Waking up with the Kings: January 3

Darryl Sutter had mentioned on the road trip (and again after Saturday’s game) how the matinee against the Flyers was a bit of a trap game situated after a successful road trip and immediately before a one-off trek to Colorado. For whatever it’s worth, there’s a commonly acknowledged understanding that the first home game after a road trip can present challenges for the team returning home, but the Kings played a smart, sound game in which they played to their puck possession strengths before Philadelphia came alive with a quality third period performance. For the first two periods, though, Los Angeles barely gave up anything. The Kings limited the Flyers to 25 five-on-five shot attempts through 40 minutes, and during Philly’s most sustained even strength zone time over that stretch – the final shift of the second period – were able to transition into the offensive zone as Anze Kopitar generated a high-quality opportunity after patiently out-waiting Michal Neuvirth. It’s extremely difficult to suffocate a team for 60 minutes, though, and Philadelphia maintained a heavy amount of zone time in the third and raised its game but was unable to beat an excellent Jonathan Quick more than once.

Philadelphia Flyers v Los Angeles Kings

One of the reasons that the Flyers had fits sustaining possession over the first two periods originated from a steady and effective forecheck. Dustin Brown commented on this after the game, saying “little ticks here and there, they add up and eventually you catch one where it doesn’t get all the way up and it ends up being in the back of their net,” and he might as well have been referencing Dwight King’s goal. King pestered Radko Gudas up-ice as he attempted to pass the puck out of the zone (perhaps this was more accurately a backcheck) before Marian Gaborik stepped in front of the attempted exit. The turnover created a three-on-one rush in the other direction that King finished off on the give-and-go following an intelligent touch pass that Michal Neuvirth wasn’t able to react to in time to make the save. While it’s probably a safe bet that King won’t account for the 30 goals he’s currently on pace for, he’s still an important part of the team’s checking, and in those games in which his skills are the most illuminated, he’s playing a hard game in the offensive zone and helps turn over pucks, as he did yesterday afternoon.

Philadelphia Flyers v Los Angeles Kings

Leading the Kings in hits (with five) and blocked shots (with three) was Alec Martinez, who logged 21:22 of ice time and was on the ice for King’s goal. Martinez, whose season has been spoken very highly of in my conversations with hockey operations and the coaching staff, is continuing to refine his skill set into that of an all-situational defender, whereas he maybe had been seen as an offensive-minded defenseman earlier in his career as he battled to remain in the lineup. He’s the oldest defenseman in the top-four and a key component of the leadership group on the blue line, and while he showed flashes of taking that step forward last year – battling several injuries disrupted the rhythm in doing so – has solidified that leap through 38 games in 2015-16. Also, it would be a crime to write over 500 words and not acknowledge the two defensive plays Drew Doughty made in the third period as he twice dove to disrupt Voracek-to-Simmonds two-on-one pass attempts on very similar sequences. With a superb Jonathan Quick in net, Saturday’s game was the one that appeared to reinforce Los Angeles’ standing as a top-two defensive team.

Philadelphia Flyers v Los Angeles Kings

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