Waking up with the Kings: February 20
-Last night’s performance was mostly positive for the Kings. Jonathan Quick kept the score tied early, and for the final 40 minutes Los Angeles was the better team. Of course, “being the better team” doesn’t get you two points in the standings (see: Detroit), and the Kings finally earned some puck luck of their own when Jeff Carter, driving towards the net to create some grease in front of Nikolai Khabibulin, had Trevor Lewis’ wristshot glance off the blade of his stick and into the back of the net. Carter told me after the game that he wasn’t trying to deflect the puck, that the deflection was coincidental and he was only trying to create traffic and a screen. I’m not sure if I’m buying that – it appeared as though Carter may have called for the puck and chopped his stick at it. In any case, when you’ve scored 209 goals in 530 career games, you score goals in a variety of different ways, including in some situations when you’re not necessarily even looking to get a shot on net. The play was set up when Davis Drewiske used a good stick to disrupt a rush into the zone by Taylor Hall.
-Speaking of Hall, I wasn’t overly fond of his play or the play of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins last night. Their line, along with Jordan Eberle, was a combined minus-nine and allowed an even strength goal to the Kings’ Jordan Nolan-Colin Fraser-Trevor Lewis line. Lewis and Fraser won the net-front battle for the puck over Nick Schultz and Nugent-Hopkins, allowing for Fraser’s chip shot from close range. The Oilers have a surplus of speed and some enviable burgeoning skill, but are there a collection of grinders and role players that are so necessary to go deep into the playoffs? There’s Ryan Smyth, Ben Eager and of course Eric Belanger – who certainly helped the Kings win a playoff series 12 years ago – but I’m not yet seeing an excessive amount of veteran strength and jam in Edmonton’s top-six, at least not in the sense of “jam” that can be found embedded in Anze Kopitar’s, Mike Richards’ and Dustin Brown’s games. L.A. tightened up over the final 40 minutes of this game and was successful in winning the battles along the boards and keeping the Oilers’ skill mostly to the perimeter.
-Have you liked Jake Muzzin’s game ever since Darryl Sutter’s “road apples” comment? I’m guardedly optimistic. I also asked this question to two people whose opinions I value greatly, and they weren’t as ready to moderately speak as favorably as I was. I’m not looking to write an opera about his recent play, but I saw a few things that I liked yesterday. He was hitting – he was credited with four hits in 16:05 and had a rather large first period open-ice hit on Belanger. He also very nearly came away with an assist on a simple second period play in which he snapped a puck low towards the Edmonton net, right in the wheelhouse for Richards to get a stick on it. Richards’ prime deflection was stopped by Khabibulin on one of the 35 saves the 40-year old goaltender made in a throwback ‘Bulin Wall performance. Muzzin isn’t ready for a top-four role, but his play has certainly been an improvement over what it was in the Anaheim game.
-Dustin Brown led the Kings with five hits. Share your thoughts below.