Winning important moments and continuing to steer their special teams back towards sea level, the LA Kings were outplayed at even strength by the Vegas Golden Knights but created their own good fortune and relied again on Jonathan Quick, whose strong afternoon in net was outdone only by his daughter Madison’s announcement of the starting lineup. A 2-0 scoreline after one period was flattering as Quick stood firm early before L.A. finally shook the sleep out of their legs. After taking a 1-0 lead on Blake Lizotte’s first career shorthanded goal, they importantly doubled their lead on the power play when Drew Doughty, after nearly hitting Tyler Toffoli on a backdoor pass, shot through a Toffoli screen and off Malcolm Subban to provide some cushion in a game in which they’d need it. Vegas might have banked on another fortunate bounce or two to climb back into the game, but they were still the team that was more in control and on the attack. They were paced by Nate Schmidt, effective at both ends of the ice, and William Karlsson, always so threatening and capable of making high-skill plays at high speeds and the benefactor late in the second period of some shoddy Kings puck management. Even Jeff Carter’s game-winner came against the run of play at the time, though the third period was Los Angeles’ best and most contained. “It wasn’t flashy, it was a pretty simple period, but we didn’t give up much in our end as we did earlier in the game,” McLellan said. “We found a way to score, and then I thought we did a pretty good job of shutting things down. So, we’re getting a little more stamina in our game, our engines are running a little bit longer, we’re a little bit calmer in pressure situations. I think structurally we’re understanding things a little bit better. We’re willing to give up offense, which sounds strange for our team, at the right time to get the right people on the ice, but that’s game management.”
Speaking of some of the strong individual performances, the Kings should be encouraged by recent developments. It’s been shared here how important it is to grow that 1990-95-born age group, which is thin, particularly among L.A. forwards. Matt Roy has been more assertive and has picked his spots well to jump down into the offensive zone and add dimension to the attack. He’s recorded important assists on low, net-bound wristshots over two straight games – Alec Martinez first noted him as Al MacInnis before sharing that “he’s clutch like Robert Horry” – but just as easily could have scored or assisted on timely pinches over the last two weeks. It was good to see him take advantage of wide opportunities this week in front of his family, which joined him in Southern California. Nikolai Prokhorkin’s game also trended well on the homestand. He and his linemates were able to play deep in the offensive zone for a large part, and he continued to show a work ethic that generated chances around the net. It’s a small sample size, but he’s got the second best 5×5 individual shot rate on the team, and addition to his work goal, he also showed off some nice playmaking skill behind the net, offering a pass to Matt Luff on a no-look misdirection. I’ve seen Tomas Nosek as the heir apparent to the Cazey Cizikas Fourth Line Center Excellence Award, and Nosek to me has seemed to be a more refined version of Prokhorkin. Both are centers with size and good hands around the net, and the type of digging, rebound goal Prokhorkin scored was similar to those that have helped Nosek etch out an important role on a very good team. Prokhorkin was good again – “I think he’s been more aggressive as a player, and I don’t mean ‘aggressive’ as a physical standpoint, but making plays, hunting pucks down, holding onto it and creating,” McLellan said – though in the head-to-head match-up, Nosek was on the ice for all three shot attempts over 2:49 of 5×5 time even though the starts and faceoffs were tilted towards the Vegas end. Pro, as his teammates call him, progressed this week from re-entering the lineup to getting 10-plus minutes to scoring his first NHL goal. They’ve given him ample faceoff opportunity. I’m plenty interested to see what he can do in the Land of Opportunity.
Here’s to Jeff Carter’s symmetrical 500 games with Philly/Columbus and 500 games with the LA Kings. It was great to talk to both Jeff and to Mike Richards, who articulated how he presented Jeff to hockey operations when consulted shortly before the 2012 trade. And with the same poetic license afforded Dustin Brown on his milestone night, the Hockey Gods nodded towards a player known for his size, speed and tremendous shot, but most importantly for the honesty with which he plays the game. He’ll probably accrue a few too many PIMs to have an inside chance at the Lady Byng, but the U-18, World Junior Championship, Olympic, Calder Cup and two-time Stanley Cup champion owns a number of traits that trophy represents. His even-keel approach, instilled largely by his father and those in coaching staffs and locker rooms before him, has helped him reach this milestone, and his on-ice intelligence, respect for the game and his willingness to add, take on and understand new concepts and schemes will allow him to play well past it.