remained off the score board thanks to Budaj, who was in good position, conservative with his movement and didn’t give up many rebounds. Budaj earned his seventh shutout (first in the NHL) and 25th win of the season (he’s tied for sixth in wins with Tuukka Rask, who is basically the only reason the Boston Bruins are third in their division).
The second period is when LA really started to tilt the ice to no avail. The Kings held the Flyers to just four shots on goal and largely dominated the neutral and offensive zones. Tyler Toffoli, activated off injured reserve this morning, smacked the iron which led to a Sean Couturier chance hitting the post at the other end and back-to-back heart stopping moments for fans of both teams.
Hockey's near-death experience. Twice. https://t.co/eXIV8i4Nbe— Jeff Marek (@JeffMarek) February 4, 2017
The third period was fairly similar to the previous one with #30 in white doing all he could to steal a point (or two) for his team. LA held Philly to just four shots on goal (for 17 overall through regulation) and only two were actually good scoring chances. In fact, Kings held Flyers to zero shots on goal (even with a power play) for nearly 10 minutes of game time. Dustin Brown had great opportunity all alone in front of a wide open net, goaltender down only to be stopped by his outstretched glove.
Toffoli had a breakaway but was double teamed by the Flyers’ defense and couldn’t get past a desperation dive by Radko Gudas. As far as one-third of the 70s triumvirate goes, that was about it for him in his first game back from injury. He did have a shot on goal early in the first but was largely quiet as Kings’ coach Darryl Sutter eased him back in with little more than 15 minutes of ice time and no special teams. The Kings and Flyers only took two penalties each (really it was one and a half since LA was already killing a penalty of their own when Philly was caught with too much man), but Toffoli will be a welcome sight back to the power play and penalty kill.
Not much happened in the final few minutes of regulation. Kings made one last push to end it inside of 60 minutes and Neuvirth once again denied them. So it was off to overtime where the Kings are the best in the NHL, with an absurd 21-4 record since the implantation of 3v3 overtime (they were 9-1 entering today’s contest). Interestingly enough, Flyers were third best with 14 OT victories to their name over the past two seasons. Their best player in extra time? Shayne Gostisbehere. Lucky for Kings, he’s a good young player that has made mistakes that necessitated learning from high above Wells Fargo Center.
Early in the fourth period, the trio of Carter, Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty nearly won it but again, couldn’t quite get past a sprawling Neuvirth. At the other end, Ivan Provov, off a beautiful feed from Claude Giroux, had the game on his stick but just lost the handle on the puck in tight.
A couple of shifts later, Kopitar and Carter were back on the ice where Kopitar did what he did best and made a dead tired Dale Weise look silly.
Imma let you finish Jeff Carter, but that goal was all Anze Kopitar putting Dale Weise through 200 feet of hell pic.twitter.com/vZiBQyRhDB— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) February 4, 2017
That goal was Carter’s ninth game-winner and 27th of the season.
Yup, different era, but Jeff Carter has tied Simmer (80-81), Dionne (80-81) & Kopitar (13-14) for single-season Kings record w/ 9 GWG— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) February 4, 2017
Carter is also one back from tying Sidney Crosby for the league lead in goals scored (albeit in eight more games played than Crosby). Where would the Kings be without Carter this season? ...Try not to think about that one too much.
It was nice of the Pacific Division All-Stars to let Jeff Carter practice from that exact spot on the ice during the Skills Competition.— Jewels frm the Crown (@JFTC_Kings) February 4, 2017
Tomorrow the Kings will face the league-leading Washington Capitals and Justin Williams (miss you, boo) for the first time this season. The Caps played this morning as well and hung on to just barely edge out the Montreal Canadiens thanks to timely depth scoring and some great goaltending from Braden Holtby, who is second in save percentage, just behind Devan Dubnyk.
The game starts at 9 a.m. Pacific so be ready for some breakfast hockey.