How often this season have we sat back after a loss and lamented the fact that the Kings couldn’t string together a consistent 60 minutes of play? Either they’d coast through the first period and find themselves having to play catch-up, or they’d have one strong period that they followed up with some absolute stinkers.
After the abysmal loss against Vancouver, John Stevens expressed his polite-yet-complete disappointment in the team for a complete failure to actually execute the game plan. And maybe that loss sparked something in the Kings, who eked out an overtime win against Calgary before the break, and tonight, absolutely dominated their game against the Dallas Stars.
From very early on in the game, it was clear that the Kings were all on the same page. The sloppy play, dangerous passes, playing the body instead of the puck, and inconsistent effort that marked the games on the Losing Streak That Shall Not Be Named were entirely absent. In fact, except for Kevin Gravel accidentally running over his own goalie early in the first period, there were very few egregious missteps by the Kings. Instead, there were goals.
Paul LaDue opened scoring on a goal created for him by Anze Kopitar. Just as we’ve seen the captain do time and again, Kopitar dominated puck possession on the sequence, evading essentially the entire Stars’ lineup, before leaving the puck for LaDue. With Kopitar drawing nearly all of the attention, LaDue had a fantastic opportunity to show off his shot, and he didn’t miss.
Two more Kings defensemen tallied goals in the game. Drew Doughty scored his 100th career goal, and eighth of the season, on a shot which rebounded in off of Stars’ defenseman Stephen Johns. Dustin Brown didn’t show up on the scoresheet for that one, but his screen of Ben Bishop certainly helped create all the havoc Doughty needed. (Initial reports looked to award the shot to Brown, but replay showed that the puck didn’t deflect in off of him.) And Alec Martinez scored early in the third to put the game even more out of reach for the Stars. Martinez’s shot looked harmless — just a shot from the back to get the puck on net — but it went off the post and in. (It looked so harmless that the Kings broadcast didn’t even have a good view of it.)
The Kings looked composed in all three zones, limiting the Stars’ chances and disrupting plays before the Stars could even get into the offensive zone. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Kings had nine high danger chances at even strength, while the Stars had four. And while the Kings only found success once on three chances at the power play (including a four-minute double minor), the Kings’ still-number-one rated penalty kill certainly held the Stars at bay all night.
Darcy Kuemper deserves a lot of kudos for the win; while he certainly got the goal support that has often been lacking for the Kings, he appeared to be tracking the puck well all night. Kuemper was absolutely in control of the net and even in the few instances where the Stars had a flurry of shots, he never seemed anything other than calm and collected.
The Kings head to Nashville now, where they take on the Predators on Thursday. A disinterested Predators team lost tonight to the struggling Blackhawks, so they’re going to be extra motivated to come out strong.
If you’re watching the standings, the Kings are back into the third seed in the Pacific, with Anaheim and Calgary close on their tail. (Anaheim is tied with points, but has more games played.) Their grasp on the playoffs is tenuous right now, but if they can string together more games like they did tonight, they’ll have a fighting chance.