Los Angeles Kings vs. Vancouver Canucks Recap, Game #18: Turtled

LA blows an early two-goal lead after taking their foot off the gas.

Okay, I’ll recap the first ten minutes for you very quickly. On the first shift of Tuesday night’s hockey game, the Los Angeles Kings scored. LA forced a turnover, Tanner Pearson took a shot that had no right to beat Anders Nilsson but somehow did, and it was 1-0. A couple minutes later, as a power play wound down, Anze Kopitar found acres of space in front of Nilsson, and Dustin Brown found him with a pass to make it 2-0.

That was not the story by the time the game ended. Vancouver had come all the way back to win a 3-2 decision, and even though the Kings ended up ahead on scoring chances and shot attempts, it could not have felt more like the Kings had been overrun by a team everyone assumed was inferior.

Why is that? The early goals didn’t help, as the game flow from Natural Stat Trick shows. When it came to 5v5 play, Vancouver was only on top after falling behind by 2, while LA was only on top after the Canucks took the lead in the third period.

This is a bit misleading because the Kings got a whole lot of pressure out of their power play, firing 11 shots on Nilsson. Kopitar’s goal came after three other shots on the PP, and with a 7-0 shots advantage, it truly did feel like LA was dominating even though they hadn’t done the hard work at even strength. By the time LA needed to do that, though, they were fending off a Vancouver team that didn’t have much more to lose. They turtled, allowing the Canucks the next seven shots on goal and 19 of the next 23. The 19th shot was a game-tying goal for Bo Horvat, who established inside position on Jake Muzzin and tucked a rebound past Jonathan Quick. While the first goal, a Henrik Sedin that bested Quick by way of Nick Shore’s rear end, was fluky, the second was a culmination of Vancouver’s pressure. It came at the exact midpoint of the game.

The problem was that, even with no lead to protect, LA failed to get back on top. They got a few shots on net and Vancouver didn’t pepper Quick from that point on, but the remainder of the second saw LA in their own end. The Kings yielded a penalty shot to Brandon Sutter — admittedly on a soft call — and even though Quick saved it, the Kings had to be pleased when a late too-many-men call ensured they would get to the third with a tie score.

The Kings looked great in the third. It was too late. They had left themselves with no wiggle room, and when debutante Andrew Crescenzi took a high-sticking penalty on Derek Dorsett, Sven Baertschi capitalized after a nifty bit of passing.

It was not a great showing for Crescenzi or linemates Brook Laich and Michael Amadio, as the Kings attempted zero shots on goal with those three out there, but blaming them for the loss would be foolish given how sloppy the team looked. If great chances for Alec Martinez (tipped by Nilsson onto the crossbar) and Adrian Kempe (into Nilsson’s chest at point-blank range) had gone in we might again be focusing on LA’s resilience, but instead we have to contend with the turnovers and failed clearances that resulted in the Vancouver Canucks cycling against the Kings time and time again.

LA has lost three in a row, and though they looked a lot worse against Tampa Bay, this one feels more concerning. The Lightning and the Sharks are very good teams, and the Canucks just haven’t been on their level. The next two matchups are friendly, though. A Brad Marchand-less Boston plays on night 2 of a back-to-back, and the very beatable Florida Panthers follow. The Kings can turn this homestand into a minor hiccup, but they’ll need to clean things up today at practice.