The LA Kings, who have begun to pick up the pieces after a tumultuous start that shook their foundation from its axis, had a favorable match-up in Willie Desjardins’ first game as head coach. The Anaheim Ducks, in case anyone hadn’t noticed, entered Tuesday’s game reeling under a not-too-different set of broader circumstances – team identity, age and pace of play are also topics du jour in Orange County – yet influenced heavily by injury and a sharply uphill direction of play. So, in the type of game that often provides the team with a new coach an extra degree of focus and emotion, this was a comfortable landing spot for a Kings group that needs as many points as it can collect as quickly as possible. In their 4-1 win, Los Angeles did a number of things they hadn’t done well to this point. They won critical early moments of the hockey game that allowed them to jump out to a 2-0 first period lead, using a first period power play goal by Dustin Brown – his second power play goal and third goal overall in four games – to claim a lead before relying on several important Nate Thompson blocks and Jack Campbell’s sliding save on Brandon Montour to preserve the lead. From there, the Kings were rewarded for several deft touches and their quick turnaround in play leading to Kyle Clifford’s goal. This is one of the league’s heaviest rivalries. (We all know the tendencies of Kings-Ducks games.) It was a surprise in an early and important juncture of the season to see Anaheim come out of the gates a little bit flat. “I think when you make one or two mistakes and then three and four mistakes, the puck will end up in the back of your net. That is what happened tonight, and we just got bullied out there,” Ryan Kesler said. “You know they played their game and they pushed us around and we really just had no response.”
Some individual performances are worth mentioning, or, in Jake Muzzin’s case, writing a sonnet to commemorate. Now, regular readers of
Jaking Up with the Kings Waking Up with the Kings know this column to be an impartial and unabridged diary of both the positive and negative aspects of Jake Muzzin’s wonderful, wonderful skill set. On Tuesday, he was Los Angeles’ best defenseman. Clifford pressured Sam Carrick into turning the puck over into Muzzin’s hands, and in the abbreviated span of half a second, Muzzin quickly flipped it on his backhand to Trevor Lewis, who fed an activating Alec Martinez to pick up some speed through the neutral zone, leading to the second goal. It was one of several subtle Muzzin touches to either end or start plays, and that includes a quick Ryan Kesler separation from the puck in front of the Anaheim bench in the second period that sent play in the other direction. He was also a flying force out there, playing the type of engaged physical game that feeds his confidence in other areas; it’s almost a surprise he didn’t score a goal. He was credited with three hits and five of the team’s 23 blocked shots in 23:22, finishing a plus-three and serving as one of the veterans that helped set the hardened, engaged tone at the outset of the game. Ilya Kovalchuk was threatening all night and registered three points in an economic 15:45 of work. He’s back up to 830 points in 830 career games and leads the Kings with 14 in 14 games.
This was obviously a win that reflected team-wide detail and commitment, so singling out two players isn’t telling the entire story. Los Angeles did what it had to do against Gibson, who’s about as good a goalie as there is in the NHL right now. They came out attacking, had a quick, up-ice mindset and got bodies and pucks to the net to take advantage of their opportunities. To beat Gibson, who entered with a .935 save percentage, it’s beneficial to score on the second shot, some six minutes into the game. The Kings are now 3-1-0 on their current homestand but still far back in the Western Conference picture. Before their road schedule picks up, it’s imperative that they sustain this honeymoon period as long as possible and not fall back into any familiar downfalls that marked much of their season to date. They’ll have to be better at the outsets of games, just as they were Tuesday. They’ll have to continue to produce in special teams, just as they have been with a power play that’s 5-for-14 over its last four games and has killed off 17 straight penalties over its last five. They’ll have to get Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty going, because their best players are going to have to be their best players if they’re to make something out of this puzzling season.
-Lead photo via Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire