If you listen to social media, you’d probably get the impression that LA Kings fans want to see their team rebuilt/refreshed/renewed, yet also win each game, 4-0. And games aren’t played on social media. They’re actually played on spreadsheets, and the data has said that the Kings have been pretty good and probably have deserved a bit better than what they’d mined from the DEATHSTAND. Jokes! But after a 4-1 win over Calgary, a game that featured an even strength goal, a shorthanded goal, a power play goal and a penalty shot goal, they’re now 3-5-0 with a pair of 20-shot periods in six total against the Flames and rank second in both 5×5 possession and expected goals-for percentage overall. This isn’t focally important eight games to the season; Philadelphia, which ranks first in both, has won two of six games. But shotsball can often be a good indication of the forecheck’s execution, and on Saturday Todd McLellan gave it some unsolicited approval when asked about offense. “For us today, the scoring was great, but we checked better today than we did in the first period the other day, the last couple games, Buffalo, Carolina,” he said. “We checked better in the first period, and that allowed us to play with the lead. We haven’t done that very often.” He’s right. Though the team entered the game out-shooting opponents 95-50 off the hop, and first periods had largely been their best territorially, they’d been outscored 8-2 in the opening seven minutes prior to Tyler Toffoli turning Noah Hanifin into Roger Dorn and allowing the team to settle in and relax with the shutout streak flushed out. Another oscillation in shooting percentage – a touch high through the Nashville game – wasn’t exactly out of the question.
Off the spreadsheet, there were good responses to the Buffalo game, several of them structural. Austin Wagner was on the ice for only two shots against in nearly 10 minutes of five-on-five time and dished out three hits, not counting the roughing minor he gladly assumed in Drew Doughty’s defense as the closet passerby to the late-game fracas. He appeared firmer in open ice without the puck and part of the strong checking effort. Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty were both excellent, and Doughty’s best two games of the year have come against Calgary. It was one of those games in which he was in total control – poised, smooth, not forcing anything or trying to do too much. The bit with Matthew Tkachuk was punctuated with a smile, a hair grab and a cut under his eye that he’ll gladly wear, a throwback ending with Smythe Division influences. Kopitar may have forged his best performance of the season, seeming a half-step quicker than the flow of play around him and dominating play over a two-shift sequence in which he Wun Wun’d Johnny Gaudreau off the puck and passed it to the slot for a scoring chance, was denied on a breakaway off a pinpoint Dustin Brown feed, and then stole a Monahan-Giordano handoff and gave Los Angeles a 3-0 lead with his 13th career shorthanded goal. He’s finished with 200 shots twice in the last seven years but hasn’t exceeded the barrier but is on pace for 267 through the first eight.
This was a needed win, a validation of the work they’d put in beyond moral victories. Individually, it’s important for Jeff Carter to have this type of game and breakthrough with a greasy goal, one he’d probably deserved to have bounce or deflect in by this point. He was getting pucks through to the net and seems to have a good thing going with Blake Lizotte, whose game hasn’t yet been marked by a typical rookie’s more volatile ebb-and-flow. An interesting thing to watch early on the road trip is if this team is able to find some balance and regularity within their lines, because beyond the more hardened Iafallo-Kopitar-Brown line, there’s some encouraging chemistry brewing largely with the Lizotte and Amadio groups, both of which have played a pretty good straight-line, downhill game.