Kings @ Penguins Recap: LA Dazzles and Grinds Behind Quick, First Line
A back-and-forth game ended with the terrific Quick and Fleury dueling for one more point.
Back in October, the Los Angeles Kings pulled off a seven-game win streak on the back of their second line, along a healthy serving of top-notch goaltending. We've only had to wait another month and a half for another impressive streak, and we've seen a much more balanced offensive effort driving this six-game run. Still lots of Jonathan Quick, though, and against the Pittsburgh Penguins, there was even more of him than usual.
Friday's game was the first in which the Kings have allowed more than 40 shots since March 21, and given the highly dangerous forwards Pittsburgh was rolling, you wouldn't have expected such an onslaught to result in just two goals. (On the other hand, the Kings getting only two goals from their 40 shots? Not a huge surprise.) Lots of credit to Jonathan Quick, who's been in net for all six of the Kings' wins. His flashiest save of the night came in the shootout, but he got there thanks to a number of superb stops throughout the rest of the game. His best was probably this one on David Perron in OT...
... but he also denied multiple Phil Kessel breakaways, along with nine (nine!) saves on Evgeni Malkin. Both of those two did beat Quick once, though; Kessel had literally the entire net behind Quick on a 5-on-3 and hit the post, but Malkin's goal with 1:10 to go in regulation tied the game and earned Pittsburgh a point. They probably deserved it, too, on the back of a prolific second period effort and another strong performance by Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury actually earned "Save of the Game" on LA's broadcast. No small feat.
Fleury's save was on Anze Kopitar, after a beautiful setup from Marian Gaborik on a 2-on-1. It was a full-pad-extension save to prevent the game from going to 2-0 in the opening period, but both Kopitar and Gaborik kept pushing, combining for eleven shots on goal. Their most impressive shift of the game came off the opening faceoff in 3-on-3 OT; LA has proven to be incredibly effective in the extra session, and watching Kopitar and Gaborik team with Drew Doughty to control the puck for a full minute was a work of art. In fact, they all made it to the line change without losing the puck, AND handed it off to the oncoming Kings without giving it away. It was lovely.
Lovelier, of course, were the shootout goals. Marian Gaborik's winner was a textbook example of the "carry wide and shoot high" method. Kopitar's was a textbook example of the "make the goalie look stupid" method, as he waited for Fleury to try a poke-check before casually sliding the puck around him in on the backhand. Their goals were the difference in the shootout, cancelling out Perron's opening tally, but it was the third member of that top line who actually managed to beat Fleury in regulation.
Tanner Pearson's goal was his first since November 14, and with he and Gaborik both quiet despite Kopitar's ten-points-in-ten-games stretch, it was a welcome tally. The Penguins' 18-shot second period eventually resulted in an equalizer by Eric Fehr, but Jake Muzzin (who had an assist on Pearson's goal) got it right back on a slapper after the Kings passed around for their entire 25-second power play.
"WHAT ON EARTH ARE YOU WAITING FOR YOU IDI-" (Muzzin scores) "........ oh"— Eric (@EricJFTC) December 12, 2015
For the rest of the guys, it was an up-and-down night. Michael Mersch nearly scored his first career goal but was stopped on a partial breakaway by Fleury. His debut was very much in his usual style; businesslike, very little flash, but he got a couple shots on net and did some hard work in front and in the corners. Interestingly, the two Jordans (the only two forwards who got less ice time than Mersch) were quite effective on the fourth line, while the third line with Mersch had a bit less to work with as they were tasked with facing Crosby and Malkin on most of their shifts. The same went for that first line (who were terrific), while the second line (who took on Nick Bonino's trio) was a lot less effective. Nonetheless, it added up to a win.
And, apparently, the firing of Mike Johnston. LA's done with the Pens this season, so if they do face the Penguins' new head coach later this year, he's done a darn good job.