A 7:56 start time allowed for the drama to build on Bob Miller Celebration Day, and three fights within four seconds less than three minutes into the game served as an appropriate crescendo towards the continuation of what has evolved into perhaps the league’s most premier rivalry. Los Angeles received an early power play when Andrew Cogliano, who was fortunate that he wasn’t expelled from the game, raised his shoulder on Adrian Kempe well away from the puck on a play that will likely end the fourth-longest consecutive games played streak in NHL history. No matter; Kempe returned to the game and the Kings embarked on an early power play backed by a vocal 18,000 plus on a celebratory night. And then John Gibson made an outstanding save on Trevor Lewis from point blank range and robbed Nick Shore during another high-quality power play look, and at the other end of the ice, 33 seconds after the Ducks killed the power play, Ondrej Kase snapped a puck from outside the scoring chance radius along the right wing that snuck through Jonathan Quick on the first shot on goal he faced. The Los Angeles core has carried this team both through their actual production as well as in the more intangible values such as leadership and will, and Quick has probably been the MVP of the group that has catalyzed this team towards a playoff berth through the first half of the season. He simply had a rough game – one of very few off-nights for a player who will draw Vezina Trophy consideration – which made a 2-0 deficit to a stingy Anaheim team a difficult mountain to climb.
The game was checked well by both sides, neither of whom ceded much down the center of the ice or directly in front of the net. That type of wash should have benefited the Kings, who for the first time this season were not as healthy as the Ducks in a head-to-head match-up. Anze Kopitar, who now has 24 goals and 64 points in 62 games in the rivalry has always been a Duck killer, but beyond his 882 career games, Los Angeles entered the night with centers who had logged 66, 211 and 632 games of NHL service. That’s not overwhelmingly low, but compared with Ryan Getzlaf (880 games), Ryan Kesler (903), Adam Henrique (473) and Antoine Vermette (1,025), Anaheim had an advantage both in experience and in depth down the middle. But apart from the flubbed pass back to Kurtis MacDermid, and Quick’s misplayment of the puck behind the net that led to Kase’s mid-slot second goal, and the odd rush opportunity, the goals and scoring chances against weren’t accumulating from high-danger areas, and that’s a credit to a team-wide checking performance that was clearly not without mistakes but still pieced together an effective night in suppressing chances and shots against.
Based on a two-game sample size bridging the bye week, Alex Iafallo has effectively hit the reset button and appears refreshed after sitting out a pair of games on the recent Western Canada swing. Not that John Stevens would ever need any reinforcement from LAKI, but he was absolutely correct that Iafallo may have been Los Angeles’ best forward last night and was at his puck-hounding, retrieving best. On Kopitar’s goal, he made a nice play along the boards after weathering a hit to work the puck up to Derek Forbort, whose blocked shot caromed into the captain’s wheelhouse. With the movement along the left side of the lineup, it would be a great boon for the Kings if he could reclaim his spot aside Kopitar and Dustin Brown during a period in which Marian Gaborik has been productive early over his last six games but has registered only one shot on goal over his last three. Los Angeles’ offense shows better balance with Iafallo contributing on the forecheck and skating higher up in the lineup.
Stick taps to the Kings organization for a touching and memorable reflection of Bob Miller’s career. This has been an ongoing celebration for the last two seasons, and it remains fresh and poignant, thanks to a talented game operations staff and, most of all, colleagues of Bob’s that provided charming and heartfelt testimonials. Jim Fox Spoke eloquently, as did Nick Nickson, Pete Weber and Luc Robitaille, and to see Jiggs McDonald and Rich Marotta and other figures with whom Bob shared Kings airwaves with made for a special celebration of a man who is responsible, along with icons such as Vin Scully, Chick Hearn, Dick Enberg, and even the wonderful Keith Jackson, in helping shape Los Angeles sports culture as a city that has benefited greatly from its acclaimed play by play broadcasters. Helene Elliott capture the pageantry and Bob’s career very well here.
-Lead photo via Adam Pantozzi/NHLI