Waking up with the Kings: February 4
I was surprised to hear Darryl Sutter say “We had a good first period” 12 hours after Drew Doughty had expressed an aversion to playing “track meet” hockey during Monday’s morning skate. After falling behind 1-0 on power play goal that followed a penalty 24 seconds into the game, two turnovers gave the Blackhawks a pair of Grade-A opportunities off rushes. The first was a contested Patrick Kane breakaway in which Jonathan Quick held his angle and denied a wristshot from the left circle; the other was a three-on-one break in which four skaters got caught deep in the Chicago zone on a play that resulted in Bryan Bickell slamming home Kane’s cross-slot feed to double the Blackhawks’ lead. The Kings showed resolve in bringing themselves within one – long live the Doughty/Voynov righty/righty power play combination – but if getting out-shot 12-5 and substantially out-chanced over the opening 20 minutes represented a “good first period,” I’m afraid to see what a “bad” first period looks like.
Though the Kings were generally the better team for the remaining 40 minutes of the game, the opening 10-12 minutes of the second period represented not only the high point of the Kings’ performance on Monday night, but the best possession hockey seen since the beginning of this winter malaise. Chicago is also an outstanding possession and shot generating team, and despite their penalty killing issues and some inconsistencies that have crept into their game after the turn of the new year, they still possess the deepest one-through-six defensive group in the NHL. To be able to so thoroughly drive play in the direction of the attacking zone, and to be able to generate several quality scoring chances off the rush represented a good omen and a step in the right direction, if not two points. The Kings attacked the net and weren’t relying on deflections or opportune rebounds. Credit the Blackhawks for finding footing and shifting the momentum in the latter half of the period, beginning with Marcus Kruger’s double-deflection goal.
The Toffoli-Kopitar-Carter line was excellent and produced seven points on Monday. Though this line deserves praise for the second consecutive game, it does appear as though there may be some imbalance in the Kings’ attack. Only two lines were really providing quality minutes for Darryl Sutter on Monday – the top line, and the King-Stoll-Lewis line, which was able to chip the puck deep, possess the puck along the boards and forecheck effectively. Unfortunately, the combination of Dustin Brown, Mike Richards and Justin Williams is comprised of three individual players struggling to find their own games at this point in the season, and the unfortunate go-ahead goal by the Blackhawks’ fourth line was scored with that group on the ice. No one on the Clifford-Fraser-Frattin line played more than 7:16 and produced any type of tangible impact, though Matt Frattin was able to work at a high rate of speed and did generate one opportunity in driving the net wide from the right wing. I’d be interested to see if he could take advantage of an additional opportunity on Thursday against Columbus, should it be presented to him.