It’s a lot better writing these after a win, isn’t it?
The Kings ended their season-opening, four-game homestand on a high note, with a 4-2 win over Colorado last night. If you said, before Opening Night, that the Kings would have four points from the first four games of the season, you probably wouldn’t have been too upset. A point-per-game pace this season might not get you into the playoffs, but it likely keeps you right in the hunt and in a position to get hot down the stretch.
There was a time last night – meaning the first half of the game – when you’d have said that having those four points looked unlikely. As Colorado led 2-0, and was in control of the bulk puck possession, the ice was seemingly tilted towards the Los Angeles net at length. The deficit really could have been a lot bigger than it was, and it needs to be pointed out just how good Jonathan Quick was between the pipes.
Quick only totaled 24 saves last night, but it felt like a large percentage of those came from high-danger areas on the ice, a sentiment that Todd McLellan shared after the game. After a pair of goals created by Nathan MacKinnon, arguably the best hockey player in the world right now, Quick slammed the door shut for the rest of the evening.
“I thought Quickie was very good tonight,” McLellan said after last night’s win. “Very few easy, simple saves for him. They were tough saves, scramble saves. They had 26 shots on goal, and 20 of them were probably Grade A, good, high-quality ones. Goaltending’s been good.”
Quick’s performance kept what could have been four or five goals against to two, which allowed for the comeback to begin.
Doughty on the PP. Vilardi on the PP. Kempe with the late winner. And suddenly, what could have been four consecutive losses to open the season became a much more encouraging 1-1-2 start.
When you look at the Colorado set as a whole, there’s some good, some bad, and some in between. Is it a good thing that the Kings battled back to outscore Colorado by a 4-0 margin in the third period? Or is it more concerning that they trailed in both games by multiple goals, and conceded within the first five minutes in both games? Little bit of both.
On the positive side, the Kings showed a lot of character coming back, in both games really. They fell a bit short on Tuesday, but yesterday evening they completed the comeback.
“It showed character,” Anze Kopitar said. “Going down two against a team like Colorado, it’s not the easiest ask to shut them down the rest of the game and score a few goals. I thought we showed quite a bit of character today. Obviously, there are still a few things we can improve on, but we’ll take the win and go from here on out.”
The starts to games, while it hasn’t sunk the Kings, as they’ve led in three of four games despite allowing the first goal, are something that need to be corrected in the longer run.
From McLellan’s point of view, it’s not just a matter of scoring the first goal that is important right now, it’s playing the right way off of the opening puck drop.
“You don’t want that to happen…I think that we received the game, rather than applied it, we were on our heels early and kind of tiptoed into it, instead of throwing everything we had at that team right off the bat,” McLellan said. “That’s something we need to fix. Getting the [first] goal, getting the lead is better, but I think we’ve got things to fix before the goal comes.”
When we do these lookbacks, it’s not just at last night’s game, it’s at the series as a whole. From the bigger picture, the Kings earned a split against one of the NHL’s best teams.
Rob Blake said it in his season-opening media call – it’s a results-driven business.
In terms of results, the Kings matched a team expected to compete for a Stanley Cup championship this season. In terms of play over the course of 60 minutes, the Avalanche showed, in spurts, why they’re regarded the way that they are. Their big line carried possession, both at 5-on-5 and on the power play, and especially in first periods, the Kings at times didn’t have an answer.
On both nights though, in the final 30 minutes of games, the Kings skated with Colorado and especially last night, they were able to impose their own game to shut the Avalanche down while at 5-on-5 – The Kings allowed no even-strength goals after the 4:49 mark in either game. Los Angeles showed why perhaps it’s a bit better of a team that it’s given credit for.
Looking ahead, in the bigger picture, the Kings will need to continue to produce goals to win these tight games. Several times this season, McLellan has said that his team needs to score three goals to be able to win games, if the team is playing proper structure defensively.
So far, the Kings have averaged exactly three goals per game, and they’ve earned a point all three times they’ve scored three goals and lost in regulation the one game they did not.
On Thursday, they found a way to pull out the win, and puck luck went their way. Against Minnesota, an empty-net attempt from Matt Roy hit the post, and later wound up in their Kings net. Last night, it was Colorado that hit the post in the game’s final minutes, before Blake Lizotte iced things with an empty-net tally.
Looking at the bigger picture, McLellan admitted that the Kings are not a finished product right now. The group will need to continue to grow over the course of the season, and how that shakes how remains to be seen.
“We’re at the beginning of a season after a long, long layoff,” McLellan said. “We’re a work in progress. We’re nowhere near the finished product. I think we’re looking for some poise in certain situations. Physically, we want to do the right things. Mentally, we’ve still got to clear some things up.”