It’s a tough end to a successful road trip, but given the familiar adage that it’s not whether you win or lose, but rather whether you’re “winning” or “losing,” well, the Kings lost a narrow road game to another first-place team on a game partly decided by a borderline incidental contact/goaltender interference call and a fortunate Jake Allen knob/crossbar deflection, grading well in their battle and emotional investment after a week and a half of travel. They played without Jeff Carter, they played without regular minutes from their fourth line late in the trip, and they still went 4-2-0 during one of their more difficult stretches of the schedule by buying in to John Stevens and his staff and playing the “team game” that we’d heard quite a bit about over the last several days. They’re also in good position to take advantage of today’s recovery day and return to action with only two nights of hotel stays through Thanksgiving weekend, and even though they left Scottrade Center emptyhanded, are of robust health standings-wise in advance of a slew of home and divisional games against quality competition in the coming weeks. Also deserving of credit: the Schwartz-Schenn-Tarasenko connection that played fast and effectively with switch-offs and crisp puck movement while capitalizing on momentum midway through the second period.
Anze Kopitar and his linemates have found success setting a tone early in games, and Adrian Kempe and his linemates are following suit. The Kempe line accounted for the team’s only goal in the opening minute of a game this season – Alec Martinez’s strike off a faceoff in Ottawa – and on Monday night, both lines had excellent chances early. Jake Allen fought off a pair of high-quality Kopitar and Tanner Pearson chances from the slot in the game’s first two shifts – the latter off a nice Tyler Toffoli steal – as part of an energetic first period. The Kings really came at the Blues over the opening 20 minutes, an impressive push on the final game of a difficult trip against perhaps the season’s top competition to date. Drew Doughty said the St. Louis games are “fun,” and I was glad to hear that the players have enjoyed the theatre of the rivalry as much as some of us watching upstairs, even if Monday’s game wasn’t exactly the first time we’d been scoreless after 20 minutes in the recent history of the series. “St. Louis is a team that even though it doesn’t seem like we have a lot of history, we feel the history against that team in the room,” Doughty said. Even without several principal actors, these games still bring it. Los Angeles visits in one month on the second half of a back-to-back that begins in Washington.
Pearson was finally rewarded. He hadn’t been scoring, but he had been doing so many little things well, and if there was a statistic that measured the number of times he’d taken a hit to make a play to set up his linemates, he’d be among the team leaders. Among the team’s most dangerous breakaway artists, Pearson detected a sliver of an opening and capitalized. He never lost ground to Carl Gunnarson after Alec Martinez’s pinpoint outlet caught him during an extremely tight window of time and opportunity and tucked the puck past Allen on a backhand, raising his shooting percentage to 6.7%. He was a 12.8% all-situational career shooter heading into this season, so perhaps there are fewer snakebitten moments ahead, such as Allen’s glove save on his point blank wrister one shift prior. It’s no great concern; his line has created opportunities off hard, fast, physical minutes, and both Toffoli and Kempe were able to regularly capitalize on the trip.
-Lead photo via Scott Rovak/NHLI