LA Kings vs Buffalo Sabres Game 4 Recap: Perfect special teams seal the deal

Los Angeles converted all three power play chances, and killed all three of its penalties, in a 4-2 win. Jack Eichel scored two goals for Buffalo.

Before I get started:

The Los Angeles Dodgers win 5-2 to go up 1-0 in the NLCS!

Okay, back to normal programming.

The head-to-head matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Los Angeles Kings cannot be explained without streaks.  The Kings have not won in Buffalo since February 21, 2003.  But the Kings also have a home shutout streak against Buffalo dating back to November 7, 2013.

The Sabres entered the game with an 0-3-1 start, a cause for concern as expectations were large after signing 2015 second overall pick Jack Eichel to an 8 year, $80 million contract extension.  In contrast, the Kings, considered down and out by many, entered the game surprising fans with a 2-0-1 start.  The Sabres never led in their first four games, per Alex Faust.

1st Period

It was an out-of-sync start for both teams, with few shots actually reaching the net.  Alec Martinez made his season debut after sitting out the opening three games with an injury.

Jordan Nolan got a nice video tribute from the Kings, who waived him this preseason.  Nolan was a catalyst in the Kings’ 2012 Cup run.  The tribute must have energized him, as he leveled Martinez with a big hit behind Jonathan Quick.  Miss him yet?

Alas, the scoreless streak at Staples ends for Buffalo.  After a forecheck by Andy Andreoff did not threaten, Jack Eichel picked up the puck and waltzed in 2-on-1.  Martinez and Quick played the shot, but Eichel deceptively fed Zemgus Girgensons, 14th pick in 2012 from Latvia, for a lovely first goal.  The Kings were confused.  Jake Muzzin was pinching in the offensive zone, but Andreoff failed to cover behind Muzzin, leaving them both helpless after the breakout pass by Jason Pominville.

The Kings had a few offensive chances, but offensive pressure was not sustained, even with Drew Doughty joining the fray and carrying the puck in the zone.  It was more of the cycle of yesteryear, not the creativity hoped for this year.

1st Intermission

Mitchell Englander, Los Angeles city councilman, discussed the City Council officially designating October 11 as Bob Miller Day in Los Angeles, as well as plans to build another ice rink in the San Fernando Valley.  A welcome development indeed, after the closure of the Iceoplex, former practice facility of the Kings, in 2001.

2nd Period

The offense woke up.  A prime chance by Andreoff was followed by a botched 3-on-1 by Buffalo.

Finally, the Kings get their first power play goal of the year!  Doughty shot the puck with traffic by Dustin Brown once again.  Brown cleaned up the mess for his fourth goal of the season.  This is the Brown of old that we know and love!  According to Jim Fox, Brown came into training camp in stronger shape at 215 pounds, the level he normally ends seasons.  It may explain his increased stability and net-front presence.

Near the halfway point, a hard pass by Nick Shore on a 2-on-1 could not be corraled by Andreoff.  Alex Iafallo got a little aggressive going for the steal and got a penalty call, but it was worth a try.  It was followed by sustained waves of pressure, facilitated by the intelligence of Iafallo—his ability to discern where his teammates will be to make passes more dangerous than expected.  We gotta love this kid.

3rd Period

A dangerous power play chance for Buffalo—an Eichel pass to Seth Griffith in front of a wide-open net—was somehow stopped by Quick, who reached out with his stick.  Breathtaking!

Then an Eichel penalty was converted by Tyler Toffoli, who received a pass from Muzzin at the hash marks for a simple turn-and-fire that left Robin Lehner looking up in disgust.  (It was also Oscar Fantenberg’s first NHL point.)  Toffoli is best when he receives the puck to shoot it when open, and this proves just that:

Later, Eichel escaped Anze Kopitar and skated in to get the puck from Evander Kane right in front of the net, with too much room.  With poise, he held onto the rebound and converted the play:

The Kings got creative at the second half of the period—including a through-the-legs back pass by Toffoli to Muzzin—but could not convert.  But in the final five minutes, Los Angeles’ passing fell out of sync, until an Evander Kane penalty with 2:04 to go.  After a Kings timeout, Martinez passed the puck along the blue line to Doughty, who scored on a slap shot for his first goal of the season.  A simple, effective, game-winning play.

Jonathan Quick’s heroics helped the team survive a few more dangerous Sabres chances, and Tanner Pearson scored on an empty net to seal the deal in a close game against a talented team.

Michael Cammalleri, who has been scoreless so far this season, was a healthy scratch.  The Kings next face the New York Islanders on October 15, a rare back-to-back at home.