Coming off a strong performance Saturday night at home versus Winnipeg and an off-day Sunday, the Kings began December with a mid-morning skate at the Toyota Sports Performance Center before busing to Orange County to take on the rival Ducks in Round One of this season’s Freeway Face-Off.
Google Maps says it’s only 37.5 miles from the El Segundo training facility to the Honda Center, but despite the short ride and the familiar chants of “Go Kings Go!” coming from the large contingent of Kings fans present at “Staples Center South”, this was a road game, and alas the road continued to be unkind to the Kings, who in falling to the Ducks 4-2, dropped to 0-8-1 in their past nine road games and 2-10-1 overall away from Staples Center. 39-year old Ryan Miller, who only played because starter John Gibson was sick, turned away 34 shots for Anaheim, recording his 382nd career victory, the most wins by a U.S.-born goalie in NHL history.
As if on cue for a road game, the Kings turned in a lackluster first period during which they fell behind 2-0 before ten minutes had elapsed, allowing an even-strength goal by Ducks fourth-liner Derek Grant (who also netted an empty-netter to seal the game with 38 seconds left) and a power-play goal by Jakob Silfverberg, who blasted home a one-timer from the face-off dot to the right of Jack Campbell after receiving a perfect pass from defenseman Hampus Lindholm.
That slow start proved too much for the Kings to overcome, who despite a dominating second period in which they outshot Anaheim 19-6, were never able to fully close the gap with their Southland rivals. The Kings got on the board 6:01 into the second period with a seeing-eye shot from the point by Kurtis MacDermid. Unfortunately the Ducks answered right back with a goal by Carter Rowney 56 seconds later.
The lone bright sport for the Kings was the play of 26-year old Nikolai Prokhorkin, who showed off exceptional skating and stick handling ability on the Kings second goal, which closed the deficit to 3-2 at 11:42 of the second period. This was Prokhorkin’s second goal in as many games and fourth in eleven games with the Kings after beginning the season in Ontario. Not a “rookie “ in the traditional sense because he played six seasons in the KHL, Prokhorkin seems to be getting more comfortable with the North American game. Prokhorkin had 14:07 total ice time (TOI) versus the Ducks, which was only seven seconds less playing time than veteran Tyler Toffoli, who recorded his lowest TOI since October 27th. The increase in Prokhorkin’s ice time at the expense of Toffoli is notable as Toffoli becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and thus an attractive “rental” by a team (i.e. Boston) looking to make a serious run at the Cup.
Tonight marked the beginning of a long December. The schedule features 15 games this month, but only four at home. It includes a six game road trip and two separate road back to backs, one at Calgary / Edmonton and the other at San Jose / Vancouver. The last two weeks have been been a microcosm of the Kings first season under the McLellan Administration. There were impressive home wins against the Oilers, Islanders, and Jets, and sleepwalk loses at San Jose (the whole game) and Anaheim (well, the first period but that was enough to set the tone). As forward Michael Amadio acknowledged after the game Monday, “We need to play a full 60 [minutes] on the road and come out strong”.
Monday’s game was not only a lost opportunity to begin December with a road victory over a struggling rival, but the loss also prevented the Kings from tying the Ducks for seventh place in the Pacific Division. A win tonight would have also brought Los Angeles within five points of the Sharks in the race for the final Western Conference wild-card spot.
After last night’s game Kings Twitter posted this:
In my NHL, there are no “Mondays”, just “game days”. As George Washington, a winner in my book, once said, “It is better to offer no excuse than a bad one.”
The Capitals are next up Wednesday night at Staples Center. The 2017-18 champions are currently tied with Boston for the most overall points in the league. They are also an impressive 11-2-1 on the road. Here’s wishing all Kings fans a happy and healthy holiday season, GO KINGS GO!!!