In case you had been caught up in Major League Baseball playoffs or some other non-hockey event and needed a reminder that the regular season had begun, there was Drew Doughty, standing and screaming at Matthew Tkachuk in the penalty box during the third period of a tied divisional game that featured multiple lead changes. He was apparently simulating eating soup, or cereal, or perhaps something viscous that must be eaten with a spoon. Moments earlier, Tkachuk had clipped Jonathan Quick’s mask with his stick, Quick attempted to take out his legs, Tkachuk went for Quick’s helmet and Sam Bennett and Nick Shore wrestled each other to the ice during a third period fracas that renewed the hostility between a pair of teams whose rivalry lay dormant for some 20-plus years before it was jolted awake late last season. The Kings ended up earning a point whose shine lies in the eye of the beholder; either it was an earned point for a team that rebounded from an early two-goal deficit, or it was a lost opportunity for a club that gained momentum through the game and needed less than two minutes to turn a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead with a pair of early third period Dustin Brown deflections. Given the dominance in the run of play throughout much of the second and third periods, the latter is probably the fairest verdict.
The game was decided in overtime off a stick lift and takeaway by Sean Monahan, who removed Shore from the puck and began a rush in the other direction that he ended off a TJ Brodie feed on a three-on-two. Shore held the puck a touch too far from his body, allowing Monahan greater ease in swiping it to set the play up in the other direction. Some question why he and Trevor Lewis were the forwards on the ice at the time of the goal when Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson hadn’t yet stepped on for the extra session, but this was a change that wasn’t on the fly. The Kings had an offensive zone draw, and their top two centers, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, had already taken the first overtime shift. That put Shore next in line to take the draw – he took 15 of them on Wednesday, compared to Adrian Kempe’s two – and reflected the fact that as good as Shore and his linemates had looked to begin the season, the Kings still don’t really have a third line center at this point. The first overtime shift was only 35 seconds, and generally in the past, when faced with a faceoff so early in the outset of overtime, the team will opt to switch out either Kopitar or Carter for Pearson or Toffoli to allow a center to rest quickly and rejoin the play, but on Wednesday, without the services of one Alec Martinez, who is usually the second defenseman to hop over the boards in the extra session, the rotation was altered. There also needs to be better puck management. After Shore had won the faceoff, Jake Muzzin snapped a puck toward the net that didn’t get through Brodie, and though Los Angeles ultimately retrieved the puck, there could have been better patience in trying to set up a play.
This is all nitpicking, because as the game progressed, the Kings won the majority of the battles and generated a greater number of regular and high-danger scoring chances. Calgary essentially won the game because Mike Smith was awfully good – this wasn’t one of those shot volume-over-shot-quality efforts that had defined a number of possession-dominant L.A. losses over the past several seasons. The Kings attacked the Flames for much of the third period, looking as confident and creative in making plays in the offensive zone as they had in any recent regular season stretch. (Tkachuk’s game-tying goal was the first rush chance generated by Calgary in a significant stretch of game time, and shutting down that type of team speed and playmaking over as wide of a swath of a game as Los Angeles did is impressive.) Watching Brown’s two-goal, eight-shot, five-hit performance brought back shades of his hat trick game over Chicago when his name had floated into trade speculation in the second half of the 2011-12 season, and he looked as equally as driven and laser-focused Wednesday, his best single-game performance in perhaps several years. (That Iafallo-Kopitar-Brown tic-tac-toe zone entry/high-danger chance, wow!) But credit Calgary, which did a good job acquiring players at positions of need in Smith and Travis Hamonic, who continues to balance out a deep defensive corps. They’re still giving up too many shots (likely a byproduct of early season wonkiness), giving Smith an extra heaping of work, but keep in mind that over the last four years, Calgary has been a playoff team in the two seasons in which their save percentage was simply above .900. They don’t need elite goaltending to get in, they only need competent goaltending, and Smith gives that club an extra dimension that has likely lifted them from playoff bubble-to-playoff contender status. Expect more fireworks between these teams this season.
-Lead photo via Harry How/Getty Images