Whew, this was not a good game. This was actually kind of a bad game for the Los Angeles Kings. Looking at the score, it seems strange to say. But for the final 40 minutes, the Vegas Golden Knights were all over their visitors like sequins on a costume. Despite a rough two periods, the Kings (largely thanks to their netminder) managed to hold on and get their first victory of 2020.
Interestingly enough, two of LA’s goals came from unexpected sources. Points from the blue line have always been a bit scarce for this team and to get two goals in the same game, let alone the same period, is even more shocking. First, Alec Martinez showed off his wholly healed wrist by unleashing a wicked slapper.
Then Ben Hutton doubled the Kings’ lead.
Not content to let his defenders have fun with all the scoring, Tyler Toffoli joined the party by tripling the score. Yes, that’s right, thanks to Toffoli, the Kings were up 3-0 with about 76 seconds left in the first period.
Toffoli’s goal is actually a great example of something that has plagued the Kings so often this season, which is the opposition scoring pretty much right off the faceoff. In this case, Toffoli waited for the traffic to develop and then uses his quick hands to get the puck off his stick and past Malcolm Subban who had no idea where it was.
In the dying seconds of the still first period, Adrian Kempe scored his ninth goal of the season, putting the puck and himself into the empty net.
The play was largely even for the first half of the period before the Kings started to take over, which was then followed by four goals in 8 minutes. But then the Golden Knights came out ready to do battle in the second period and the Kings from the opening scene were nowhere to be found.
This Expected Goals chart comes courtesy of Money Puck. Look at how flat the Kings came out to start the second period. In fact, they were so dead, they barely registered three shots on goal in 20 minutes. Meanwhile, from the drop of the puck, the Golden Knights were ready and raring to go, racking up 23 shots and scoring twice in that same time frame.
Three quarters of the way into the middle frame, Reilly Smith beat the stellar Jack Campbell to break his shutout bid.
A minute later, Max Pacioretty halves the score and Los Angeles is feeling the squeeze.
Interestingly, Todd McLellan did not call a timeout. He trusted the team to right their own ship and get the job done. In fact, he kept rolling four lines fairly evenly (at least, he didn’t radically change the lines and shifts).
It wasn’t easy nor was it pretty, but get the job is indeed what they did. Not all coaches would show the patience and restraint to not make a bold move because their team was playing poorly. Sure, the Kings were still up by two goals, but it’s just interesting that McLellan didn’t panic. Funny how things work out.
The third period, defensively, was a lot better for the visiting team. They allowed only 11 scoring chances (as opposed to the 19 in the second period) and only two high danger chances against in all situations (including one successful penalty kill). For a team that is as good and is as stacked with talent as the Golden Knights, it’s impressive that the Kings were so good at limiting opportunities against in such a high pressure situation.
Vegas coach Gerard Gallant pulled Subban with nearly three minutes to go. Austin Wagner, on a breakaway, had a glorious opportunity at the empty net but missed wide. There were a few other chances, but it was almost a comedy of errors as guys overskated or just missed connecting on passes.
Kempe got his second goal of the evening with just about ten seconds remaining in the game. It only took 9/10 of a second from the time he received the puck to the time that he scored.
Kempe also registered five of the team’s 23 shots on the evening. It’s amazing how he has become a quietly productive player and how much better he looks having moved back to the wing.
One area of concern for the Kings that they’ve been working on in practice and still struggling mightily with in-game are faceoff wins. Faceoffs are never important until they are. It’s a total cop-out to say that, but at the same time, they’ve become rather important to Los Angeles this season. The Nashville game is a pretty good example of just how much they’re still working on winning draws and what to do if they lose them. In this game, they were credited with winning only 42% of faceoffs. In critical moments, like when their goalie is under siege, they’ll need to be better moving forward.
Birthday boy Jack Campbell was outstanding, saving his team’s butt 44 times for a big win on his big day. Cheers, Jack. Hopefully the boys bought you dinner.
Next up: It’s off to Raleigh to take on those cheeky Carolina Hurricanes and potentially Justin Williams.