Waking up with the Kings: January 28
The Los Angeles Kings were due for a win in both the cadence of the 2013-14 season and the away portion of the head-to-head series with San Jose. I tend to agree with Darryl Sutter’s assessment last night that “It’s the way we’ve been playing. You just don’t get the results all the time,” and that the team hadn’t been touched with the hand of luck over the recent losing streak. In regards to the four posts the Kings hit on Monday, there certainly is more room for luck and fortunate bounces to fall in the Kings’ favor. As for winning at the SAP Center, the Kings were long overdue. Including playoff games, the Kings have played nine straight one-goal games at the Shark Tank, with five of those games tied after 60 minutes. Excluding shootout goals, the Kings have only been outscored 18-14 over that span. The rift in the head to head matchup is much wider at Staples Center, where Los Angeles has outscored San Jose 32-17 over the last nine games. Does this bode well for the Kings, should they face the Sharks on the road at some point in the playoffs? Perhaps. This is an L.A. team with plenty of players remaining that have won the Stanley Cup; it’s not as if they’ve all of a sudden forgotten how to win in tough buildings. The Kings have been playing tight, low-scoring games on the road in the rivalry and were long overdue for a win.
There was quality goaltending in both corners on Monday night, with both Jonathan Quick and Alex Stalock making important saves early that preserved the trajectory of the game. If Quick doesn’t lunge to deny Bracken Kearns – who was excellent – with a wide open glove, San Jose has an early goal and a momentum surge. Stalock’s early key save was when he denied Anze Kopitar’s wristshot from the slot after the Kings center shouldered Matt Nieto off the puck, one of several fine Los Angeles chances during a suffocating first period in which they limited San Jose to four shots on goal. Other than Kearns’ quality opportunity early, there weren’t many Grade-A type opportunities the Sharks – who possess the league’s sixth-best offense – were able to generate through the first 40 minutes of the game.
Anze Kopitar, Jarret Stoll and the forwards’ 200-foot adherence are deserving of credit for the stifling defensive performance, though the six-man defensive corps is equally deserving of credit after a mistake-free evening in a building that is generally unkind to visitors and in which shot totals have a tendency to hit double digits midway through the first period. Between the 11-block performance by the consortium of Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell and Robyn Regehr, and the standout decision making and poise by the more mobile portion of the Kings’ blue line, San Jose’s top offensive players were well contained during a tight defensive battle in which quality chances and puck possession favored Los Angeles.