Saturday’s 2-1 shootout loss is essentially what you get when Colorado, absent their starting goaltender, first line star wings and a variety of other important two-way pieces, flexes its structural muscles and checks its way to an ugly road win. Good on Jonathan Quick, Austin Wagner and the LA Kings for eking out a point and nearly two on a night in which the visitors limited them to four shots from an average of 36.5 feet over 33:56 of game action spanning three periods. So it goes! Colorado owns the best goal differential in the Western Conference, Los Angeles the worst, and in a game in which one shootout goal was the difference and Los Angeles ably/angrily contended with four Avs power plays that produced six shots, it’s hard to get a firm day-after read or feel. Like any other shootout or overtime loss, it’s qualified by the play before and after it, and with the Kings coming into Sunday’s game 3-1-1 in their last five, a win over the Oilers would minimize whatever distaste is derived from a nondescript team performance but one difficult to find much fault in.
Kurtis MacDermid has adapted well and is playing a smart, composed role in the 1-3-1 on the left side of the ice in the neutral zone, and that’s allowing some other, previously unmined parts of his game to come out. MacDermid, an undrafted free agent, and Matt Roy, a seventh-round draft pick, are the two defensemen to shoot below their handicap this season, and in the case of the former, he’s providing a barrier some 30-40 feet in front of where Brayden McNabb set up shop for this team from 2014-17. “When we have forwards back, that allows us D to be able to step up and take their time and space away, and with the structure we’re playing with, that’s what we need to do. It’s part of the job in the neutral zone – make sure they’re not entering the zone with control,” he said. It’s allowed the Kings to check well (and set Gabriel Vilardi up for his first NHL goal) and play to a wider degree in their opponents’ end, though that tug-of-war was pulled with greater torque by Colorado on Saturday in an impressive lockdown road performance. But MacDermid logged nearly 14 and a half minutes last night, and that included 3:29 on the penalty kill – 2:58 specifically against Nathan MacKinnon – in which the Avalanche took only one shot. He wasn’t getting cushy starts against a Cup-contending, lightning-quick (or Lightning-quick) team – seven of his nine five-on-five faceoffs came in the defensive zone or neutral zone, as were five of his six defensive zone starts, per Natural Stat Trick. He’s not Cale Makar, but he’s emerged as a sixth defenseman, and that shows steady improvement over a number of years on the back of an individual with a renowned work ethic established by a well-balanced family pedigree.
In 2006-07, Assistant General Manager Michael Futa’s final season as the GM of the Owen Sound Attack, he recalled a 12-year-old Kurtis on the brink of a growth spurt, telling Frozen Royalty three years ago, “he was a 5-8 or 5-9 string bean. His Dad is a mountain. His brother is a mountain. They have an incredible work ethic. They’re an incredible family. At the time, I thought, ‘there’s going to be a growth spurt in six months,’ and when I went back…jeez.” Futa added that the team could have drafted MacDermid in 2012, but that “Kurtis made a deal with me that he’d commit to us without us having to draft him,” starting what has become an eight-year project in which the player has responded well and adapted within the parameters of varying systems, none of which have seemed to fit him as well as Todd McLellan’s 1-3-1. It’s representative of his purpose amidst increasing tempo to adapt and work and learn and scrap and claw and hit and forecheck his way to maintaining a roster spot that he’s spent eight years fighting for. MacDermid signed with Los Angeles the summer after a 2011-12 season in which he played 20 GOJHL games, nine OHL games and dealt with mononucleosis and a lower-body injury that ended his draft season shortly after he’d been recalled by the Attack. It’s not hard to root for players who’ve put in the hours, and even amidst the gravitation to speed and pace and skill, Los Angeles doesn’t have anyone like him in their system, and that toughness – measured in more ways than scrapping and fighting – is an asset for them.