Waking up with the Kings: December 29 - LA Kings Insider

The Los Angeles Kings engineered a strong 15-minute open and clawed their way back into the game over the second half of the third period, but the gooey middle of Thursday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Vegas exemplified everything that has been said, written and observed about the Golden Knights this season. They do not cede one inch of the ice, they use speed and body leverage to win toss-up puck battles, they position themselves well in support and relentlessly attack and play with as bought-in of a five-man game as there is in the National Hockey League. This is no longer a surprise; it is reality in the Western Conference. The NHL provided George McPhee the blueprints for a fully equipped (and very expensive) sandbox, and the Vegas GM chose his toys wisely.

Aaron Poole/NHLI

Los Angeles, meanwhile, appeared to be stuck in quicksand over an extended middle stretch of the game. Despite an energetic opening that appeared to be a positive reaction to both the earlier loss in Vegas as well as the sluggish start immediately after Marian Gaborik’s presentation prior to the overtime win versus Colorado one week prior, the Kings jumped on the Golden Knights at the start, allowed hardly a sniff at the net on a penalty kill, and struck first when Marian Gaborik went towards a hard part of the ice and caught a flutter of Derek Forbort’s one-timer even as he appeared to duck out of the way of the shot. It was an impressive start, given that Vegas had already gotten their legs underneath them out of the Christmas break and did not have to get on a plane, change time zones or check into a hotel at two in the morning after Wednesday’s comfortable win at Anaheim. It was not sustained. Between the 15:11 mark of the first period and Brendan Leipsic’s goal at the 11:10 mark of the third, the Golden Knights out-shot the Kings, 26-5. There will be stretches in which Los Angeles instills its will on an opponent, and vice versa, but teams with playoff aspirations simply can’t be so thoroughly pushed back over a 36-minute stretch. The Kings earned a point because Jonathan Quick was outstanding, as he has been all season long. Los Angeles’ league-leading team save percentage of .927 is eight-hundredths of a point higher than the teams whose save percentages rank third. While core skaters such as Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Tyler Toffoli and others have rekindled their scoring touch, and the team has pieced together center options that have hung in there in Jeff Carter’s absence, this is a team currently in a playoff position because of Quick’s performance. I’m not sure if it’s even possible for Quick to replicate the type of season he had in 2011-12, but behind a defense that’s younger and not as deep as the first Cup go-around, he’s produced a half-season that’s to this point his only regular season body of work comparable to what he did six years ago.

Aaron Poole/NHLI

The Kings have made do with their chances to a better degree than recent seasons; their possession rate has dropped to the middle of the pack, while their shooting percentage has climbed to just above the middle of the pack. But with the puck no longer in the opponents’ end to the same disproportionate degree as in recent seasons, and in games such as last night’s in which the team goes rogue and struggles to effectively forecheck and get its north-south game going, it will be forced to defend more. This means more penalties will be levied against them. Since Thanksgiving, Los Angeles has received more power plays than its opponent five times, even power plays once and fewer power plays than their opponent 10 times. And with the excess time spent in the defensive zone, more mistakes will be made, and those mistakes are more likely to be costly. There were also forwards who were challenged in clearing the zone and keeping the puck away from dangerous areas, but the Kings were either marooned in Belize (on Vegas’ first goal, when neither Jake Muzzin nor Kevin Gravel were in-frame when Jonathan Marchessault scored) or unable to use size and punish the opposition when stepping towards Quick, as was the case with Vegas’ second. Again, in context, it all adds to the impressive season Quick has had and, with a half-year sample size, discredits the argument that in recent years his success was a byproduct of the overall team game and Los Angeles’ possession strengths around him.

Aaron Poole/NHLI

-Lead photo via Aaron Poole/NHLI

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Adrian Kempe

#9 | 6′ 2″ | 195 lb | Age: 21

Born: September 13, 1996
Birthplace: Kramfors, SWE
Position: LW
Handedness: Left

Bio

Kempe was selected by the Kings in the first round (29th overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft.
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Alex Iafallo

#19 | 6′ | 185 lb | Age: 23

Born: December 21, 1993
Birthplace: Eden, NY, USA
Position: C
Handedness: Left

Bio

Iafallo was signed by the Kings as an unrestricted free agent on April 18, 2017.
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Anze Kopitar

#11 | 6′ 3″ | 224 lb | Age: 29

Born: August 24, 1987
Birthplace: Jesenice, SVN
Position: C
Handedness: Left

Bio

As the 11th overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Kopitar became the first Slovenian to play in the NHL. Kopitar has spent his entire NHL career with the Kings, and following the 2015–16 season, was named the Kings’ captain. Noted for both his offensive and defensive play, Kopitar was awarded the Frank J. Selke Trophy as the best defensive forward in the NHL in 2016.

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Drew Doughty

#8 | 6′ 1″ | 195 lb | Age: 26

Born: December 8, 1989
Birthplace: London, ON, CAN
Position: D
Handedness: Right

Bio

Bio: Doughty is a Canadian defenceman who was selected second overall by the Kings in the 2008 Draft. Doughty made his NHL debut in 2008 as an 18-year-old and was named to the All-Rookie Team. He is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Kings, a two-time Olympic gold medallist with the Canadian national team, and a Norris Trophy finalist.

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Jeff Carter

#77 | 6′ 4″ | 215 lb | Age: 31

Born: January 1, 1985
Birthplace: London, ON, CAN
Position: C
Handedness: Right

Bio

Carter began his hockey career playing in the Ontario Hockey League in Canada before joining the AHL and playing for the Philadelphia Flyers. He was then traded to the Colombus Blue jackets before joining the LA Kings in 2012, where he has since won two Stanley Cups with the Kings.

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Jonathan Quick

#32 | 6′ 1″ | 218 lb | Age: 30

Born: January 21, 1986
Birthplace: Milford, CT, USA
Position: G
Handedness: Left

Bio

Bio: Quick is the current goaltender for the LA Kings and was selected by Los Angeles at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Previously, Quick was a silver medalist with USA at the 2010 Winter Olympics. He’s won two Stanley Cup championships with the Kings, along with being the most recent goaltender to be awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.

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