Jack Campbell, eminent team player, wasn’t in the mood to absorb too much of last night’s glory on his own, instead basking in the collective satisfaction that the team won a good, hard road game. It was a physical game and for the first two periods, a well-structured performance in which the LA Kings put themselves in position to win by claiming the special teams battle over the first 40 minutes. They allowed nary a sniff at the net during a dreary first period in which it took about 15 minutes for the pace to pick up. Interestingly, after Dallas’ morning skate, Jim Montgomery noted Los Angeles’ ability to do a better job of possessing the puck, especially in the neutral zone, before noting, “their power play has become – both units – very effective.” That was news to us at the time! It also proved prescient, even for cynical blogger and media types. Three seconds into John Klingberg’s hooking minor, Dustin Brown’s gloved deflection of Roman Polak’s deflection of Drew Doughty’s shot snuck past Ben Bishop after a clean Anze Kopitar faceoff win, allowing the team to play with the lead early. They doubled the lead with a terrific second period that ranked, structurally, among the best periods of hockey they’d played this year. It was a hard, committed performance that resulted in a surplus of blocked shots, even if there was some hanging-on-for-dear-life over the final 65 seconds or so.
Dallas opened up the vault to begin the third period as part of a 20-minute onslaught in which a tone was set on the first shift. Given the number of near-misses, blocks, whiffs and posts in the third – Dallas missed the net 27 times on the night – there was the feeling among those in close proximity on press row that this was the Kings’ night, even midway through the blitz. Amidst this push, there were still several noticeably strong performances. Ilya Kovalchuk was denied by Ben Bishop on a Grade-A wristshot from the slot as part of another encouraging outing. His best shift was in the second period, when he generated a scoring chance off a rush, sprinted in the other direction as the first forward back to defend a Dallas rush, and then immediately turned around and on the third rush chance of the shift was able to whip a hard wristshot at Bishop from the left circle. This game wasn’t quite as wide open as this shift, but that was excellent hustle by one of the most highly conditioned athletes in the game. If we’re talking top performances, however, the Kempe line probably graded as well as any other Kings line and was rewarded for some hard work midway through the second period. Tyler Seguin won a faceoff from Adrian Kempe, but Carl Hagelin dispossessed John Klingberg from the puck and made a line to the front of the net, where he converted the rebound of a fluttering Tyler Toffoli shot that knuckled and confounded Bishop.
If you’re a Kings fan, as opposed to, say, ::arbitrarily picks another NHL team:: a Stars fan, how can you not love the Jack Campbell story? Acquired for defensive prospect Nick Ebert, selected with the 211th and final pick of the 2012 NHL Draft, Campbell’s growth over the past three seasons not only has provided a sturdy option in net but has also allowed the team some flexibility towards assessing its goaltending futures. With a $675,000 cap hit, the goalie who now leads the NHL with a .932 save percentage is a downright steal. Cal Petersen has been deemed from the outside (and perhaps the inside as well) as the club’s goaltender of the future, and rightfully so, given his work in the NHL and the acclaim he had earned through a distinguished career at Notre Dame. It’s not yet clear when and how the goaltending reins will be handed to Petersen and Campbell, given that the greatest goaltender in franchise history still has another four years on his contract past this year. While there’s a possibility that anyone other than Anze Kopitar or Drew Doughty or those with cumbersome no-movement or no-trade clauses have the potential to be moved – Jonathan Quick has neither – it’s still not yet clear when and how the team will broach that decision as it relates to goaltending. Starting goaltending markets are generally not as strong in-season as they generally are out of season, so I’d expect this to be among the trickier decisions for the team to navigate and execute. But if trading Quick is something the team ultimately decides to do, they’re still shaping up to maintain the Bill Ranford and Dusty Imoo School of Goaltending Excellence with a pair of quality 1-A and 1-B-type options.
–Lead photo via Glenn James/NHLI