The LA Kings might’ve deserved a little better than a 3-2 regulation loss to Arizona Saturday afternoon, but the Coyotes did what they’ve done to this point and what they’ll look to tinker with a little bit to continue to find success: They won the 5×5 battle 1-0 despite getting blitzed over the final 40 minutes and scored the go-ahead goal against not only the run of play but a suffocating shift by Jeff Carter’s line that shrunk the radius of chaos around Antti Raanta but went on for just a beat too long. We have seen this type of L.A.-Arizona game at Staples Center before. The matinee was the 14th consecutive home game the Kings registered more shot attempts than the Coyotes, and with a 66-32 divide, the ninth time over the five-plus-year span that range was greater than 15 attempts. They’re 6-7-1 in those games. But while all teams want to possess the puck more than their opponents, Arizona has carried a winning formula from late last season into this that has relied on yielding quantity rather than quality and defending the center of the ice well – in front of excellent goaltending – and even if the script seemed to be a shot-for-shot remake of the recent history between these teams, the Coyotes etched out a better start, played with the lead, retook the lead after allowing a power play goal, and relied on Antti Raanta’s ability to keep the puck out despite a regular convergence of bodies and pucks on his doorstep. Several players and Todd McLellan remarked on Los Angeles’ slow start, and that’s understandable; the first period was the most even territorially, and Lawson Crouse, Brad Richardson and Clayton Keller all had prime opportunities before the Keller-Kessel give-and-go. But at the time of the second period go-ahead goal, the shots were 26-10 in the Kings’ favor, and 13-4 that period. “A lot of teams are going to muck and grind against us, we have to have that mentality, we didn’t get a shot for the first eight minutes [of the second],” Rick Tocchet said. L.A. did its own mucking and grinding, and it’s getting apparent that their execution of the forecheck is improving, but they’ll have to settle for advancing the needle rather than their spot in the standings.
On the Nikolai Prokhorkin watch, the intriguing 26-year-old center was noticeable, and in a good way on the scoresheet. He was off-balance but drew a penalty when Christian Fischer swatted at his ankles and scored a late redirection goal off the type of Matt Roy activation we’d been seeing quite a bit of lately. After the game, McLellan shared that he prefers Prokhorkin at center, something Ilya Kovalchuk had alluded to earlier in the season. “He shows us a skill level, he’s able to use his size, I think his feet, his legs, his skating are improving, but it has to get a little bit quicker and better,” McLellan said as part of a review of Prokhorkin, who’s playing more confidently right now and whose endeavor to lock down a spot in the lineup will be among the interesting story lines of a busy week ahead. Same goes for Carl Grundstrom, who’s made a strong case to stay in the lineup over his last two games. Against Arizona and Edmonton (via Natural Stat Trick), he’s been on the ice for 41 attempts for and 18 against, 26 shots for and nine against, nine high-danger chances for and one against, and two goals for and none against. He registered three shots and six attempts against the Coyotes to go along with three hits and a blocked shot as his minutes were increased by nearly five minutes. Keep an eye on Grundstrom – who last year generated some late-season success opposite Toffoli – this week.