There are plenty of narratives and starting points for the LA Kings’ overtime win over Chicago, a carbon copy of a carbon copy of the two Spidermen pointing at each other, but an entertaining one nonetheless. Jonathan Toews registered his third point 58 minutes and 21 seconds into his 12th game of the season. Drew Doughty, among the league’s most surehanded three-on-three specialists, turned the puck over twice in overtime before emotionally ending the game with a dynamic and sorely needed imprint for the second time this season. Bizarre goaltending sequences set the tone early and peaked with Robin Lehner’s game-saving, five-minute, He-Beast reign in the aftermath of a Kurtis MacDermid one-timer that temporarily knocked Corey Crawford out of the game. Dominik Kubalik scored and again announced himself with authority as a figure to watch in The Timonen Index. Tyler Toffoli and Michael Amadio each rebounded with perhaps their best efforts of the season after they both publicly and awkwardly bore weight for collective and personal lulls. It was a proper accompaniment for the type of Hockey Night in LA and happy hour vibe the team would like to instill at its Saturday home games, and it was the final time two teams met in a decade in which they won half the Stanley Cups.
Drew Doughty was typically honest and candid after Saturday’s game, holding court and owning up to not having played his best hockey. He didn’t want to use the adaptation to new systems and positioning as an excuse, but did admit to growing pains associated with shifting into a “rover” position in the middle of the ice, where he wasn’t funneled as many opportunities to leave a defensive imprint, either on the game or of opposing faces onto the glass. He shot down the suggestion that he should be treated with kid gloves. “No don’t give me a break. I mean, like I said, I’ve got to get back to what I was a couple years ago.”
Doughty’s perhaps someone more motivated than any other player by his place or hierarchy within the game and will provide incredibly nuanced and often contrarian scouting reports on opposing players and his own play. And though he did acknowledge a process in which he’s still learning how to best apply his world-class talents within the more aggressive system, he was also relatively bullish on his own game near the start of the year. In any event, his game comes best when it flows naturally, when he’s making the overwhelmingly correct split-second decisions that have allowed him to evade forechecks, advance the puck, lob or hit teammates for stretch passes and control the game with the very best players of his era, and right now it seems there’s additional osmosis required to reduce decision time and perhaps loosen some of that out of him. As a player who understands his own game better than anyone, Doughty’s honest introspection should always be heeded.
The Kings got on the board first with a really good work shift by Tyler Toffoli and Blake Lizotte. Toffoli was hard on the puck and kept multiple Blackhawks at bay in forcing a clean entry, and then issued a puck towards the corner, where Lizotte won a battle against two larger players. (Technically, virtually all players are larger players.) It was good use of five men interconnectedly and freed up MacDermid’s hot one-timer from an Ilya Kovalchuk set-up as part of several effective low-to-high plays. Toffoli is playing a bit away from the boards, and while he’s been good at maintaining possession in generating cleaner opportunities to play, retrieve or receive pucks in the offensive zone, he was again making his little touches and remaining strong on his skates to help facilitate the offensive zone advantages the team played with. Amadio, like MacDermid, played with great energy and will have to maintain such high levels over a more regular swath of playing time in the NHL. He has to show he can play a full NHL season following highs of 71 (NHL/AHL), 69 (NHL/AHL) and 68 (AHL; also, twice, OHL) games played, and that jump that he played with should serve as a good model. As a former 50-goal scorer, he’s been able to establish consistency before.
Catching the eye amidst some understandably cushioned opportunity was Kirby Dach, who was probably the guy I was expecting more than any other to end up a King one week out from the 2019 draft. (Alex Turcotte, selected one spot later, was a consolation prize the team was overjoyed to accept independent of the sting of missing out on a top-two pick.) Dach noticeably used his size, power skating and hands in tight areas to remain in control of the puck around the L.A. net in two or three of his 11 shifts and earned an assist by attempting to quickly turn and shoot on the power play amidst Doughty and Alec Martinez pressure. Instead, he usefully channeled it to an in-stride Kubalik for a power play assist reminiscent of core aspects of top Pacific Division centers like Getzlaf, Thornton and Kopitar. (Turcotte identifies more as a Toews-type player, though his hands are similarly top-notch, dare we say even “incredible.”) Ex-King and Hawk Colin Fraser was “instrumental” in Dach’s selection as an amateur scout with extensive Western Hockey League ties, and one could probably do worse in their first year with an organization than be associated with a player who’ll spend the full year with the big club as an 18-year-old. It is of little surprise to those who covered Fraser that he’d have a future in some sort of hockey operational role – though he once joked that he had no interest in coaching because of the sheer volume of video sessions required. He joins Rob Scuderi, who works for Nashville in defensive development, Matt Greene and Jarret Stoll as fellow 2012 budding hockey operations figures across the league. Davis Drewiske is coaching high school (and doing much more than that), Jordan Nolan captains AHL-San Antonio, Kevin Westgarth is a vice president in the NHL’s business offices and Justin Williams is probably wearing his sunglasses somewhere, as cool as ever. Such pursuits obviously require inherent leadership traits, but that Sutter/Lombardi/Murray/Kings tree of influence needs a much bigger garden box.