The story of Game 1 between the Kings and Coyotes on Monday was Drew Doughty’s words.
Direct, pointed and passionate – We need to be better.
“I think [desperation] is what’s been lacking for the last five games,” he said. “We haven’t had any intensity, anyone competing – I shouldn’t say that, we’ve had some guys competing every single game – and we’ve had others play good games and take games off. We’re down 4-1 in the third period, I sure hope we’re playing a little more desperate, but it’s absolutely ridiculous we didn’t play like that in the first or the second, or the last four games, besides the Vegas game.
On Wednesday, in Game 2, the story was Drew Doughty’s play.
The Kings number-one defenseman collected assists on the game-tying and game-winning goals in the third period, with nearly 30 minutes played, a +2 rating on the evening as well as two key blocked shots, as the Kings rallied to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 4-3 victory.
It can be difficult to say what needs to be said, but that’s what Doughty did after Monday’s 5-2 defeat, which saw the Kings behind by three goals inside the game’s first eight minutes. On Wednesday, Doughty backed up his words through his play, and that’s what a good leader does.
“That’s called leadership,” Head Coach Todd McLellan said. “You put yourself out there with your words and then you follow it up through actions. We’re fortunate to have him and a few others that have been through the big battles here and won eventually. There was a lot of talk over the summer about ‘where’s Drew’s game’, well Drew’s game is outstanding. You really have to be around him to appreciate the minutes, the locker room, the energy he brings, the work he put in over the summer. He’s as good a defenseman as there is in the National Hockey League right now in my opinion.”
With the Kings staring down a 3-1 deficit through 40 minutes on Wednesday at STAPLES Center, off of three straight losses at home, the easy way out would have been to roll over in the third period. Instead, the Kings showed the character that makes up their group.
A 3-on-2 goal for Adrian Kempe, a deflection goal for Jeff Carter and a double deflection goal for Carl Grundstrom, all a part of a +7 differential in scoring chances and a +5 differential in high-danger chances in the third period alone. The Kings got traffic to the net and created two goals off of high tips and several other opportunities off of screens, deflections and general chaos in front of Arizona netminder Adin Hill.
“We’re struggling scoring goals, you talk about crashing the paint, taking the goalie’s eyes off of it, all of the words that coaches use, but sometimes it’s that high deflection. D-men are looking for sticks when they’re shooting, and they scored off of it as well tonight. Net play is getting harder and harder in the league, it’s hard to control people in and around that area, lots of goals are scored that way. It’s nice to see us get some.”
It would be easy to focus this entire article on what the Kings did on Wednesday, an exciting comeback win, versus the game on Monday, a disappointing defeat at home, against a team that played the night before. But with a look at the overall series, which was a split, you have to factor in the level of disappointment from many after game one.
Monday’s game brought out obvious fire from Doughty and McLellan.
Words such as intensity, commitment, compete and desperation were thrown around as things that the Kings were lacking. McLellan went as far as to call the Kings playoff hopes a “pipedream”, with the level of play that they brought on Monday evening.
Naturally, with a night to sleep on it, the message was more controlled on Tuesday, and McLellan was his usual, composed self after Wednesday’s game. That doesn’t mean that the picture is all rosy because of one victory, because the road ahead is still difficult.
These two games against Arizona presented a chance for the Kings to get as close as within three points for the final playoff position in the West Division, with a sweep, but with a split, the team now sits seven points back, exactly where they started the week, but now with 18 games to play, three teams to jump and two games in hand.
To me, what this series does mean, is that with the Kings 20 minutes away from being 11 points out of a playoff spot, following an 0-4 homestand, the team showed its character, with several players stepping up.
Kale Clague had two assists on Wednesday, including a clever primary helper on Kempe’s goal early in the third period, which seemed to spark the comeback. The Carl Grundstrom – Jaret Anderson-Dolan – Trevor Moore line created two goals, including the game winner. Carter snapped a seven-game run without a goal, while Kempe scored for the first time in six games.
What it added up to was the second time since mid-January that the Kings have scored three or more goals when the Alex Iafallo – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown line was held off the scoresheet. That has happened 11 times during that span, and the Kings have scored two or fewer goals in 10 of those games. I mean, when’s the last time we wrote one of these that didn’t mention at least one of those three names before the 18th paragraph?
The importance of depth scoring for this team is obvious, and when the Kings are getting goals from throughout their lineup, especially on a night when the big guns don’t get one, they’re a team that plays a successful brand of hockey.
“All four lines and six defensemen played some role in it, it wasn’t like one guy scored four and we moved on,” McLellan said. “To stay with it, especially with the mood around the team lately, it hasn’t been the best, because we haven’t won as much as we’d like to, so we’ve tried to keep guys up. They’ve done a good job of preparing and falling behind wasn’t something we wanted to do, but certainly coming back makes at least this night feel better. It should give us some confidence moving forward.”
Getting these types of performances from younger players specifically is a good sign in both the short and long term. Seeing a player like Clague step up with three regulars on the blueline out is a good sign, as he continues to be evaluated for a longer-term role with the Kings. Mikey Anderson logged an NHL career-high 28:54 last night, stepping up even more than he already was with Tobias Bjornfot, Olli Maatta and Matt Roy unavailable.
The team now heads to San Jose to face a Sharks team that has won five of six head-to-head meetings so far this season, including two-game sweeps in both buildings over the last eight games. A good measuring stick against a team that has beaten the Kings those four times, but has lost five of its last seven against other opposition.