The LA Kings responded well after a first period goal against and through the tight execution of their game plan withstood the pressure from a hard-checking, defensively attuned team. They won important moments of the game and scored decisive victories in both goaltending and special teams, which provided offense at 5×4, 4×4 and 5×6 in the 4-1 win. But that five-on-five even strength goal by Dustin Brown was huge, coming on a “bump-up” shift Todd McLellan has referenced and recently praised for their focus and diminishing opportunity against. Both he and Ben Hutton made the type of on-your-toes plays necessary to apply pressure that maintained control of the puck in the offensive zone, and we’re beginning to see more goals coming off those forechecking support plays inside the blue line. Hutton, who assisted on the play, finished with a plus-two rating and three shots on goal in over 19 minutes of ice time against New York’s top guns, a second star performance in the first game back alongside Drew Doughty in the absence of Alec Martinez. And those types of heads-up, quick-decision plays do seem to indicate that the team is reacting more organically and with less hesitation. “I think the structure, the idea of playing a certain way is starting to become a little more natural, and in that case you just flow in from one job to the next job and you hand off responsibility, The panic earlier in the year was ‘I’m not too sure what I’m doing yet, and there’s a mistake I’ve got to go cover,’ and you start running around. We’re starting to settle in. We’re nowhere near where we need to be complete yet, but we’re working towards it.”
The Islanders, 15-0-1 in the 16 games before their 0-2-1 California trip, responded well. This wasn’t a game in which they caught an opponent on an off-night or not willing to battle and play the style of game necessary to find success. “They put in a much better effort than Anaheim. The score doesn’t indicate that,” Barry Trotz said, as reported by Newsday. “Tonight, we were more committed. We played harder,” Derick Brassard said. It’s a good sign that the Kings improved as this game progressed and didn’t wilt or suffer lapses or allow New York’s top players to cash in on their opportunities. There were a few near-misses, like a missed Nelson-to-Beauvillier power play redirection that was skulled wide of an open net and followed shortly by Jeff Carter’s game-winning power play goal. Los Angeles owned that second period and built on it with a terrific four-man shift in the third in which all players touched the puck in the offensive zone. Their work, which included a Hulk-like zone entry amidst resistance by Adrian Kempe, who was very good on the wing again, bore fruit as Blake Lizotte won a pair of puck battles to set up Matt Roy’s knuckleball. Roy played well at the other end, too, getting under Josh Bailey’s stick to deny a prime rebound opportunity earlier in the third. The Islanders stars had their chances, and Matt Barzal, amidst his stickhandling clinic and impressive passing, was kept off the scoresheet by a good team effort that included an entertaining slash-and-spear Carter and Barzal storyline. Carter, who scored his eighth goal and leads the team with 81 shots, did a good job playing tight against a league star, just as he did in his shifts smothering Connor McDavid the previous week.
There’s a lot to be thankful for, Insiders. Here’s to the warmth of family, friends, health and peace of mind, and while we all may struggle at any given time with one or any of those, we’re also thankful for our resilience and compassion and willingness to be the best we can. I’m thankful for this community, that this community enjoys Neil Young videos, and, of course, the fact that the LA Kings transport me around the country to write operettas about Jake Muzzin. We’re all thankful for the standards established by the Kings and Rich Hammond whose reporting set a de facto constitution for the site and for the many other friends and colleagues who have collaborated or hopped aboard planes, trains and automobiles for 82 games or more. The end of a decade lends to some nostalgic retrospection, and there will be surely more of that to come in December. Enjoy football, enjoy food, enjoy the light traffic around L.A., and enjoy the broadcasts against San Jose and Winnipeg this weekend. Have a happy Thanksgiving, Insiders.