Welcome to China! Kings 5, Canucks 2
In between all the penalties, there was actually a hockey game that was played
Good morning and welcome to an incredibly rare early morning Kings game recap.
If you were up early enough to see this game, either you are very devoted to this team or you just don’t need sleep. I won the “time zones are most favorable to you” lottery, so here I am.
(Do you want to know what it feels like to listen to Pierre McGuire at 6:30 am? Pretty terrible, is what. Apologies to my west coast colleagues who had to endure it at 4:30, that just seems cruel.)
If you’ve watched any pre-season hockey this year, you’ll know that the story is penalties. The league is trying to crack down on stick infractions, particularly slashing, which has led to a parade to the box in every game I’ve caught so far. (Faceoff violations are big, too, with players getting tossed for their skates sliding over the red lines at the dot, although I don’t think we saw any penalties called for it in this game.)
First hand-written sheet I've ever received #NHLChinaGames pic.twitter.com/Qz77PX57pw— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) September 21, 2017
While at least some level of stats were kept for this game, they don’t seem to have made it to the NHL’s website quite yet. But of the eight (eight!!) penalties the Kings took in the first two periods, six were for slashing or hooking. The barrage of power plays may have made for increased scoring threats, something the league also wants, but it made for a very disrupted flow of the game. The breathless, end-to-end, no-whistles sort of play that transfixes fans the world over has been replaced by constant stoppages and special teams work.
NICHOLAS PLEASE IM SO TIRED OF SPECIAL TEAMS pic.twitter.com/xQdfGsHzqL— sarah. (@goorgoahead) September 21, 2017
Regardless, that’s for the league and players to sort out. We’re here to talk about the fact that the Kings actually looked fairly good in this outing? Both the Kings and the Canucks essentially brought their A-teams to China; the Kings will rotate in some of their other bottom six/fringe players in Jordan Nolan, Michael Mersch, Nic Dowd, Paul LaDue and Kurtis MacDermid but for the most part, some combination of the players on this trip are the players who will be on the roster on opening night.
So for the most part, what we saw this morning is very close to what we’re going to see in just a few more weeks, and what we saw was very encouraging. It’s a very small sample size, but Anze Kopitar looked back to his old self, active in all areas of play, creating chances, maintaining possession. Jonathan Quick’s saves got a lot of reaction from the crowd; his dramatic, sprawling, angry-cat style of goaltending might be murder on all of our hearts, but it sure is fun to watch, especially if you’re new to hockey. Tanner Pearson picked up right where he left off, scoring big goals.
Henrik was thinking yes.@JonathanQuick32 said no.#NHLChinaGames pic.twitter.com/XeT1T03dzk— NHL (@NHL) September 21, 2017
Of particular note was the reworked power play, which featured much more movement among all of the players. (Of course, they had an ample amount of time to practice playing with the man advantage in this game.) Players seem freed up to get more creative and move the puck around in a way that makes sense and causes the opposite team’s defenders to move out of position, rather than passing continually while looking for the perfect shot. As the special teams units get solidified, that’s certainly going to be something to watch as the season goes on, particularly if games are going to be seeing more power plays because of rule enforcement this year.
The important thing about this game -- historic firsts aside -- is that the Kings won, despite being called for about a thousand (okay, somewhere between ten and fourteen, depending on your source, given that there are no stats for this game and I didn’t think to keep my own) minor penalties.
Adrian Kempe started scoring with a beautiful shot on the power play, winning the honor of being an answer to a future Obscure Hockey Trivia question.
A historic goal that is absolutely smoked.— NHL (@NHL) September 21, 2017
Congrats, @adriankempe. #NHLChinaGames pic.twitter.com/SKHievvcXs
Tanner Pearson -- he of the “bad skater in juniors” pedigree -- followed that up with a smooth, speedy shorthanded goal:
In case you weren't aware, @tannerjpearson has some bursting speed. 💨 #NHLChinaGames pic.twitter.com/kARoi4dFeK— NHL (@NHL) September 21, 2017
If you ask Pierre -- and we didn’t, but he told us anyway -- it sounds like Tanner’s in the “best shape of his career” coming into this season. Someone please alert Dustin Brown, who’s been a more recent winner of the “best shape” contest. Regardless of Pierre’s weirdly intimate knowledge about Pearson’s off-season training regimen, he certainly did look great in this game -- strong along the boards, good possession time, even threw a few hits in there for good measure.
Early in the third, Alec Martinez added to the tally with a rare full strength goal in a sequence featuring some excellent puck movement between all five Kings on the ice. Of course, the team followed that up by taking four penalties and allowing one goal, a power play tally from Sven Baertschi.
Another goal from Vancouver midway through the third, on what was maybe a defensive misplay by the Derek Forbort/Christian Folin pairing, made for a vaguely tense third period, waiting to see if the Kings would cough up their lead or not. Fortunately, Tanner Pearson put an end to that with his second goal of the night, another breakaway play, assisted by Jeff Carter. With Pearson and Carter both bearing down on him, Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom didn’t seem to know who to commit to covering, and ultimately didn’t really cover anyone, leading to a fairly easy goal for Pearson.
Another breakaway. Same result for @tannerjpearson. #NHLChinaGames pic.twitter.com/aeFYLhoGW8— NHL (@NHL) September 21, 2017
Carter added a goal of his own, a low-key empty net goal with under a minute left, to really put things away for the Kings.
There are a lot of positives to take away from this game, particularly in special teams work -- we definitely saw enough of them to start to get an idea of what the Kings are going to try to do this year to revitalize their offense, at least with the man advantage. Players like Kopitar and Brown, who needed to bounce back from disappointing 2016-17 seasons, looked rejuvenated and dangerous on the ice. And Jonathan Quick didn’t break anything. All in all, a good start for the team.
The Kings’ B team, largely comprised of AHL players, veterans on PTOs, and players who will soon be sent back to juniors, take on the Ducks in Anaheim on Friday night. The China squad plays in Beijing very very VERY early Saturday morning, with puck drop at around 12:30 am Pacific time.
Set your alarms.