There wasn’t really much to find fault with during the Kings’ first period of their four-game road trip. There was, of course, a coverage miscue that forced a center, Anze Kopitar, to defend a two-on-one, but in terms of chances, driving play, checking and goaltending, it was a par-for-the-course, decent first period that opened with a strong succession of early shifts and ended in even play and a 1-0 deficit. The second period had the chance to get away from L.A. a bit, and that’s where Jonathan Quick emerged with among his most distinguished periods of the season. He denied Xavier Ouellet with his glove, Dylan Larkin’s rebound bid with his left pad and Larkin again on an angled break, causing the quick Detroit forward to jam his stick along the inside of the boards back at his bench in frustration. From there, the Kings generated confidence from their goaltender’s performance, and the Red Wings lost the momentum that they had. A Dustin Brown pinpoint snapper off an Anze Kopitar supine feed on a puck he didn’t give up on served as the equalizer before Quick made another tremendous blocker save on Gustav Nyquist. That’s when Brown became entangled with Darren Helm in the neutral zone, drawing an interference call.
Los Angeles then put on a bit of a vintage Detroit power play demonstration. In the Wings’ extended heyday, there were games in which they wouldn’t necessarily be at their best but would still win by multiple goals because of their timely and precise power play execution. They could be on the second night of a back-to-back, or behind in five-on-five play, and would win games non-dynasty teams wouldn’t because of their power play. The Kings’ man advantage is far from those Wings’ units, which topped the league for the better part of a decade, but their quick strike after a clean Kopitar faceoff win late in the second period was a game-winning dagger. With a penalty called at the 19:45 mark of the second period, even with Los Angeles’ top players on the ice, there would need to be a lightning-quick cadence, after a faceoff win, to be able to generate as much as a scoring chance. They received more than that. Kopitar won the draw, exchanged the puck with Martinez, who put a pass in Drew Doughty’s wheelhouse that afforded him the ability to send a cross-ice touch pass through a Detroit unit that was unable to react in time. That pass was one-timed inside the near post by Kopitar, completing the strike within 8.6 seconds of the faceoff. From there, the Kings put a stranglehold on the game with an excellent third period. Even though they entered the period with a one-goal lead, and had to kill a penalty, they outscored the Red Wings 2-0 and out-shot them 9-4 en route to a quality 36-shot performance.
Tuesday was Doughty’s finest game of the season. He shut off plays on the rush, in the zone, off exchanges and switch-offs. He picked his spots to join the rush, he caught Detroit off guard with the aforementioned touch pass, and finished with two assists in a well-managed 23:04 of ice time. Game situations put a cap on his usage, but it was a representation of the belief that Doughty is at his best when his minutes don’t regularly bleed past 30. I’ve spoken with members of hockey management who believe he’s the most elite player in the NHL, and I get the sense that even when Doughty’s game might be at a B-level, such as in a few games during the recent slump, that they believe he’s still among the most highly effective players on the ice even during temporary dips in his game. But last night’s game was a terrific model that he’ll look to carry throughout the remainder of the trip as the team faces Washington, St. Louis and Chicago, three groups averaging better than 2.8 goals per game.
-Lead photo via Dave Reginek/NHLI