Oilers @ Kings Recap: Maybe Not a “Must-Win”, But a Good Win

LA takes care of a division rival.

After yesterday’s game, Fox Sports’ Patrick O’Neal referred to LA’s matchup with the Oilers as a “must-win.” As hard as it is to see the 18th game of an 82-game season as anything more than one brick in the wall, this one did feel like it needed to bounce the right way for LA. Thanks to the one big line left standing, it did.

[Box Score]

Derek Forbort helped, too! Last night’s second star got his second multi-point game of the season; oddly enough, those are the only games he’s gotten any points in. (Those five points are still enough to lead the defensemen in 5v5 scoring, as Doughty and Martinez each have only four points at 5v5.) His goal showed patience as he waited for traffic, found the optimal angle, and put a long wrister inside the far post with Nick Shore in front. Forbort is carrying the lowest Corsi For% of any regular defenseman not named Matt Greene, and even when he’s out there with Doughty LA’s only getting 47% of the shot attempts. But he’s averaging 21:12 of ice time over the last five games and he’s taken over Tom Gilbert’s presumed top-four role.

Why start with Forbort? Because otherwise I’d have spent the whole recap talking about Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson. Let’s be clear: after Toffoli made it 2-0, the Kings were destined to lose the shot battle. Sure, the Kings were the only NHL team which had a positive CF% when leading last year. But Edmonton doesn’t need an excuse to open things up as it is; down 2, they were always going to get more offensive zone time. LA managed to keep the Oilers at bay in the first, but the final 40 saw them going at Peter Budaj repeatedly.

That makes it more impressive that Pearson, Carter, and Toffoli broke even in shot attempts, as well as being the only line to generate more than ten shot attempts. And they did it while spending the bulk of their time against Connor McDavid’s line. So it was a good night for them, even ignoring that Carter set up Toffoli for that second goal. And when Edmonton got goals from Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom, it was Toffoli and Carter who rushed the other way off a defensive-zone draw for the game-winning goal.

That line still works, Darryl. And, for that matter, Brown-Dowd-Setoguchi does too. They had a little more trouble dealing with the Oilers’ attack, but they managed to avoid allowing a goal, and they sealed the game late going the other way. It didn’t look like much, but each player did their job, and Setoguchi had an open rebound. He was pretty jazzed about it.

The popular opinion was that there could have been more goals, meaning the Budaj-Gustavsson matchup that we halfheartedly hyped up... actually lived up to the hype! Budaj was excellent after Nurse’s stoppable first goal, including two point-blank saves on Milan Lucic. Lucic didn’t agitate or score yesterday, but he did come on stronger as the night went on. If the two contributing lines can hold out until Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik get back, though, we might finally have a lineup that isn’t crying out for a guy like Lucic.

This was just a stepping stone, though, as back-to-back games against two of the ten stingiest teams in the league will present a challenge for the Kings this weekend. (New Jersey has the second-best goals against average in the league; Anaheim is ninth.)