Waking up with the Kings: December 18
Continuing the most compacted portion of the 2013-14 schedule, the Los Angeles Kings returned home and turned in a mostly fine performance in a 3-0 win over an Edmonton Oilers squad that ended a stretch of three games in four nights in which significant travel was involved. A much stiffer test will come on Thursday, as the team will continue an eight-games-in-14-days stretch against a San Jose Sharks team as part of a rivalry that heightens the emotion and theater of pre-Christmas hockey. On Tuesday, the Kings opened the game with an excellent opening 20 minutes in which they found success driving to the front of Edmonton’s net and if not for some fine Ilya Bryzgalov saves and several missed nets, there difference in the game could have been wider than one goal. The period also represented some of Los Angeles’ better success in generating controlled offensive zone entries, which was part of a theme of the overall game: though there haven’t been records kept for every game this season, the Kings’ 89 total zone entries surpassed the next highest game from the LAKI records this season by 12 successful entries. The 34 controlled zone entries ranked second amongst the games in which the statistic was tallied. Clearly, the Kings did a good job possessing the puck and transitioning Tuesday night, as they should have – Edmonton and Columbus are tied with a -2.9 shot on goal differential that ranks 26th in the league, and their team Corsi ratings are near the bottom of the league, while Los Angeles’ are near the top.
Martin Jones. Wait, let me fix that. Martin Jones! It’s clear that the Kings enjoy playing in front of the unflappable rookie goaltender, who maintains a composed, stand-up presence in net. On the recent road trip I was asked multiple times whether anyone could play goal behind the Kings defense, and the answer was clearly ‘no.’ Not only has Jones been strong defending the limited Grade-A and Grade-B chances behind Los Angeles’ defense, he hasn’t really allowed any softies this season – maybe Erik Karlsson’s wristshot in Ottawa, perhaps? – and has given the team a chance to win every game he has started. The Kings have taken advantage. In his two previous shutouts against the New York Islanders and Montreal, Jones provided a first period backbone that allowed the team enough time to find their legs and eventually the back of the net. There was no such issue on Tuesday, as the Kings opened the game up with a strong first period and allowed a young goaltender to play much of the game with the lead.
After registering only one shot on goal Sunday night, the Kings’ defense did an excellent job getting shots through on Tuesday. Some credit must also be given to the Oilers’ wingers, who wanted absolutely nothing to do with getting in front of any shots. Los Angeles defensemen recorded 17 shots on goal and had only two attempts blocked last night. Edmonton forwards blocked a total of two shots – one by Ryan Smyth, the other by Ales Hemsky. The Kings threw 81 pucks towards the net and had only seven blocked. These numbers seem to support the “Oilers forwards don’t like to play in their own zone” argument. There were plenty of comments made about Matt Greene’s five shots on goal last night, which tied Drew Doughty for the team lead, but he was strong on every side of the puck. His play against Edmonton represented a significant step forward from his performance against Chicago, which was a challenging assignment in his return from an upper body injury.