Kings 6, Ducks 1: Four Observations from Staples

We watched a game at Staples, and now we know some stuff.

Last night’s preseason contest between the Los Angeles Kings and the Anaheim Ducks was wildly entertaining. The Kings racked up 48 shots, the post-whistle scrums were minimal even as the play was physical, and players who spent last year in the AHL or in other cities were given a chance to shine against the Ducks. The 6-1 result was a reflection of how well the guys played, and with no more than three players truly guaranteed a roster spot, everyone was looking for clues on what this means for the start of the season. We tried to draw some conclusions, and here they are:

  1. Nic Dowd has a leg up. On everyone. Yes, I know, reading too much into a 6-1 game is a bad idea. But we need to talk about Nic Dowd, because he wasn’t just good yesterday, he was dominant. Dowd scored twice by going to the front of the net: that earns a big + from the coaching staff. Dowd looked extremely comfortable with new arrival Teddy Purcell: he can play with more offensively skilled guys! Kyle Clifford was on that line too, so the fourth line isn’t going to bother Dowd either. And to underscore the versatility, he led the team in PK time while also winning 75% of his draws. Dowd’s second goal came off the kind of play that will earn him a spot on Opening Night; he forechecked, blocked a clearing attempt by goalie Yann Denis, got the puck, held off a defender with his rear end for a few seconds, got the puck to Matt Greene, and went straight to the front. And we got all that before looking at his possession numbers. We may not see a better single-game performance all preseason.
  2. The Kings have goaltending depth again! Naturally, Jeff Zatkoff has the inside track at the backup goalie spot, but the potential Ontario Reign goalies showed their mettle last night. Though the Kings controlled the shot battle all night, Anaheim got some great chances in the slot and around the net when they did break through the neutral zone. Fortunately, Peter Budaj and Tom McCollum came to play. Budaj, the presumed starter in Ontario, stopped fourteen shots in 30 minutes, looking as comfortable as you’d expect against a mixture of NHL hangers-on and AHL prospects. McCollum was the surprise for a Staples crowd which had never seen him before, though, making a few excellent side-to-side pad stops and only being beaten on a screen. Even if he hadn’t been wearing a red mask, he would have stood out. Neither McCollum nor Jack Campbell impressed in their first preseason game, but McCollum got an extended look and excelled.
  3. Gravel’s stock continues to rise at Forbort’s expense. The battle for a blueline spot is a stiff one, and assuming that Tom Gilbert will get a chance to prove himself at the start of the season, it would be difficult for both of the Kings’ homegrown defensemen to make the Opening Night roster. Both Kevin Gravel and Derek Forbort are waiver-exempt (edit: two-way contracts for both, but only Gravel is waiver-exempt) 24-year-old blueliners, and if you ignored pedigree and paid attention to the way that LA management and coaches talk about the two, it’d seem that Gravel has a leg up. Last night would only have strengthened Gravel’s case; both players got similar ice time, but Gravel played with Gilbert and got better zone starts, while Forbort was thrown into a tougher deployment with Matt Greene. Forbort can be a steady, almost invisible presence even when he’s playing well, but unless he chips in on the scoresheet (as he did in the first preseason game), that’s to his detriment when fighting for a lineup spot. Meanwhile, Gravel had an assist, seven shots on goal, and a lot of time on the puck, so he earned the third star.
  4. The battle of the fourth line tweeners will go to the wire. The Kings coaches put Jordan Nolan, Andy Andreoff, and Michael Latta on one line last night, presumably while making popcorn they could eat while that line was on the ice. Sheng and I were joking that if they had the chance to set each other up for a goal they’d “accidentally” put the pass in the others’ skates, because they have to be competing for fewer than three spots, right? On a night where the whole team showed up, those three were no exception, and they one-upped each other all night. Nolan looks really active? Cool, there’s Latta getting into a fight. Latta has a good chance in front? All right, Andreoff’s just gonna knock in a goal. Andreoff drills a guy with a check? Fine, Nolan will go over there and rough up Stu Bickel. For all their faults, those guys don’t let up, and I hope they’re on the same line all preseason.