Perhaps the most archetypal note about Saturday’s slog is that the LA Kings’ first period was far and away their best period, and they were down 2-0 after the first 20 minutes after yielding a shorthanded goal and having gone 0-for-4 on the man advantage. There’s an enormous difference between effort and execution. The effort was there, especially early – Los Angeles took three shots in the first 25 seconds and was relentless in tilting the ice at a nearly vertical angle – though the execution had a few gaping holes. New Jersey’s execution also had some spotty moments, too; the Kings outshot the Devils 19-4, out-attempted them by an astounding 40-12 margin, and even in five-on-five play, won the scoring chance count by an 11-4 margin, via Natural Stat Trick. Whereas New Jersey was not stung by its mistakes, such as in Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli’s open looks down low, or Anze Kopitar’s shot 10 seconds in or Jeff Carter’s 5-on-3 high-slot wrister that forced Keith Kinkaid into perhaps his toughest save of the game, Los Angeles paid dearly. Michael Grabner picked off Drew Doughty’s ill-advised D-to-D pass after a faceoff win, and that’s the exact last person, other than maybe Connor McDavid, that you want to see intercepting a pass and skating into daylight. A poor line change allowed the visitors to double their lead, and from there, it was an ugly schlep that New Jersey was in complete control of.
Drew Doughty did a number of good things in advancing the puck up-ice and cutting plays off in his own zone, and in the wider picture is the most gifted all-around defenseman in the game, but this is a results-oriented league, and between the giveaways in the first and third periods, it was a forgettable afternoon from the Kings’ star defenseman. The turnover in the third period, while ugly, is essentially understandable. At that point, the Kings are pressing for offense, and that’s not a play he regularly tries to force when the team hasn’t shifted its focus towards a full-throttle and last gasp attempt to provide it by any means necessary. That first period attempted exchange with Jake Muzzin was the single most important influence on the game, and the inability to score during a 58-second five-on-three reduced a significant amount of the remaining win probability.
Onward and upward. Saturday’s defeat can’t and won’t have any lingering effect on a group that’s done with Eastern Conference teams, against whom they went 21-10-1. This team’s postseason fortunes will be largely determined by their head-to-head record with Minnesota, Colorado, Dallas, Calgary and Anaheim, a group of opponents that account for seven of the 10 remaining games. They’ve alternated wins and losses over their last eight games, a pace they’ll need to improve in order to qualify for the playoffs and an observation that comes with a “water is wet” addendum.
-Lead photo via Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI