What to Look For Coming Into the Game
- Happy 20th Anniversary to Staples Center. One can dedicate whole articles on the arena’s milestone. In the 20 years since it opened, Staples Center has enjoyed championship runs (two from the Los Angeles Kings), raised banners (for titles and retired numbers), and erected statues just outside. From a non-sports point of view, the surrounding downtown area of the city has grown dramatically, becoming a popular tourist, nightlife and weekend destination, as well as emerging as a hip area to reside.
- Buffalo came into the game versus the Kings tied for first in the Atlantic Division with the Boston Bruins. They also had the second best power play percentage. Their goalie, Carter Hutton, came in with a 4-0-0 record and a 1.74 goals against average. Their highly-touted young defenseman, 2018 1st overall draft pick Rasmus Dahlin, came in tied for eighth in the NHL in assists with seven. Their top center, Jack Eichel, is tied for seventh in points with ten.
- Knowing that the Sabres played in Anaheim the previous night, it would be interesting to see if the Kings could take advantage of a team possibly fatigued on the second night of a back-to-back.
On to the Game
After a strong start giving up a lone coverage-flawed goal against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night, Jack Campbell was back in net for the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night. One of the reasons for Buffalo’s early success to the season has been their ability to transition quickly from defense to offense. Although Campbell made several quality saves in the first period generated by Buffalo’s playing style, the Sabres fenced in two goals in just over five minutes into the game from it:
Sabres 1. Kings 0.
Sabres 2. Kings 0.
In the young season, one noticeable change in the Kings play so far is how coach Todd McLellan’s new systems have gotten them to manufacture more scoring chances and generate more shots. As the game wore on, the Kings seemingly were taking advantage of Buffalo’s fatigue in every which way, sans on the scoreboard. After two periods, the Kings outshot the Sabres 28-17. They finished the game with 47 shots on goals and 92 shot attempts. Each Kings skater recorded at least one shot on goal, with Jeff Carter and Alex Iafallo sharing team highs of five apiece.
Perhaps it’s just a matter of time for the LA Kings to eventually get the puck luck going their way. As this game had indicated, it was not on their side. Ilya Kovalchuk and Adrian Kempe hit posts. Anze Kopitar got denied by the Sabres goalie early in the game after intercepting a Sabres clearing pass and walking in all alone. Blake Lizotte, Tyler Toffoli, Kyle Clifford, Drew Doughty, Ben Hutton were all thwarted by the Sabres netminder, missed high or wide, or were unable to pounce on rebound opportunities. They couldn’t cash in on a minute and a half’s worth of five-on-three power play time at the end of the second period and start of the third. Meanwhile, the Sabres enjoyed a fortunate bounce in the second period during their power play to go up 3-0 on a broken play:
Again, the Buffalo Sabres are among the best teams in the NHL so far. It’s no small feat, given a very strong division that also includes the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Toronto Maple Leafs. A hot goalie with 47 saves and a shutout, Carter Hutton just had his best over Jeff Carter, Ben Hutton, and the rest of the Kings.
Ultimately, Los Angeles was felled by a couple defensive breakdowns, some bad puck luck, and a hot goalie. Their play in generating scoring chances, and goalie Jack Campbell’s game in net remain encouraging. Kings have been blanked in two straight games at home. Zero points out of a possible four is the same amount no matter the amount of goals for. Believe in the plan.
Coach Todd McLellan Does Not Sugarcoat
Main Event: Calgary Flames @ Los Angeles Kings, Saturday, 7:00 PDT (Hockey Night in Canada start?), Fox Sports West — Tkachuk/Doughty II.
Undercard: Minnesota-Duluth @ Wisconsin, NCAA Hockey, 5:00 PDT, Prime Ticket — Kings top draft pick Alex Turcotte in action.