For reasons not immediately explainable, when the Kings and Predators play each other, the results trend away from the more expected buttoned-down defensive play that would be expected from a pair of teams among those known for their success in winning via systematic, checking-heavy hockey and excellent goaltending. Personalities of teams change, and certainly the Predators, a team that averages 3.1 goals-for and 2.7 goals-against per game, has seen an evolution under Peter Laviolette that has raised scoring and fully takes advantage of the deepest and perhaps best defensive pool in the league. Even before his arrival, relative scoring eruptions were frequent when these teams met, and though the numbers are inflated by seven overtime or shootout game-winners, they’ve averaged 6.2 goals per meeting over their last 13 match-ups. Neither Jonathan Quick nor Pekka Rinne have a save percentage above .900 in this rivalry. For the second time this season, the teams combined for seven goals, and for the second time, Nashville left Staples Center with a victory. Los Angeles wasn’t felled by a poor game plan or a lack of commitment or battle, but rather by occasional puck mismanagement and missed coverages that other good teams are capable of taking advantage of.
The Kings checked well in this game with episodes of very effective forechecking that made exiting the defensive zone difficult for a mobile defense that’s equipped to handle pressure. It took one of the Predators’ key strengths away at times, but, unfortunately, it did not take away Austin Watson. The two-way, power forward scored when the Kings were caught with numbers up and did not prevent an odd-man rush in the other direction, and on the forecheck when Calle Jarnkrok made a hit on Drew Doughty to free a puck for Ryan Ellis, leading to a Watson deflection. Nashville was opportunistic and was more apt to take advantage of a Los Angeles miscue, and may have benefited from a waved off icing call several shifts before Watson’s first goal that left some of us scratching our heads. The officiating wasn’t at its best but wasn’t the reason the Kings lost. It didn’t really look like Doughty made much of a hit on Pontus Aberg away from the play that would’ve necessitated an interference call, and really, he should be given more of a benefit of the doubt against a rookie with 59 games of regular season and playoff experience. Doughty on Thursday said that he’s “been a lot better” at not erupting at referees this season but took a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that turned the tide in a first period the Kings were beginning to settle into.
Another interesting Doughty quote from Thursday: “A lot of people don’t realize how good Shoresy is. You have to have a really good hockey IQ to understand how good of a player that kid is.” Nick Shore, with some aid from Doughty’s pinch to keep the puck low, was strong along the boards and created the type of forechecking opportunity that the team puts a lot of stock in as he helped set up Trevor Lewis’ goal. His play turned the puck over so that puck finder Alex Iafallo could retrieve it, and Iafallo found Lewis with a nifty feed to the slot. It’s interesting that even as the team has dealt with an injury to one of its major figures that they’ve received periodic production from depth players who’ve taken good advantage of opportunities. Territorially, Shore’s line and Kempe’s line were very effective against another team with a deep array of forwards.
It’s the bye week, so there will be some time to recharge. I’ll also have some roster and All-Star news as it comes, beginning with this: the Kings have assigned Kevin Gravel and Jonny Brodzinski to AHL-Ontario so that they can get some work in while the club is off. Go check them out when the Reign host the Rockford IceHogs – Chicago’s AHL affiliate, and proud employer of former Reign Insider Joey Zakrzewski – this Wednesday at CBBA. I’m also planning on recording a Kings Men Podcast with Jesse Cohen early in the week and will post that as soon as it’s available. But until next Saturday, take a nice breather and prepare yourself for an exciting almost-stretch run here, Insiders. Let’s talk soon.
-Lead photo via Aaron Poole/NHLI