Six wins, six different lineups.
Sometimes, when a team gets hot and goes on a winning streak, you can point to consistency in a lineup as a driving factor, with teams gelling as set lines across an extended stretch. That hasn’t necessarily been the case for the LA Kings.
From the group that played on February 11, the first of the six consecutive wins, to the group that dressed in last night’s victory, just 12 of the 18 skaters were consistent. 24 skaters played at least once during the winning streak. In each win, the Kings introduced at least one player back into the lineup and the group as a whole has not missed a beat.
On Monday, it was Sean Walker returning to the lineup, while last night saw Kurtis MacDermid check back in, after Mikey Anderson was ruled out with a lower-body injury. Anderson had filled a top-pairing role, alongside Drew Doughty, in the previous five wins, which meant someone had to step up to fill the role.
That someone was Olli Maatta, who turned in perhaps his strongest performance in an LA Kings jersey. Maatta logged 25:05 last night, second only behind Doughty, and led the team in several possession metrics, including a game-high 20 Corsi For, as well as on-ice shots, scoring chances and high-danger chances for.
The Maatta – Doughty pairing was used to start the season, highly anticipated and touted, but it didn’t come to fruition over the first four games. As a result, Anderson was slid onto that spot, and Maatta was out of the lineup for four games. Since returning, Maatta has been solid and steady on the team’s third pairing and was excellent when given the chance to play a larger role in St. Louis.
“They were a real solid pair for 30 minutes tonight and Olli played a big part in that,” Todd McLellan said after the game. “You can just see he’s a lot more confident than he was earlier in the year. I think he has a better understanding of how we want to play, just making good, smart plays right now. Defending well, blocking shots, doing everything that he needs to do. Real good for him, and good for us that he’s responded the way we believed he could.”
I think that Maatta’s performance last night was a great example of how the Kings have thrived over their last stretch of games. It’s not always the same names stepping up, but it’s been different guys, in different roles, helping to win games.
At the same time though, it’s not, NOT the same names either. Okay, yeah that sounds stupid…..but it’s also true though. The veterans on this team have been driving the bus, at the same time that the younger players and role players have also been contributing.
After an overnight scoring change, Dustin Brown found the back of the net again last night, giving him three of the team’s five goals in St. Louis, and 11 goals in total on the season, the fifth-most in the NHL. Brown has been a reliable, consistent player for the Kings for years, but never in his NHL career has he scored at this rate to open a season, with 11 goals from 18 games played.
Brown has been resurgent, and he seems to just be finding ways to score. Last night’s goal was initially credited to Alex Iafallo, but it was created by Brown, who shot for the far pad off the rush, which created an unpredictable rebound that hit Justin Faulk’s stick and deflected in. It was maybe Brown’s first goal, outside of an empty-netter, that wasn’t in or around the blue paint. His marker on Monday, however, was not due to any sort of bounce. That one was a terrific bit of skill from the Ithaca, NY native, with a really nice move around the goal line. Just find a way score, and they all count the same.
“He’s getting rewarded for some of the things he’s doing well right now. It might sound strange, but we actually took some things away from him, which is never easy as a veteran player, and that would be penalty kill and as a result, I think he has more pop in his legs. Would he like to be out there? Of course he would, but he’s got more pop in his legs and he seems to get more done without it, so good for him.”
It wouldn’t be an accurate recap of the St. Louis games if we didn’t touch on the goaltending as well. It honestly might be inaccurate that I went the first 700 words and haven’t said the names Cal Petersen or Jonathan Quick once.
The two netminders nearly combined to post back-to-back shutouts in the series, just an Oskar Sundqvist goal in the game’s final two minutes last night from achieving the feat. Petersen and Quick posted a .985 save percentage across the two games, and have had a .953 save percentage during the Kings current seven-game point streak.
“I’ve always been a big proponent that when one goalie is playing well, it helps the other goalie play even better, and I think that’s what’s holding true for Quickie and I,” Petersen said after last night’s win. “In the past, whichever guy is in the net, the other guy has his back and is supporting him one-hundred percent so I think it’s a great relationship from that regard. Each time the other guy is in net, he wants to prove his worth, have a great game to help the team win and do his job. I don’t think that really changes from night-to-night, whichever goalie is in the net.”
With two wins in Arizona and now two wins in St. Louis behind them, the Kings have started off this road trip at 4-0-0, heading to Minnesota for the final two games. If you offered four victories from six games at the start of this trip, you’d have taken it hands down aginst three potential playoff teams. But perhaps these games in St. Louis have upped the ante a bit.
A win tomorrow would give the Kings the NHL’s longest winning streak this season outright, and continue to shoot the NHL’s hottest team up the West Division standings. Certainly a good situation to have, heading into a pair of tough challenges to come against the Wild.