If you’re rooting for the tank and for a greater shot at Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko or any of the other names climbing the top prospects list, this was not the game you wanted. You wanted a reprise of the hapless Kings that came out flat against New Jersey the other day.
I get it. It’s not often you get a shot at a grade-A, potentially franchise-defining prospect. I totally get it.
But for the rest of us: oh heck did this game feel good.
Five goals? They’ve only done that once before this season, in the November 25th game against the Oilers. Prior to this game, scoring at a league-low rate of 2.1 goals per game, the idea of five goals against a good team with a good goalie felt inconceivable.
For the first time in many, many games, the Kings put together essentially a 60-minute effort. It’s been rare to see the whole lineup committing for nearly the whole game — and the fact that we have to throw in caveats about “nearly” playing a 60-minute game still says a lot.
The Kings got beat just 4:23 into the game as Oscar Lindberg got his first goal of the season. Adrian Kempe, Nikita Scherbak, and Dion Phaneuf all had good views of that puck going in, and it felt like this game was going to be the same as 18 other games that came before it. Weak effort, lack of hustle, blah blah blah.
And then ... something happened. Something changed. Clicked, maybe.
Under four minutes later, Jake Muzzin sends play back to the offensive zone after a Vegas entry gets broken up. Nikita Scherbak, in his first game as a King, takes a shot from the distance, using Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt as a screen, and it’s a goal.
Tie game after one.
And then the goals keep coming.
Matt Luff makes it 2-1 on the power play. Seeing some time on the second unit, which finally gets a chance to do things like “move the puck”. Adrian Kempe passes to Brendan Leipsic who passes to Luff who puts it in. It was the kind of play we’ve seen other teams work against the Kings time and time again: quick movements, players not keeping the puck on their stick too long, and a hell of a shot from up in close. A power play goal against the league’s second best PK unit, from a rookie making the most of his chance in the NHL.
The Kings had a lead, and they never looked back.
Jeff Carter, with the savvy veteran play. sliding a puck between Marc-Andre Fleury and the net, banking it in off of Nate Schmidt. A glorious play for the Kings. A bad bounce for the Golden Knights. I could watch this replay forever, because — presuming Carter did this on purpose — it’s the kind of play you don’t just see from any old hockey player.
The intermission between the second and third periods featured the latest “Teddy Talks” segment, a bit they’ve been doing where Teddy Purcell goes one on one with a Kings player, often in somewhat odd circumstances. In this one, he went horseback riding with Derek Forbort, ostensibly to increase his street cred with the kind of wealthy, fancy women all these guys end up dating. (Literally. That’s the whole point. I’m not joking.)
Instead, it apparently powered Forbort to his first goal of the season as he unleashed a blast on Fleury. Look, if sending Forbort off for funny bits where he rides horses and makes oddly self-aware jokes about being single also happens to result in goals, we’ll take it.
The final dagger came from Nate Thompson of all people, who put in a beauty of a shot from the dot, and at that point, even with about a minute and a half remaining, Vegas might as well have just packed up and gone home.
The win saw the Kings scoot up out of 31st place; they’re tied in points with the Blackhawks, but due to the Kings having won more games in regulation, they get the bump up to 30th.
Yes, even bad teams can put in good efforts and come away with a solid win. No, you don’t want to over-react to one good game and start thinking your team has no issues. Vegas still came out on top in terms of corsi for (50.72% at even strength), scoring chances (22 to the Kings’ 13), high danger chances (seven to the Kings’ five), and just about every measurable, important stat. No, it’s not like this is going to be a turning point for the whole season.
But just for one game — just for one chunk of one day — it’s nice to sit back and feel good about watching a Kings game again.
The team heads to Detroit for their next game on Monday night. For now, just sit back and bask in the glow of a bunch of goals.