Several abbreviated thoughts from Thursday’s 4-2 win over Arizona:
-In a game with good purpose and energy right off the hop, the LA Kings ably withstood an as-expected first period push from a Coyotes team that has increased its pace, its forecheck and play without the puck. That’s a difficult spot for Arizona at the end of a six-game, cross-country trip in in which they were on Eastern Time some three days prior, but the visitors etched out a first period that transferred their precision (and Kevin Connauton all-worldliness) from recent successes against Tampa Bay and Vegas into Staples Center and hopped out to an early-ish lead. Arizona isn’t tanking; on the contrary, they’re playing their best hockey of the last several seasons and appear virtually ready to take that next step from a team that has wandered the desert into one on the verge of being able to challenge for a playoff berth in the Pacific Division. Without Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jason Demers, they still gritted out tough results at the end of a road trip and were neck-and-neck with the Kings competitively for the first period, and were still even scoreboard-wise for the first two. But Los Angeles received several big goals, the first coming off an important late first period tally on Jeff Carter’s deflection of Derek Forbort’s shot, and the second on Carter’s impressive redirect after Dion Phaneuf had kept the puck in at the blue line and issued a hard, low, deflectable attempt towards Darcy Kuemper.
-Carter’s third goal was more of the Jeff Carter that we’re familiar with. It was a forechecking goal fairly reminiscent of That 70’s Line (minus Pearson, plus Rieder) as Tyler Toffoli slapped the puck deep on a hard rim, Toby Rieder got a piece of the puck while lifting up Christian Dvorak’s stick, and Carter stepped from the perimeter into the left circle to snap a skittering puck that dipped on Kuemper and beat him inside the far post. Carter’s not at 100%. He’s not demonstrating his full explosiveness. He is, however, a natural goal scorer, and goal scorers are able to score goals in a number of different ways, hence the higher percentage of markers off deflections since his return. This scoring spike also illustrates how smart and well positioned of a player he is. Even if he’s still working back to utilizing that same top speed, pre-surgery, his smarts, positioning and ability to read the play have helped the cerebral aspects of his game while his body continues to get back up to speed.
-Los Angeles turned the tides of the game in the second period, even if it wasn’t necessarily reflected on the scoreboard until late in the third. Kuemper, as he was for the Kings, was very good for the Coyotes. He denied a high-grade Anze Kopitar redirect in the first period amidst some Alex Iafallo and Adrian Kempe near-misses. His best succession of saves came in the third with the game tied as he stopped Carter’s close-range attempt before Toffoli hit the post and followed his rebound by snapping the puck into Kuemper’s blocker on a Grade-A look. At the other end of the ice, Jack Campbell continued to provide the excellent minutes in net undertaken by Kings backups, who have points in 17 of the 18 games they’ve earned decisions in this season. Since the Kuemper/Rieder swap, there has been no dip in the quality of goaltending when Jonathan Quick is off the ice. The Kings rank third in the league with a .921 save percentage, and should they qualify for the playoffs, it will be on the back of their top players’ rebounding as well as the terrific performances in net by both Quick and his understudies.
-Lead photo via Adam Pantozzi/NHLI