On a night where the Kings honored those who protect our country, it was the team’s veterans (and please I say that ironically, not seriously) who led the team to a 3-1 win over the visiting Minnesota Wild.
Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter each scored as a direct result of wining faceoffs in the offensive zone, the short-handed unit successfully killed off all three Wild power-plays, and Jonathan Quick turned away 27 of 28 shots before Sean Walker iced the game with an empty-netter after the Wild pulled goaltender Devan Dubnyk for an extra attacker.
Besides the obvious fact that the Kings won after losing seven of their last eight, the biggest takeaway was seeing Jonathan Quick play his best game of the year. He had 27 saves, letting down only a third period goal. When one considers Quick allowed three first period goals last game versus the Canadiens, that means he pitched four shutout periods before finally letting one in. I sense Todd McLellan recognized something in Quick on the plane ride home from Canada choosing to go back-to-back with Quick despite the coach’s recent tendency to rotate the goalies, particularly after a loss. One need only look at the big smile Quick exhibited leading the Kings onto the ice before the game to ponder if just maybe, the two-time Vezina nominee and former Conn Smythe winner might feel the mojo coming back.
In addition to better goaltending, the Kings were also helped by what could euphemistically be called an improved approach to face-off taking. That part of the game has become even more important with this year’s rule change regarding face-offs after icings and penalties, as the non-offending team can not only change personnel, which the offending team cannot, but starting this year is also able to choose which offensive zone circle it wants the ensuing face-off to take place. Thus there has been an increased focus on “set plays” off face-offs. Going into last night’s game Puckbase.com had the Kings ranked 17th in face-off percentage at 49.3%, with Vancouver leading the NHL winning them at a clip of 54.8%. With the Wild entering last night’s game ranked 19th in face-offs with a success rate of 49% one would have expected the Kings to win far more than the 37% they won tonight.
However, the name of the name of the game is not how many face-offs you win, but whether you can put the biscuit in the basket on the ensuing puck possession. Tuesday, both Kopitar and Jeff Carter’s goals directly resulted from them each winning an offensive zone faceoff and then heading directly to the net for a deflection or rebound on the ensuing shot from the point.
Lastly, it cannot go unmentioned that the penalty kill, which entered the game next-to-last in the league, successfully killed off all three shorthanded situations it faced against a Minnesota power play which was ranked 19th in the league, converting at a 17.8% clip. Additionally, the Kings did a fantastic job defending the 6-on-5 situation after Minnesota pulled Dubnyk with two minutes left, never allowing the Wild to set up in the offensive zone, and even scoring an empty-netter themselves after two frustrating near-misses.
It’s only one win, but we should enjoy it as there have been few and far between early this season. Eight of the next 11 games are at home where the Kings are actually 4 - 4 on the season. Moreover, the road games during that stretch are stand alone one-offs to Arizona, San Jose, and Anaheim. Next up are the Red Wings. Dasvidaniya Ilya Kovalchuk.