The Los Angeles Kings kicked off the 2018 trade season by acquiring Dion Phaneuf, who started in the second defensive pairing alongside Alec Martinez. And despite concerns about immigration, Phaneuf did make his Kings debut tonight against the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners of nine straight games at home.
Everything started out evenly until 6:06 of the second period, when Phaneuf was too fancy and failed to bat and clear the puck from mid-air. Ryan Reaves handled the loose puck and acquired the perfect angle to shoot it in with Phaneuf in traffic. Jonathan Quick, who has been subpar, saving under .900 in three of his last five games, appeared dejected after the goal.
But only a few minutes later, Phaneuf redeemed himself. After a high-sticking penalty by Pittsburgh, Phaneuf started on the power play. Only a few seconds in, Adrian Kempe carried the puck just above the right wing circle. Michael Amadio attracted three Penguins, who forgot about Phaneuf, who drove in from the point. Kempe made an impressive saucer pass right to the tape of Phaneuf, who shot it five-hole to tie the game. What elite skill we witnessed again from Kempe, and nice movement by Phaneuf—maybe the latter is not as slow as reputed after all. Phaneuf made a difference tonight, and disrupted many plays against the defending Stanley Cup champions as a second-line defenseman. He proved he still has a lot of NHL life left in him.
Then Nate Thompson, the Kings’ other new acquisition, was stripped by Sidney Crosby, who had time and room. But Quick got a piece of the shot.
An exciting Pittsburgh power play featured Drew Doughty breaking up a fake shot-pass, and Anze Kopitar bouncing a pass off the boards to meet a streaking Dustin Brown, who could not convert the shorthanded breakaway.
Later, Evgeni Malkin was caught for tripping Tanner Pearson. Phaneuf and Kopitar facilitated the power play with superb possession and passing. But Amadio could not lift home the rebound past Matt Murray.
The third period started out with a flurry of chances. Kopitar took the body and defended Crosby very well, but the puck still got to the front of the Kings net. Then the Kings stole the puck at the Penguins zone and passed it to a streaking Torrey Mitchell, who was stripped at the last moment at the slot. Andy Andreoff got a pass in front after a nice Kings check, but Murray was alert.
Dustin Brown, trying to pass the puck ahead to Toffoli, was penalized for sending the puck out of play. The penalty killing was excellent, but in the final thirty seconds, a shot by Kris Letang sank and went off the skate of Zach Aston-Reese for the go-ahead goal, 5:24 into the period. What a game of inches this is.
Then Phaneuf used his body and perfect spacing, and used his stick to disrupt a shot after a 2-on-1 chance. That was followed by Jake Guentzel, who caught a pass all alone in front of the net, but shot it high due to the forward lunge of Quick.
The Penguins forecheck would continue for the next several minutes. But suddenly, Kempe’s forecheck after a Toffoli shot led to another chance by Andreoff down low. Alas, once again, Andreoff failed to convert another opportunity in front of the net.
Christian Folin stood up at the blue line and laid the hit of the night on Phil Kessel. And Quick displayed masterful goaltending, putting his stick down to disrupt a pass through the slot in a 4-on-2 chance. Then he came out about ten feet in front of the net to challenge Malkin.
But the Penguins never took their feet off the gas. Instead they poured on the offense, creating several odd-man rushes. The Kings, in contrast, were outnumbered the few times they counterattacked. With a minute and a half to go, the Kings got the extra attacker on the ice. But Jake Muzzin fanned on a chance at the point, and Doughty’s valiant but overzealous attempts at goaltending were in vain.
The final impressions of the game were of an angry Drew Doughty breaking his stick against the goal post, and then hunching over in disgust at the bench.