Where to start? How about here:
The Los Angeles Kings were fortunate to have a bunch of wiggle room after the first two months of the season. It’s gone, and in most respects, they deserve to be almost exactly where they are now. They’re 13th in the league in points, but 16th in the league in 5v5 Goals For % and 18th in the league in 5v5 Scoring Chance For %, more befitting of where they are than their 5th-best goal differential would indicate. And we’ve seen enough of the Kings’ third periods to know that the goal differential might be the slightest bit misleading, given the times they’ve had to claw back from deficits.
The Kings aren’t bad, but right now, they’re mediocre, and when the 12th-ranked team in the conference can draw even with them tonight, I’ll let everyone panic accordingly. The Pittsburgh Penguins contributed to that panic, scrapping out a 3-1 win behind a goalie with zero career starts coming in. And a lot of it was bad! Dustin Brown’s hit on Justin Schultz is going to get him suspended, for one:
Dustin Brown with a pretty bad hit on Justin Schultz.. pic.twitter.com/OhR7V5JvJd— Hockey Central (@HockeyCentraI) January 19, 2018
Jonathan Quick also gave up a humdinger of a goal to Patric Hornqvist, which overshadowed a bunch of good work by the Kings in the first period. Quick has been largely excellent this year, but in his last two starts, he’s been beaten early by shots that shouldn’t have beaten him. It’s good that he’s able to bounce back in these cases, but that puts so much pressure on the Kings.
There are good things, though, I promise. Adrian Kempe looked pretty nice as a winger, and he was the only player to pierce the invincible armor of Casey DeSmith. Also, look at where LA’s shots came from last night:
And compare with Pittsburgh’s:
You can see why the Hornqvist goal was such a killer. Sidney Crosby had one shot on goal despite 22:05 of ice time, and somehow, he didn’t put a puck on net in over six minutes of time on the power play. The rest of the team was largely kept outside. LA paid for their one net-front error, as Nick Shore failed to properly lock down Malkin on his goal. (Malkin, for the record, also contributed this nasty bit of stickwork on Brown before Brown’s hit on Schultz.) In the meantime, a steady diet of LA tips didn’t find their way past the opposing goalie. This isn’t new — Martin Jones stopped a handful of deflections by LA on Monday — but the Kings are surely hoping that this isn’t the case every night. (The Kings’ last even-strength tip goal wasn’t too long ago; Tanner Pearson got one in the period before everything went wrong in Calgary.)
In the meantime, what do we harp on? The Kings’ fading play after a strong first period, and their inability to capitalize on a tired team after two days off? The inability of the Tanner-Trevor-Tyler line to stop Malkin and Hornqvist? The inability of the Kings to stay disciplined in the third? Yeah, all those things. Many of LA’s issues of late have been on-and-off, but it all leads to one consistent inability: the inability to play a third period where they aren’t already behind.
I’ve made lots of snarky remarks about tonight’s opponents and how they always give away most (or all) of their big third period leads, but man, leading in the third sounds nice.