This is a Kings group that is the latest of a string of Kings teams that despite an evolution of personnel is still linked to teams of the recent past by certain core characteristics. They’re resilient, and when backed against the wall tend to emerge with a renewed sense of purpose. This isn’t universally true – remember when the team lost all three games on the late-season Western Canadian trip in 2014-15? – but was certainly true in both the micro and macro sense as they reversed course from two punchless periods (figuratively, not literally) to generate chances off the rush, close to the net, and more importantly, big goals against a tightfisted Ducks team stingy in its allowance. In the broader sense, had they not come from behind in the third period, they’d have been looking at a five-point deficit to St. Louis, with the Blues owning a game in hand. Even despite the intermittent attack through the first 40 minutes, the game did seem like a game in which the levees would actually break in the third period, and while the notion was downplayed after the game, the final 20 minutes were about as important as any 20-minute stretch of the season. It’s late-season, energy and emotion-infested hockey, and Saturday’s game between Southern California rivals and two of the most physical teams in the league was a typical war of attrition in the rivalry and, ultimately, a win that was vital towards remaining at the forefront of the playoff battle.
Do those intangibles include the emotional lift served up by Jonathan Quick’s presence? Does it matter? Quick provided an extremely sturdy 60 minutes from his first venture behind the net and denial of Andrew Cogliano’s odd-angle, wraparound wristshot, to his familiar ability to come out to challenge shooters, cut down angles and find pucks amidst a tangle of bodies. Perhaps the more emotional lift came from seeing Jeff Carter square away with Ryan Kesler, catch a right to the jaw, get up, shake it off, and lead the team with a two-point third period in which he assisted on the game-winning goal by deftly dishing the puck underneath Cam Fowler’s skates to a net-bound Tyler Toffoli. Toughness isn’t necessarily measured by fighting, but Carter’s third period, which included the production elements of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick, showed grit and served as a lift to the team as Los Angeles’ best players emerged as their best players.
Anze Kopitar also deserves recognition for his play at both even strength (where he finished well in the black possession-wise while lining up regularly against Ryan Kesler, who, like Kopitar, is again in the running for the Selke Trophy) as well as on special teams (where he won 9-of-14 faceoffs in non-five-on-five situations and led all Kings forwards with 3:22 of shorthanded time). He drew Andrew Cogliano – another fine defensive forward – away from the point and well out of position along the boards before finding a wide open Kevin Gravel in setting up Los Angeles’ third goal, earning a well-deserved secondary assist on Brown’s deflection. He also took four shots on goal as part of six shot attempts in an important performance at both ends.
One final note: While waiting near the Kings’ dressing room after yesterday’s game, I was asked by Chris Sutter why I didn’t help lead the push for his inclusion as a coach at this year’s All-Star Game. (I apologized for that; he had previously helped lead the Pacific Division to a 2016 All-Star Game title.) While we were talking about how the decision on next year’s game is contingent on the NHL not sending players to the Winter Olympics, he then asked me to relay that he has put in his name to coach Canada at the Pyeongchang Games, should NHL players be released for the event. Though Chris was born in the United States, he emphasized that it’s Canada or bust. As if there wasn’t enough of a reason to reach an agreement for NHL participation next year, this may be the strongest case yet.