Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The Los Angeles Kings thoroughly outplay an opponent, to the point such that if you look at basic stats like shot counts or fancy stats like Corsi, that you would assume that surely someone made a mistake somewhere along the line. After all — a 69.44 Corsi-for percentage? 21 shots to five? 100% of the high danger chances in the first period?
That’s not the Los Angeles Kings so many of us have come to know and, uh, well, tolerate.
It’s a different story this season, as with a few small tweaks, Todd McLellan has turned the Kings into shooting machines. Not only do they possess the puck, but they take shots — oftentimes, quality shots! — and then they get the puck back. And they do it all over again.
Even despite the Kings being the ones to open scoring, this game felt like it was going to be an Old Kings game, a Sutter Kings game, where they put 40 shots on the goalie, directly into the logo, and walk out at the final buzzer with like one goal and zero points to show for it.
Austin Wagner got the scoring started midway through the first, scooping up a rebound from a Kyle Clifford shot and putting it in an almost empty net. For all that Wagner’s known for his speed and breakaways — he had at least two in this game — his tally tonight was just a good old fashioned goal. Nothing fancy about it. Loose puck? Put it in the net. The fourth line continues to be stunningly effective, with Clifford and Wagner leading the forwards in terms of possession overall and relative to their teammates.
Kyle Connor evened things up for the Jefts in the first period. It was just the Jets’ fifth shot of the game, and came immediately after the Winnipeg crowd sent a mocking cheer at the Jets when they finally got a shot on goal. Austin Wagner gives and Austin Wagner takes, and the play that resulted in the goal all started with a Wagner turnover in the defensive zone.
The Jets fought back in the second period which saw the Kings take three penalties, making it hard to develop much rhythm or flow to their game, and denying them real offensive opportunities because they were busy trying to keep pucks out of their net.
In the second period, we were treated to the mysterious Horn of Toronto Beckoning You to Stop Play Please for Just One Hot Second, Thanks. (I’m sure it has a real name.) After a Jeff Carter pass to (yes) Kurtis MacDermid (for real), MacDermid took a shot which, upon review, crossed the goal line before Connor Hellebuyck kicked it back out. Just as the broadcast team was suggesting that perhaps that puck crossed the line, the horn blew, halting the game to allow the officials to take another look at the play. Good goal, and Kurtis MacDermid (seriously!) gave the Kings the lead.
The lead was short-lived, though, as the Jets tied things back up on a bouncing shot from Nikolaj Ehlers which took pings off of both posts before crossing the goal line.
In times of trouble, though, who do you look to for leadership but your captain? On their third chance on the man advantage against the actual worst penalty kill unit in the league, Anze Kopitar gave the Kings their lead back, driving hard to the net, getting around rookie defenseman Ville Heinola, and chipping a puck backhanded past Hellebuyck, who barely even seemed to register the shot getting behind him.
The Kings held on from there to win, with a final score of 3-2, and my goodness, they were fun again. We’ll probably say that and think that and shout it from the rooftops all season long, but the Kings kept fighting, kept putting shots on net, and didn’t quit and abandon the system as soon as they got scored on.
There are still issues to work out. There will be issues all season long, honestly. The abundance of penalties — the Kings are in the top 10 in the league in terms of time spent on the penalty kill — needs to end. Adrian Kempe seems to be this year’s Tyler Toffoli, snakebit no matter what he does. (Kempe led the kings with six shots on goal and zero points to show for it.) Jonathan Quick sometimes looked slow to move across the crease, something to keep an eye on in future games.
But wasn’t that fun? Wasn’t that refreshing?
The Kings take on the defending champion St. Louis Blues on Thursday in another early game (sorry, West Coast). The Blues haven’t seen action since Monday, when they defeated the Colorado Avalanche by a score of 3-1, handing the Avalanche their first regulation defeat.