Over the past couple decades, the Los Angeles Kings have not always been lucky enough to have a player who can win games based on pure talent and playmaking ability. These days, the Kings have two of them. After Jonathan Bernier kept his team in the game for two periods, Jeff Carter and Anze Kopitar stepped up. Carter’s power play goal and Kopitar’s brilliant individual effort helped the Kings steal, seize, and/or deservedly earn a 2-1 win at home against the Detroit Red Wings.
I’m really interested to see Robert’s breakdown of this game, because it was honestly tough by the end to tell who the better team was overall tonight. It also didn’t help that I was at the game tonight, so a lot of tonight’s analysis is going to be by the eye test. For stretches, however, Detroit was the better squad by any measurement. The Wings nearly earned a victory on the strength of two ten-minute time periods, and the first ten was just how Detroit wanted to start. The Kings mustered just one shot, Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi took tripping penalties, and the confident Wings PP forced three or four very good saves from Jonathan Bernier. But after killing the penalties, the Kings allowed a goal on their 11th shot allowed in ten minutes. Former King Kyle Quincey shot from the blue line after Rob Scuderi’s clearing attempt went awry (sound familiar?), and his shot deflected high into the air, off the back of Bernier’s head, and into the net. As ugly as the goal was, it probably should have been 1-0 already, so we’ll forgive him.
The Kings found their feet after that, but Jimmy Howard (continuing his fine form against the Kings) still didn’t feel like giving anything up, so it was 1-0 at the end of the first. The second period? Well, if you’ve been paying attention this year, you already know what happened. The Kings applied the pressure, outshot their opponents, and threw in a couple power plays to keep things interesting. Los Angeles has gotten late second period goals on a few recent occasions, but today they didn’t score. The mood at Staples perked up twelve minutes in, when Jonathan Ericsson’s tripping penalty put the Kings on a 5-on-3 for a minute and a half. Unfortunately, the ensuing two-man advantage was atrocious, with Howard’s point-blank stop on Dustin Brown providing the only good chance from the Kings’ power play effort. Pavel Datsyuk’s hook on Jeff Carter just before the first 5-on-3 expired only prolonged the agony, and the four minutes proved fruitless. Despite outshooting Detroit 13-7 in the second, the Kings were losing the shot battle, the chance battle, and the game.
So the first awful ten-minute stretch was the opening half of the first. The other was the opening half of the third. Jimmy Howard only faced two shots in the early going, and until the Kings got another shot at scoring on a 5-on-3, they went nearly eight minutes without putting the puck on net. Meanwhile, Jonathan Bernier had another save-a-minute run, as he stopped eight shots and helped kill off another good Detroit power play. Then, reason number one why Wings fans are complaining: the pivotal 5-on-3. But it’s tough to argue either penalty: Kyle Quincey nearly yanked Kyle Clifford’s head off, and even if you hate the new faceoff rule, it was clearly violated by Pavel Datsyuk when he used his hand to win the puck. (Datsyuk’s Lady Byng chances took a big hit today, by the way; his last regular season game with multiple penalties was on January 7, 2009. Incidentally, that was also the memorable game when Howard made 51 saves against the Kings.)
So it was another two-man advantage, and LA tied it up this time. Mike Richards received a pass from Kopitar and took a quick point shot which was blocked by Niklas Kronwall, but the puck came right back. Richards decided this time to aim at the team’s most consistent scorer, Jeff Carter. Carter made his buddy look good, redirecting the puck between his own legs and between Howard’s legs for the game-tying goal. It was Carter’s fifth straight game with a goal, and Los Angeles had won the first four. Good sign? Good sign.
The second controversial moment came when Dustin Penner hit Detroit defenseman Brendan Smith in the offensive zone, away from the play with six minutes left. Penner appeared to be trying to get through or around (depending on who you root for) Smith, and while it may not have been dirty, Penner was fortunate to avoid an interference penalty. A shaken Smith left the game but would return, so the only real consequence was the Kings not being down a man.
After an icing, Darryl Sutter put Anze Kopitar out with Dwight King and Trevor Lewis for an offensive zone faceoff. Sutter’s choice of goalie had been validated, and this decision was too, when Lewis and King fought along the boards to gain possession. Two Wings got tangled up while jostling with Kopitar, and that’s why he was suddenly alone in front when King hit him with a blind pass. Kopitar had just enough time to flip his body around as he moved to the net, and when Howard slid across the net to follow his movement, #11 showed enough poise to switch to the backhand, reach back, and slip the puck beyond Howard’s outstretched pad. Watch the goal here, over and over if you’d like; it’s worth your time. Kopitar’s eighth point in four games was enough to put Los Angeles ahead, and they survived the final five minutes to even up the season series against Detroit.
All things considered, each team probably thought they could have had an extra goal or two, and certainly the Wings will feel that they should’ve earned a point out of this. But Los Angeles got the two points on the back of another good goaltending performance, a PK and defense that cleared the puck out of danger just enough, and possibly the best goal the Kings have scored this season. The Kings move up to fifth in the tightly packed Western Conference, and before coming back to Staples for five more, they get to visit the magical place where last year’s run started: Vancouver.