After Oscar Lindberg’s scored some four and a half minutes into the game, some may have cracked their lazy blogging knuckles, probably brushing off Cheeto dust before foretelling the inevitable calamity to come while tacking on the note “LAK 1-16-1 when allowing the first goal” as a caboose. But that Lindberg goal came at the end of a hard shift by Adrian Kempe’s line, one in which Marc-Andre Fleury probably deserved a third assist for keeping the puck out during a hard drive towards the net. Two shifts by the Kempe line later, Nikita Scherbak whistled a shot off the rush from distance that snuck between Nate Schmidt’s legs and beat Fleury inside the near post for an important equalizer. The dust settled, a high-energy first period ended tied at one, and the Kings scored the go-ahead goal midway through the second period on a tic-tac-toe power play goal, if I’m reading my notes correctly. That such a crisply executed goal was scored by the second power play unit – their first goal of the season – was also important to note in a game in which Los Angeles scored a power play goal and didn’t allow one for the first time since November 6. From there, they broke the game open and continued to rely on secondary scorers such as a determined Nate Thompson, who scored a late goal and also screened Fleury on a Derek Forbort wristshot from distance that snuck through traffic and a maze of sticks. There wasn’t really a readily available model for this game – the Kings’ second win of the season when allowing the first goal. These teams play three more times through January 1, so it was important to draw first blood against a team that entered Staples Center winners seven of eight.
The lineup’s bottom-six-types recorded points on Saturday, though, as noted, the Kempe line, a “third line” with interesting speed and skill was (and has been over the last two weeks) quite good. By virtue of the goals from Scherbak and Thompson, or Brendan Leipsic’s touch-pass assist to Matt Luff or the two points from Michael Amadio, or friggin’ Derek Forbort scoring his first in 11 months, this was the team’s most diverse 60-minute performance of the season. Credit should also go to Jeff Carter, who is battling to regain some of his speed and lower-body strength lost after last season’s ankle surgery, but relied on his acclaimed all-around awareness to score an important insurance goal when he issued a puck towards the crease with Schmidt entering the play and Fleury out of position. The deft pass worked as intended, deflecting off Fleury, then Schmidt’s skate, and then Fleury’s blocker before falling end-over-end into the back of the net for Carter’s second five-on-five goal of the season.
Because this is the 2018-19 season, even a win over a divisional rival and the escape from 31st place couldn’t provide a temporary respite from the constant string of casualty. Kyle Clifford has been dialed in in his role while providing one the few positive individual performances of the season, and he was lost for the game and will undergo further tests after taking an elbow to the head in a clear Rule 48 violation on a reckless neutral zone hit by Pierre Edouard-Bellemare. At night, Gabe Vilardi was scratched from Ontario’s game at Tucson and will return to Los Angeles for a Monday examination by team doctors. Both of these developments are very concerning. For Clifford, the concern isn’t over when and where he’ll return and join the team, but rather to what degree another potential brain injury may affect his overall wellbeing, on and off the ice, during and after hockey. As always, this is a nebulous process that isn’t often navigable; it’s frightening that there aren’t always available answers. Here’s to hoping and wishing for the best for a renowned force in the Kings’ family. As for Vilardi, obviously there should be significant concern that there appears to be another barrier in his path towards an NHL career. Hold off on issuing any verdicts until the severity of what he’s dealing with is learned, but because his projected five-game AHL stint did not come off without incident, familiar alarms are sounding.
–Lead photo via Adam Davis/Icon Sportswire