Hop on the Torrey Mitchell bandwagon! Gawk at the impressive scoring statistics of one Andy Andreoff! Give Dion Phaneuf some high fives! Hell, fist-bump Nate Thompson and Jonny Brodzinski while you’re at it.
The expected showdown between longtime rivals Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Dustin Brown, Duncan Keith, and Drew Doughty never quite materialized on Monday night. Instead, the Los Angeles Kings overwhelmed the Chicago Blackhawks under a steady torrent of early pressure, and when they needed the goals to back it up, they got them from unexpected sources.
It began as LA got nine of the first ten shots on goal, as for the third straight game since their debacle in Buffalo, they got off to an excellent start. They had nothing to show for those first eight shots, but then, Thompson won a forechecking battle and laid a perfectly weighted pass to the middle of the ice for Mitchell.
The first thing you should note is that I was, ahem, pessimistic about Thompson’s offensive capabilities in the wake of this trade. In his first three games he’s been mediocre on faceoffs and he hasn’t been able to flip the ice the way Nick Shore did, but if he keeps making passes like that, he’ll be forgiven. The second thing you should note is that he’ll probably be competing directly with Mitchell for a center spot when (if?) Jeff Carter returns to the ice, and Mitchell has impressed on this road trip. Can we expect the goals to keep coming? Who knows, but it’s a nice bonus when LA really wants good faceoff and PK work from Mitchell more than anything.
Adding to the bottom-six production was Andreoff, who scored with assists from Brodzinski and Michael Amadio. This one is better viewed than described, because (Jim Fox voice) whoa!
We’ve long complained around these parts that young players often don’t get opportunities to succeed in their rookie years, and though Adrian Kempe and Alex Iafallo have been pleasantly set up for success this season, guys like Amadio and Brodzinski often found themselves stuck with low ice time and unproductive linemates. Apparently, putting them together has helped, and it’s also paid off for a resurgent Andreoff. Like Thompson, the possession game isn’t there, which might indicate that this streak will dry up; however, this line has shown that they can at least get to dangerous areas.
In between those surprising goals, the rest of the Kings cycled and blocked shots, leaving Chicago with little chance to beat Jonathan Quick. That continued into the second, and Dion Phaneuf made it 3-0 with his second power play goal in three games. This also might not continue, but he’s getting every opportunity to keep it going.
That made it seem like game over, but we’ve seen the losing team crawl back into most of the lopsided games LA has played this season, whether it’s the Kings or their opponent. As expected, the Blackhawks found their legs after 30 minutes of inactivity, and Quick had to be sharp in stopping 11 second period shots. LA managed to stall Chicago’s comeback by preventing even more shots from getting through, though. Shot attempts in the second were 27-16 Chicago, but the Hawks had 12 shots blocked. The Kings? Not one.
Patrick Sharp scored early in the third to make Kings fans nervous, and LA couldn’t get the puck to stay at the other end of the ice, but Quick was resilient, making two massive saves on Brandon Saad and another great stop on Nick Schmaltz. The shot-blockers also continued to stand tall, none more than Christian Folin. Four Kings (Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Phaneuf, and Doughty) are in the top 40 leaguewide in blocked shots, but Folin outdid them all in blocking nine shots, a single-game high for any King this season. For at team that doesn’t dominate shot attempts like they used to, they need to be able to block shots, and they did so on Monday.
LA found their stride on the latter end of this roadie, but they had yet to beat a playoff contender. Chicago, at this point, isn’t. Fortunately, another game against Winnipeg was on the horizon, a chance to make this a solid trek across North America.