Short of pucks catapulting off mesh netting and deflecting off the goaltender and into the net, Gila River Arena has been the site of its fair share of unexpected developments. A building that elicits performances more Picasso than Vermeer is often impervious to Los Angeles’ tried and true checking detail and strong goaltending. The December 1 game in Glendale was a perfect example: Coyotes score 15 seconds in, regain lead on a soft goal late in the period, Kings fight back and win narrow, sloppy, one-goal game. Tuesday’s game strayed from this familiar script. In one of their better all-around performances in the desert in recent seasons, Los Angeles fought back from a pair of one-goal deficits by gradually exhibiting more and more of their familiar, tried-and-true systems work and were ultimately rewarded with a late Jake Muzzin goal in a game they had shown signs of taking control of early in the second period but weren’t yet able to transfer their advantage in the game into one on the scoreboard.
Muzzin played a hard, confident game and activated to chip in the game-winner with 1:49 remaining in what may have been his sturdiest performance of the entire season. He had two big hits on the game’s opening shift and three in the first eight minutes before finishing with a team-high 27:24 of ice time, in which he attempted eight shots and issued five hits and wasn’t on the ice for a goal against. There were some lapses in the defense – Brayden McNabb had a pair of turnovers that led to Ryan White’s goal, and Drew Doughty didn’t produce the type of engaged, physical performance that he uses as a guide to determine whether his game is going well – but Muzzin was among several players who anchored the five-man units up and down the ice in systems adherence that crescendoed as the game progressed. That positioning and support was important in a game in which Peter Budaj was fighting the puck a little bit and left several rebounds in high-tension areas that Los Angeles skaters did an admirable job of clearing away from danger.
There were several standout individual performances on both sides. For Arizona, Jordan Martinook continues to show that he’s an effective checking/depth scorer who has found success against Los Angeles in his young and promising career. Brendan Perlini, the namesake of the Brendan Perlini Trophy, awarded annually to the Kings-Coyotes rookie game MVP (which is not a real thing but should be), generated scoring opportunities in all three periods and was dangerous in generating five shots on goal and 10 shot attempts in his 18:13 of ice time. Los Angeles also banked on an effective performance again from Jordan Nolan, who used a perfectly placed Anze Kopitar banked stretch pass to gain a step and some leverage on Jacob Chychrun before deftly depositing the puck between Mike Smith’s legs for an important game-tying goal. He added 13:51 of ice time to his seasonal total and ended up seeing a lot of ice with Kopitar as the Kings moved their centers around the lineup. Kopitar, who had his third three-point performance of the season, was better than a point-per-game player in January and also scored an important game-tying goal. Though the Coyotes held two leads, they led for only 2:28 of game time as the Kings used a strong constitution to go along with gradually improving play to take control of an important road game they eventually won.