With a lineup comprised of primarily younger players, AHL veterans and little NHL experience, the LA Kings crawled out of a two-goal deficit in the third period and eventually defeated a Vegas Golden Knights roster with many skaters who recently lifted the Stanley Cup last spring on a game-winning overtime goal by Tyler Madden in the final minute of the extra period.
In his return from an injury that cost him most of the 2022-23 season, Akil Thomas scored all three Kings goals during regulation, with one in the second period and two in the third, to lead the LA offense. Goaltender J-F Berube also came up big for the Kings, stopping 23 shots in his first action of the preseason including a penalty shot save in the third to keep things close.
Despite an evenly played first period which featured two early power plays for the Kings, Vegas got out in front by scoring twice on nine shots on goal during the first 20 minutes.
Berube made some solid stops in the opening five minutes but was bested for the first time by Brendan Brisson at 7:27 of the first after a 2-on-1 chance for the Kings was broken up. Moments later at the other end, Jack Eichel ladled a puck from the bottom of the left circle to Brisson near the dot for a wrist shot that got past the glove of Berube to put the Golden Knights ahead 1-0.
The Golden Knights added to the lead 30 seconds after their first power play chance, which came on a tripping call to Hayden Hodgson with 4:44 remaining in the period. A passing play deep in the Kings end eventually found Jonathan Marchessault open on the back door for a one-time snapshot into an open net to make it a 2-0 game before the first intermission.
With escalating tensions in the second, the Kings continued to keep things close, while outshooting Vegas 8-6 in the middle period. Both teams picked up a goal near the end of the frame, allowing Vegas to take their two-goal lead into the third.
Thomas got LA on the board at 15:39 with a shot to the top left corner of the Vegas net that made its way up and over Adin Hill’s blocker. Assists on the goal were credited to Francesco Pinelli and Brandt Clarke.
Vegas answered at 17:28, however, with an unassisted strike by defender Ben Hutton, who found space in the Kings end with a spin move before placing a shot past Berube.
The second period also featured a scrum after a hit by Hodgson on Mark Stone which resulted in penalties to five different players and a total of 22 penalty minutes.
Six minutes into the third, Sheldon Rempal, a former forward in the Kings organization who is now with Vegas, was called for roughing to put LA on the power play. But just 20 seconds later, Clarke fell over while trying to keep a puck in the offensive zone and tripped up Jonas Rondbjerg, negating a potential breakaway. Rondbjerg was awarded a penalty shot, which was stopped by Berube who stayed patient and made a right pad save.
With 8:16 left in the game, Thomas got LA back within one by collecting a rebound and burying his second goal of the night to make it 3-2. The initial shot that created the loose puck in front was taken by Steven Santini, while Hodgson picked up the second helper on the play.
Then with an empty net at the other end of the ice, Thomas scooped a bouncing puck with his backhand from the slot into the top shelf to tie the game with 2:01 left on the clock and force overtime. Clarke and Alex Laferriere each recorded assists on Thomas’ hat trick goal.
Each team had multiple quality chances during the overtime, which lasted 4:30 and saw seven shots total (four for LA, three for Vegas). But Madden won the game for the Kings off a long stretch pass by Mikhail Maltsev that spring him free down the right wing. His shot beat Hill and kicked off a celebration for the visitors. Cole Krygier, who earned himself a shift late in the OT was also on for the goal and had the second assist.
The Kings outshot Vegas 28-26 in the game and earned a win for Berube, who totaled 23 saves. Adin Hill stopped 24 shots in a losing effort for the Golden Knights. Vegas converted the only power play goal of the game, going 1-for-3 on the man-advantage while LA was 0-for-4.
The Kings return to the ice for their next preseason tilt on Friday night against the Anaheim Ducks for a 7 p.m. game that will be played at Pechanga Arena in San Diego.
Postgame thoughts from Marco Sturm, who led the Kings behind the bench in the victory, are below, as well as Thomas and Berube.
On the effort of his team to come back and get a win against this Vegas team
It always feels great, right? Doesn’t matter if it’s exhibition or not. I think it was a great experience for the guys and you could tell in the first period today, we prepared, we showed them what Vegas is all about and the way they play. But you know, I think the first five minutes they know exactly what I was talking about and it took them a long time to figure it out. And that’s probably normal, a lot of kids, first time, nervous. So it was not easy, but I think the second and the third was a little bit better.
On if he learned anything about his players who he has had in camp the last few weeks
I did. It showed me that some guys are maybe not quite ready yet and they still got to learn and we’ve got to be patient enough and we’ve also got to teach them. That’s why I think this is the whole thing with the Kings in Australia and now having us playing those exhibition games. It’s great for the guys, great for players, because that’s how they learn. I really think that we and they took a lot out of that game tonight.
On the big hit Hodgson had on Stone in the second period and the way his group responded
You need moments like that and plays like that too. We just looked at it. It was a very clean, good hit. Solid hit. And they didn’t like it and we scored right after and then it’s just one goal and I know they scored too, but I think scoring a goal in this building that kind of shows ‘okay, we can we can score too’. So definitely that helped and in the third period we just wanted to slow things down and kind of stay calm and just focus on our game, that’s all. And that’s exactly what we did.
On how he felt in the game overall
I honestly didn’t feel amazing tonight. But it felt good to get a couple out of the way and definitely just make me feel better. Obviously I’ve missed some time so lucky to get those goals at the end there.
On his lengthy rehab paying off with a big game like tonight
100%, yeah. I think just now I’m kind of thinking about how far I’ve come. Last year, just sitting on the couch watching every game it was tough. So now that I have the opportunity to get back to playing it feels amazing and just looking forward to the next time I can play.
On playing against a team that just won the Stanley Cup
Obviously we’re a lot younger, but we just kind of played the right way. It was a tight game at the end but ultimately, we did the right things and it paid off and that was a nice goal at the end so that was awesome.
On if he was able to get into the game quickly after stopping early chances
Yeah, for sure. I haven’t played in a while obviously, first game this season and first full 60 too. So getting dialed in early in the first definitely helped me carry my game on for the second and third and as a goalie you’d like to see action early so you can get your feet wet. And yeah, I felt good. I could see the puck pretty well, guys were trying to box out as much as they could and it was a solid effort.
On what it was like to get a win against a team that is coming off a Stanley Cup
When you see their lineup and what we were facing I think everyone knew that every shift counted and we had to be focused out there and try to keep things simple. That was the biggest thing and try to keep it short, having short shifts and not trying to force the play because they’re a talented team, they won the Stanley Cup and they know how to score goals. I think we did a really good job just getting our feet moving and keeping shifts short and making sure we’re on top of it.
On getting a win to start his training camp while playing on a PTO
For sure it feels good, but at the end of the day, I’m going one puck at a time, one period at a time and one game at a time. So it’s an honor for me to be here. I was drafted here 2009 and to wear this jersey is always an honor. So I was very excited for this opportunity to come back here and show them what I can do and for this game today.