Angeles Analysis – Feels Good To Feel Good Again

Separated by 10 days, the LA Kings have won two in a row. They win one on Tuesday, that’s called a winning streak. It has happened before.

While it was two wins in a row, there certainly wasn’t much carryover between the two games. With an All-Star break and a coaching change smack in the middle, yesterday was a game the Kings were hesitant to label as a fresh start, showing an immense amount of respect for Todd McLellan and what he did for this team, but regardless of who was behind the bench, the break presented an opportunity. Coming out of the month of January, where the Kings led the NHL in both games played and losses, time away from the rink was much needed. That’s a given. What was more important was that the Kings applied that time off into last night’s game versus Edmonton, because if the Kings went out and had two good days of practice, but laid an egg during the game, all of the energy and all of the good vibes generated would have been gone. Washed. Back to square one. Fortunately not the case. The Kings did a lot of good things and came away with a 4-0 win over the Edmonton Oilers to come out of the break in style.

A lot of the trends that had gone against the Kings in recent weeks turned around on night one under Jim Hiller, who said that he saw the energy he was looking for “as soon as the puck was dropped.”

The Kings’ worst period all season long has been the second period. It’s the only period they’ve been outscored throughout the course of the season and particularly over the last 17 games, we’ve seen solid opening periods lost in the middle 20. Yesterday? Two goals in a span of 49 seconds to break open what was a 0-0 game. The metrics would say it was the worst period of the night – and it probably was – but for a team that is measured right now simply off of wins and losses, chalk that period up as a win. The second period created the dreaded two-goal lead, which the Kings had seen evaporate too many times prior to the break. They didn’t just protect the lead last night, however, they expanded upon it, eventually extending their lead into a four-goal victory. Those are the things the Kings did well over the first few months of the season, when they ranked among the NHL’s elite. Facing an Edmonton team playing its final period of a back-to-back, which came just after their All-Star break, the third period was an opportunity to win with authority. Once they got the insurance goal, the Kings cruised home in a way we haven’t seen in awhile.

For the Kings, doing all of those things was very important. It was far from a perfect game. The Kings blocked 25 shots, well above their season average, which is a good mentality to have, though it means that many blocks were necessary due to volume against. They also took a pair of careless, too-many-men on the ice penalties against a team that has burned them time and time again on the power play. Jim Hiller said he’ll take responsibility for those but joked that he’ll share some of it with a couple of culprits. Hopefully night-one eagerness. There were some careless turnovers and lapses in defensive coverage along the way, but when it came down to it, the Kings got a save or a block or a turnover or a hit when they needed it. That made all the difference.

Overall, it was a night of strong individual performances and perhaps just as importantly, it was a night when it was hard to find a passenger. Hiller felt that Pierre-Luc Dubois and David Rittich had their best games of the season respectively. It also spoke volumes when Hiller spoke about Quinton Byfield’s night – a three-point effort – as simply “what I expect from Quinton”. In October, we’re raving about that night. Right now, it’s just the player that Byfield is and man is that exciting. They didn’t make the three stars, but we’ve also got to talk about the pairing of Vladislav Gavrikov and Matt Roy, who turned in a masterclass effort last night. Roy led the team in CF% while Gavrikov was second. They combined for the assists on Byfield’s first goal and broke up a small village of offensive opportunities between the two of them, all while leading the team in defensive-zone faceoffs taken. That was peak GavROYkov.

We’ve also got to talk about Hiller as we discuss individuals. Though the Oilers didn’t seem to want to surrender it, the team gave Hiller the game puck after his first win as an NHL Head Coach. He said after the game he’s got three pucks from the Kings now – his first NHL goal, which he scored 21 years ago, and his first game as an assistant coach with the club. It was special for him to make his head-coaching debut with the team that drafted him all those years prior, which fulfilled his dream of being selected as a kid. Hiller spoke with emotion about what he was thinking during the national anthem before his first game as an NHL head coach. He spoke about his late father, who supported him through the years and whose birthday was on Thursday, the day of his first practice leading the Kings. From that point on, it was all business. Moving forward, Hiller can’t get back to business soon enough. It’s kind of funny, because the Kings would’ve given a lot for an extra day in between games before the break. Now, I think they’d love to play tomorrow, to build on yesterday’s momentum. Hiller said after the game he didn’t care where the next game took place, he just wanted to play it quickly, to get things moving and to get things group to feel good again. One night doesn’t solve 24 games-worth of problems, but it feels good to feel good again, doesn’t it?

Off to Buffalo, where the Kings will begin a four-game roadtrip on Tuesday evening against the Sabres. Visits to New Jersey, Boston and Pittsburgh will follow. Expecting another high-energy practice on Monday as the Kings continue to ride the wave of the last few days. For this group right now, Tuesday night can’t come soon enough, as the Kings look to flip the script on what was arguably their worst loss of the season last month at home against the Sabres. For now, it’s a plane ride across the country just in time for the Super Bowl. More to come tomorrow as the Kings get back at it in table-breaking country.

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