Folks, we offer you The Greatest Kings-Wild Game Ever. That might be up for debate – there were some interesting games marked by Jeff Carter and Mikael Granlund OT winners in St. Paul – but one thing is not: For the first time in the series’ history, the two teams combined for 10 goals. “10 goals?! Had they ever combined for five goals?” is what you’re probably thinking. And, yes, they had. Following Saturday’s game, exactly half of the 68 games between the two teams resulted in five total goals being scored during the run of play. Los Angeles finished with zero goals or one goal in 20 games; Minnesota has done so in 16 games. Henceforth this shall be known as The Binary Rivalry.
The LA Kings are 8-2-1 in their last 11 games, a record that doesn’t really represent any major surge in their play as much as it does an 82-game set of data solidifying. This is a market correction. The Kings have a 45.8% xGF% during this stretch and the #2 PDO. It’s everything you’ve seen: They’ve been opportunistic and are getting excellent goaltending. This is probably not even their best stretch of play this season. It also says something that Los Angeles played a pretty good but imperfect game and it still was among the best games of this run, right up there with the Calgary game that started it off. This obviously isn’t any knock on the team or what they’re building. Anyone who’s read this column regularly this season recalls the praises of the buttressed systems play that took hold in November and has stymied elite offensive teams like Colorado, Pittsburgh and Toronto during the recent stretch. And surely it says something good about a group that they’re winning games even though they’re not at their best. Right now, they’re getting rewarded for some pretty good, occasionally uneven play. Previously, they weren’t getting rewarded for some pretty good, occasionally (OK, largely) uneven play. Some familiar mistakes still resurface; Minnesota’s first goal was scored 13 seconds into the second period off a faceoff. But those mistakes aren’t costing the team; Jonathan Quick has an all-situational .950 save percentage since Cal Petersen’s recall, while Cal’s clocking in at .922.
With that said, the pivotal stretch Saturday didn’t hinge on goaltending, but rather Los Angeles’ ability to kill off an important penalty to curb their second period struggles. The Kings entered with a -30 second period goal differential, the worst rate in the league apart from the Red Wings’ -57. (Both L.A. and Detroit outscored their opponents in the second period yesterday, oddly.) The Wild entered with a +18, the only period in which they’d recorded a positive differential, and naturally scored on the first shift. Trevor Moore’s high-sticking call could have been the turning point opening the door for a red-hot team to gain their footing after a sleepy start, but Adrian Kempe picked off Alex Galchenyuk’s centering pass and Blake Lizotte sprinted down the center of the ice to provide an option before netting an impressive And-One shorty by quickly getting back up on his skates after Gerald Mayhew’s neutral zone interference.
I joined the Kings and Ducks beat in 2011 as a broadcaster without any sports writing experience apart from creating the layout of the LA Times sports section on poster board when I was 10. I kind of knew how NHL dressing rooms and media scrums worked, but in those early days while I was very green, I just watched how Helene Elliott and Lisa Dillman interacted with players and team figures, the types of questions they asked and the responses they generated. Having lived out of state for the four years prior, both were such important lifelines to the team and served as in loco parentis hockey writing instructors. (In loco scholae?) I’m proud as an Angeleno and a sports fan that there are two gifted women who’ve served Kings fans with their knowledge, wit, and most importantly, the accuracy with which they gather information and articulate it. On this International Women’s Day, here’s to Helene, Lisa and those making inroads on the ice sheet, in executive offices, in scouting meetings, and in print, digitally and on television to convey a love of hockey unencumbered by gender.