Having sat in pressboxes over an 82-game-plus schedule over the past several seasons, you see enough hockey to know that Something Of Note Always Happens. It took 55 minutes on Thursday, but that adage was reinforced when Marian Gaborik and Trevor Lewis scored goals 38 seconds apart late in the third period to claim an L.A. victory in a grinding, defensive, and, for the first two and three quarter periods, unremarkable hockey game. There were several factors leading into the game that suggested that the game could ultimately be a heavy-checking, defensive battle; first and foremost, the Kings and Hurricanes were playing in it. But for Los Angeles, that the game came at the tail end of a road four-in-six against a team that was 15-5-1 at home and also known for its checking and detail indicated that this wasn’t likely to be some wide-open, chance-heavy track meet. Peter Budaj ultimately stopped all the shots he faced in one of his finest performances of the season and was very good long enough to allow the Kings to capitalize on a missed Hurricanes assignment when Anze Kopitar backhanded a puck off the boards to Drew Doughty, who found a seam on the right wing right as Gaborik beat his man up-ice. In a game that wasn’t always pretty on the eyes, it was a very attractive goal.
Los Angeles handled Carolina’s forechecking very well, other than the second period sequence along the boards on an attempted zone exit that led to the Elias Lindholm to Sebastian Aho two-on-one in which Budaj summoned The Black Arts to keep the puck out of his net. (Derek Forbort also appeared to have a nice block on Jordan Staal.) Like the Kings, the Hurricanes don’t allow you a ton of time to breathe in between plays, and in the first five minutes of the game, L.A. did a good job avoiding turning the puck over in their own end against that heavy forecheck by relying on their own positioning and detail to work up the ice in five-man units. Their penalty killing was also sharp and allowed just four shots on goal over eight total minutes of shorthanded time and succeeded in two important third period kills, including one that began with just over eight minutes to play.
This may be of little interest to Kings fans, but it’s hard to look at the young pieces the Hurricanes have and not be a little impressed. It’s a bit tough to single out one young player on a team populated with up-and-comers that relies on structured, positionally stout systems play, but there is absolutely something there in 19-year-old Finnish rookie Sebastian Aho, who has 12 goals and 26 points in 48 games and used his speed and instincts Thursday to get into dangerous and unmarked areas of the ice and fire off shots that resulted in scoring chances. With 22-year olds in Teuvo Teravainen and Elias Lindholm, and 23-year-old Victor Rask dotting a young and skilled top-six, and 22-year-olds Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce, and Noah Hanifin, who turned 20 on Wednesday, surrounding 24-year-old Justin Faulk on the blue line, there are excellent pieces to build around and add to if they’re able to keep all these players together as they inevitably become more expensive. With the way they play, there’s already a pretty firm identity being built.