Waking up with the Kings: March 6
-Darryl Sutter loved the contributions from “the four kids” on defense as he mentioned the performances by “Muzzin, Voynov, Ellerby and Drew” without referencing 25-year old Alec Martinez, who logged a blue line-low 11:16 of ice time and continues to work back into his rhythm after missing eight games due to an upper-body injury. Of Jake Muzzin, whose play this blog has been bullish over for the past month, the gradual shift towards earning more ice time alongside Drew Doughty has been an encouraging trend that has seemed to benefit both the team’s results and Muzzin’s individual statistics. Muzzin has three goals, five points and a plus-four rating over his last five games and continues to make intelligent decisions with the puck in the offensive zone. His ability to draw St. Louis with him as he drifted to the right after a clean Mike Richards faceoff win was the savvy move that opened up the space for Jeff Carter to unleash the powerful wristshot that served as the game-winner. Also, Slava Voynov continues to show that intelligent physical play is a part of his all-around package – he had an good, clean hit on Alex Pietrangelo along the boards late in this game amongst the seven hits that led Los Angeles in a physical affair.
-Despite earning only 11:29 of ice time last night, I liked what Dustin Penner provided as the game evolved. His contribution to Mike Richards’ early third period goal is exactly what the team needs from him as the goal served as a major momentum boost in the team’s comeback. He separated Ian Cole from the puck – lots of Kings separated Ian Cole from the puck last night – with a hit behind the net while on the forecheck before stealing the puck from Kevin Shattenkirk. Jeff Carter should also be recognized for his poke that disrupted Shattenkirk’s attempt to skate the puck out of his own zone. Richards sensed the play developing and drove through the slot unmarked to convert his own rebound after Penner had fed him in stride with a pinpoint backhanded pass. The Penner-Richards-Carter line was outstanding for the Kings in the playoffs last year, and if Penner can continue to replicate his efforts from that impactful shift, that second line will continue to raise the ceiling of the team’s offensive capabilities.
-So finally there was a push back from the St. Louis Blues after having lost six consecutive games to Los Angeles – once in a shootout at Staples Center late last year, all four to the Kings in last year’s playoff series, and a 4-1 defeat to L.A. in St. Louis that included a mostly uninterested Blues performance on February 11. There were three first period fights and plenty of jawing and unpleasant exchanges between the two teams as the visitors attempted to use a heavy approach that hadn’t consistently been there in the most recent meeting between these two teams. It worked for two periods as St. Louis won most of the puck battles, was outstanding around the net in front of Jonathan Bernier and Jonathan Quick and offered an example of the strong depth scoring it receives, even in the absence of Alex Steen and Andy McDonald. Where had this Kings-Blues antagonism been before last night? I’m not advocating anything that resembles that ridiculous Pittsburgh – Philadelphia series last season, but until the first period of last night’s game, I really hadn’t seen St. Louis demonstrate its frustration over what has developed into a one-sided rivalry over the span of a calendar year.