We should be freaking psyched about last night’s results, shouldn’t we? The Los Angeles Kings encountered a vastly weaker Calgary Flames team than they’re used to and acted like it, handing their rivals (?) a 3-0 win and knocking the Flames out of the playoff picture. With Colorado’s loss in Las Vegas, things look rosier than they did 24 hours ago, with the Kings able to rest for a couple days and watch their three biggest competitors each play meaningful games. And yet... something was missing from that one, right?
Maybe it was the opponent after all. TJ Brodie was absent from Calgary’s defense, but his ten points and two game-winners against LA were just part of the missing output. Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk — all of whom have authored their share of painful Kings defeats — also missed Monday’s game. It seems silly to be sad that four of your opponent’s best players were out. Okay, it IS silly. And yet, wasn’t it just slightly less satisfying than that overtime win in Calgary where LA neturalized Tkachuk, shut down the full-strength Flames for the final 50 minutes, and pulled it out 27 seconds before the game would go to a shootout?
It wasn’t? Good point. This game was considerably more important, and coasting through this one was nice. For a team with only one-goal win in the last month, making sure there was no late drama was a decent perk. Plus, the contributors were exactly who you probably hoped they’d be. Anze Kopitar scored his 34th goal on the power play and added an assist on the next man advantage, meaning that March will be his most productive month (18 points) of 2017-18. Dion Phaneuf appeared to match Kopitar with a goal and an assist, but that goal was later changed to an assist; still, it was a fun little story for the former Flame beneath all else that was going on. The goal went to Toffoli, who got a tiny piece of Phaneuf’s shot on the way in; that boosts him to #2 on LA’s goal list.
If Dustin Brown scores two goals in the final five games and Tyler Toffoli gets one, LA would have three 25+ goal scorers for the first time since 2000-01 (Ziggy, Luc, Smolinski).— Eric (@EricJFTC) March 27, 2018
Jeff Carter got the game’s third and final goal, notching his 13th double-digit goal tally in 13 seasons and doing it just 22 games into his 2017-18. Jonathan Quick, doing typically solid work behind the LA defense, held off a punchless Calgary attack for his fifth shutout; that’s the sixth time in eight years he’s hit five shutouts. (No one else has posted 5+ shutouts in a season more than four times in that span.) LA’s big guys came through in a big way, and that’s always going to be nice.
It’s tough to ignore some of the warning signs from Monday, though. For one, LA couldn’t solve Mike Smith at 5v5. Smith made some nice saves, but the Kings seemed content to retain possession rather than generating especially dangerous chances. Tyler Toffoli didn’t have a shot on goal all night, and though linemate Tobias Rieder got into a couple dangerous areas, their line with Jeff Carter had an off-night against Calgary’s one threatening line. Nate Thompson also managed a couple good looks (good on you, Nate) but otherwise it wasn’t a great night offensively for the Kings, especially considering their five closest shots all missed the net.
So yeah, LA can’t rely on Sam Bennett taking three goofy penalties on a nightly basis going forward. The lasting concern lies on the back end, though. Jake Muzzin left the game after a hard hit from Micheal Ferland, the one truly annoying player left in the Calgary lineup. He’s out week-to-week, which almost certainly means LA will be without his services for the remainder of the regular season. Early returns were middling; while LA kept the shutout intact, Derek Forbort and his terrifying ear looked pretty tired by night’s end, and the Martinez-Phaneuf pair was (as usual) on the ice for more opposing shot attempts than LA ones. It’s going to be a grind, and we’ll be talking more about whether the D can handle it.
The playoff picture remains muddled, but LA got a much-needed win against a weak opponent and remains in control of their own destiny. That’ll have to be enough to celebrate for now.