Sometimes the puck bounces your way and some times it doesn’t. Unfortunately all too many times this season the Kings have outshot their opponents but found themselves going home losers as they failed to convert opportunities, come up with the big save when needed, or even just catch a lucky break.
The “experts” will tell you the Kings had no business winning this game. The Penguins came into town 30 points ahead of the Kings in the standings. Their goalie Tristan Jarry was 20-10-1 (8-1-1 against the Pacific Division) with a 2.23 goal against average and a .927 save percentage. Somehow, Pittsburgh had survived an injury-filled season to now find themselves only four points out of first place in the Metropolitan Division. Their Hall of Famers were healthy and their general manager Jim Rutherford had wheeled and dealed at the trade deadline with such fury as if to announce to the rest of the NHL the Penguins had serious intentions of making a deep Stanley Cup run.
As for the actual game, the Penguins dominated the Kings in several important statistical categories. According to Natural Stat Trick, last night’s total-game Corsi (the closest indicator of time of possession) favored the Penguins 63% to 37%. The Kings were also outshot (36-22), outhit (24-16), and lost the giveaway battle (11-6.) Yet the name of the game is putting “the biscuit in the basket” (which is not necessarily the same as “lighting the lamp,” but more on that later) as the Kings held on for a 2-1 surprise victory over the Penguins last night in a nationally televised contest at Staples Center. Despite the Penguin debuts of trade deadline acquisitions Patrick Marleau, Conor Sheary and Evan Rodrigues, Pittsburgh suffered their fourth straight regulation loss, matching their total amount of regulation defeats suffered over their previous 22 games.
Blake Lizotte opened the scoring with a power play goal 2:34 into the first period after Penguin Kris Letang was sent off for tripping Dustin Brown. Lizotte redirected a Sean Walker shot from just inside the blue line. Gabe Vilardi also earned an assist on the play, his third NHL point in three games since being called up from Ontario.
The next indication it might just be the Kings night occurred late in the first period with Los Angeles leading 1-0. Sidney Crosby “lit the lamp” with this redirection off his skate. However as noted earlier one can “light the lamp” without necessarily putting the “biscuit in the basket” and the play which which was originally called a goal on the ice was overturned after replay showed the puck clearly never crossed the goal line.
The Kings went ahead 2-0 on a nifty rebound goal by Trevor Lewis at 19:28 of the second period, assisted by both Lizotte and recently acquired Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore. While Lewis made an excellent move around Pens defenseman Jack Johnson creating the rebound goal, the play was initially formed in the neutral zone by the tremendous hustle of Lizotte. The 5’9” 170-pound Kings rookie center out of St. Cloud State skated diagonally across the ice, blue line to blue line in a race to the puck with Johnson.
Although the 6’3” 230-pound Johnson beat Lizotte to the puck, Lizotte’s extended reach forced Johnson to give up possession right away, causing the Penguins defenseman to recklessly pass the puck forward against the boards where it was intercepted by Lewis. Lewis subsequently passed the puck back off the dasher to Lizotte, who raced across the offensive blue line before hitting a streaking Lewis with a perfect pass. Lewis then made a nifty move around the aforementioned Johnson and while Penguins goalie Jarry made the initial save, he allowed a sweet rebound which Lewis put home.
The Penguins avoided the shutout at 6:42 of the third period on an Evgeni Malkin backhand making it 2-1. However the Kings held off a furious Pittsburgh rally in the last 20 seconds of the game, with Petersen, who played a technically superior game throughout the contest, making several stellar saves to preserve the win.
The Devils come to town Saturday for a leap day matinee before the team heads off to Vegas for a Sunday night reunion with old friend and Stanley Cup hero Alec Martinez. Saturday’s game is definitely winnable as Jersey holds last place in the Metro. However, the Devils are 7-3-0 over their last 10 games, and have won three in a row. Moreover, the last time the clubs met, February 8th, the Devils blanked the Kings 3-0 in Newark as Mackenzie Blackwood earned the shutout turning away 37 shots.
As a season that seemed like it was over before it ever got started begins to wind down it is nice to see the team win a hard fought, close contest against a true Cup contender. It’s also nice to see Cal Petersen rise to the occasion and earn the trust Luc, Rob and Todd put in him when the team traded away Jack Campbell.
However, we’ve been to this dance before and consistency has not been the Kings forté this season. Only time will tell if the former Notre Dame captain is truly the Kings “goalie of the future.” I’d be content with a split over the weekend, but for a few days lets all just be happy with last night’s performance, and together, let us all say GO KINGS GO!