It was interesting to read the roster report before the teams took the ice last night and learn that this forward group would start the game: Andy Andreoff-Trevor Lewis-Jordan Nolan. Whether or not Darryl Sutter was sending any sort of message or simply placing players on the ice who’d earned the right to start an important game, that group faced a Miles Wood-Adam Henrique-Michael Cammalleri trio and after a roundabout opening 40 seconds, ultimately drew a holding penalty when Jordan Nolan angled towards the slot and gained a step on Kyle Quincey. New Jersey had actually generated the first high-grade scoring chance when Wood had a key opportunity from the other slot, but Budaj made an important save to set the stage for the team scoring twice in the opening 1:46. Speaking of several of the role players, Nolan logged a regular season career-high in minutes last night and made an interesting second period save when he attempted to tuck a loose puck behind Budaj back into the goaltender’s radius before hip checking the net off its moorings shortly prior to a puck being pushed past the goal line. “I was fortunate enough to get there early,” Nolan told me after the game on Kings Live. “It seemed like I was kind of falling all over the ice tonight, so maybe that was part of my plan, to knock that net off.” Combined with Andreoff getting a full shift on both the power play and penalty kill, and Kyle Clifford’s post-game praise from Darryl Sutter as someone who was “a really good player” in the two-goal win, much of the base for victory was supplied by role players, who have been very effective on most nights for the better part of the last two months.
The Kings went into the season with two highly important restricted free agents. Tyler Toffoli is currently injured but should still receive a fair compensation as one of the team’s purest goal scorers. Tanner Pearson, meanwhile, is making a strong case for his own share of the pie. He leveraged off Steven Santini before spinning and snapping a well-placed Jeff Carter puck with a pinpoint shot inside the far post and lifted his shooting percentage to an impressive 14.6% (and his career rate to a highly efficient 13.3%) while doubling Los Angeles’ lead early in the first period. That goal matched his career-high for goals in a season and furthered his mid-20 goal pace. Entering the season, the expectation was that Pearson could reach and very possibly exceed that plateau, and while his shooting percentage is elevated from his career mark, he’s raised his efficiency even though his shooting rate has also been raised, and that’s a good sign. Selected 30th overall in 2012, he’s the fifth-highest scoring forward from that draft. To be fair, eight of the first 10 players selected in that draft were defensemen, and as a 20-year-old at the time of the draft, he was already more advanced than other forwards who were selected in the first round. But when you draft 30th overall, and you select a player that can make an impact in the variety of situations that Pearson has, that’s obviously a very good pick.
A key stretch of play in the 3-1 win took place during a crucial five-on-three penalty kill over a 1:44 swath of first period game action and L.A. leading 2-0. Impressively, the kill took place with Trevor Lewis and Anze Kopitar, two players who would receive three-on-five duty, in the penalty box. Jeff Carter was outstanding in his positioning early in the kill and made a very important clear, and, with the defense, ensured that there weren’t any bang-bang looks from the mid or low-slot. Peter Budaj also made three key saves, including one that also caught the goalpost. But Carter’s defensive awareness and routes to pucks are not often seen in players who are averaging half a goal per game and are representative of many of the Kings’ best players also being their most responsible players in the defensive zone. It helped produce one win, against a similarly desperate playoff-hungry team. If the team doesn’t come up with a result in the finale against Carolina – the most difficult game of this trip – many of these details are likely to be forgotten.