Back and better than ever, it’s time for another edition of The Hockey Writers foster child the running diary. The Los Angeles Kings currently sit in first place in the Pacific Division, a far cry from last season’s year-long underachievement campaign that left the club on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. The Kings appear more focused, deeper at skill positions, and better prepared for most contests on a nightly basis.
But tonight’s opponent isn’t just anybody, they are the Chicago Blackhawks. The defending champs are in Hollywood, and they’re ready for a fight. Chicago and Los Angeles have seemingly alternated Stanley Cups since 2010 (with the exception of the 2010-11 Boston Bruins), as each team has reigned supreme throughout the turbulent environment of free agency and salary caps. Both franchises have always had an eye on the other, and each uses their opposition as a measuring stick to gauge where they stand in the NHL landscape.
Well here we are. It’s one regular season game, but it you get the sense that it means so much more. The Blackhawks want to prove that they are still a Western Conference power despite losses in free agency, and the Kings want to prove they can play big games against their Midwest rivals. Remember, the Blackhawks handed the Kings a loss on the road to start this month, and they are coming off a game against the cross-town Anaheim Ducks 24 hours earlier. On their home ice with two days off, this should be the Kings game. But there’s only one way to find out.
20:00 – I know this is a regular season game between non-division rivals, but Staples center is buzzing with anticipation for this matchup. The clubs trade chances to start, with the NHL’s scoring leader Patrick Kane nearly sneaking one by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. Kane has points in 18 straight games, and has owned the Kings in recent memory. Quick’s save sprung teammate Tyler Toffoli for a scoring chance, but Blackhawks netminder Scott Darling was up for the challenge. I was really looking forward to Corey Crawford and his frying pan glove (at times).
16:30 – The Blackhawks work it below the goal-line but have trouble centering the puck. Here comes Anze Kopitar and the Kings on offense, as he battles for puck possession in the Chicago zone. The ever-bruising Milan Lucic throws a hit on Kane, much to the delight of Kings fans and cab drivers everywhere. The contrast in styles is making for some disjointed hockey early in this game.
12:45 – Gaborik, Kopitar, and Pearson work the puck in the Chicago zone but fail to do anything with it. If the Kings are going to have a lengthy run next April, this line is going to have to produce at a consistent level. Kane and rookie Artemi Panarin rush up the ice in unison, and the young Russian forward misses the net. This kid looks like a carbon copy of #88, and it’s terrifying for NHL fans everywhere.
11:00 – Now the Kings start their cycle game. It’s the Kopitar line with Doughty on the point, but quickly Chicago captain Jonathan Toews engineers a rush up the other end of the ice. What a pure leader this guy is. The Carter line is on for the Kings and suddenly it’s end to end action. A holding penalty is called on Tyler Toffoli, and Chicago gets to set up their power play.
8:47 – Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook tries to fire a pass to forward Artem Amnisov, but the Kings block it. The puck ends up on the stick of Dustin Brown, who has his pocket picked by an aggressive forecheck at the hands of all-world blue-liner Duncan Keith. The result is a puck on the waiting stick of Patrick Kane, and, well you know what happens next. 1-0 Chicago. It’s just too easy for those mitts.
That can’t happen. Brown has to get that puck out of the zone. You’re basically running with scissors whenever Kane’s in the slot, and Duncan Keith has made a name with his aggression and toothless smile. Also, that’s 19 straight games with a point for Patrick Kane, a new record for a U.S. born player. Let’s see how the Kings respond.
6:00 – Kane loses an edge with the puck, and Lucic starts a rush that ends with a Darling save on Toffoli. What’s impressive about the Blackhawks is how quickly they can go from offense to defense, counter-punching virtually all game. It starts with their defensemen Keith and Seabrook, who have eyes in the back of their heads at times.
2:45 – As each team fails to gain traction in their offensive zones, Gaborik fires a shot on goal for the Kings that Darling turns away. Chicago forwards Marian Hossa (big game for people named Marian) and Andrew Shaw come the other way and put the pressure on Quick. What a game of small runs this is. Chicago has a lead, but clearly wants more.
0:11 – Despite being the aggressors for the final few minutes, the Blackhawks take a penalty in the form of an Andrew Desjardins holding call. L.A. forward Jeff Carter nearly feathers a pass to Lucic on the backdoor, but it is brushed aside by the Blackhawks defense. 1-0 Hawks after one.
Decent period for the Kings, but a penalty and an opportunity for Kane was all Chicago needed. Still plenty of time left to net the equalizer, starting with this power play.
20:00 – Drew Doughty and Kopitar engineer the Kings attack on the point, as the Kings set up an umbrella with Jake Muzzin at the top of the unit. After 30 seconds of sustained pressure, Doughty fans on a pass and the Blackhawks clear the zone. Tough miscue for the Kings premier defender. Chicago goes on to kill the remainder of the penalty.
17:45 – L.A. forward Andy Andreoff barely misses a centering pass to Trevor Lewis, as Chicago’s backside pressure gets a piece of the puck. The Kings are close, as in excruciatingly close. But this isn’t horseshoes or hand grenades.
13:30 – Dustin Brown nearly buries one using a defenseman as a screen, but it hits the outside of the net. As soon as one door closes, another opens for the Chicago Blackhawks. Patrick Kane whizzes down the ice and performs his patented “stop and skate backwards” move that leaves opposing defenders in a trance. A shot goes wide, but the greater message is received. Kane is feeling it, as his team remains up a goal.
12:00 – Fresh off of a media timeout, Carter finds Toffoli for a quick wrister. Again, Darling stands tall. What’s with this guy? A minute later he stonewalls Kopitar, and now I’m convinced that somebody stole Darling’s jersey.
10:40 – Marcus Kruger threads one to Teuvo Teravinen on a 2 on 1, and Quick drops down and does the splits for an acrobatic save. Great effort by the Kings netminder, but another great push from Chicago offensive unit.
9:00 –The wheels are starting to fall off for the Blackhawks defense, as the Kings generate chance after chance. As soon as I type that, Andrew Shaw is on a breakaway! But wait, it’s Andrew Shaw! So the score remains 1-0 as Quick makes a routine save.
I shouldn’t be too hard on Andrew Shaw. He only has a reputation for diving and tried to head-butt a puck in the playoffs last season. On second thought, as you were.
7:04 – Just when it seems the Kings are finding their stride, the Blackhawks go to work. Amnisov out-muscles the Kings defensemen in the corner, and passes the puck to Duncan Keith. Keith fires it to fellow blue-liner Niklas Hjalmarsson, who gets the puck with enough time to read War & Peace. He rips one past Quick, and it’s 2-0 Blackhawks. Just like that.
How did we get here? Because it’s Chicago, and they always find a way. Shots are 19-11 Kings, like that freaking matters.
5:10 – Again, it’s the Kings who come out guns a blazing after a media timeout. Gaborik rings one off the crossbar, and Darling immediately starts picking out his lottery numbers for after the game. Unbelievably, the score remains 2-0.
2:45 – Chicago’s defenseman play a bit of keep away in the neutral zone, but the Blackhawks refuse to sit on any lead. Toews engineers a charge to the net, and the result is Andreoff knocking Shaw’s bucket off of his head (Sheesh, put it back on please). Maybe it’s surprising we haven’t seen too many intense moments like this, or maybe each team has too much respect for the other’s special teams unit to risk taking a penalty.
0:00 – The Staples Center crowd is shockingly somber. Doughty has a shot blocked, and the Kings fail again to turn sustained pressure into an offensive result. Quick makes a save on another breakaway (this time by Panarin) after defenseman Alec Martinez coughed one up. After two it’s 2-0 Chicago, who continue to grind away on the road.
Side Note – I still don’t know how this is happening. The Kings are not playing bad, have made minimal mistakes, and have given the Blackhawks very little to work with. And somehow, when given an inch, Chicago takes a foot and capitalizes. Oh, wait. The Blackhawks rip souls out of NHL teams. Ok. That explains it.
One period to go, can’t hold anything back….
19:08 – Shots are 20-14 Kings. Take with that what you will. The Carter line works the puck below the dots, as Lucic and Toffoli try to involve the L.A. defensemen. Carter flies by Hjalmmerson and fires one at the net, and Darling kicks a big rebound off of his pillows (slang for goalie pads). The puck squirts back to Carter, who roofs his own rebound. 2-1 Kings, and suddenly the Staples Center has life again.
17:40 – Doughty wheels up the ice, and sets up Lucic who can’t bury it on the backdoor. Important to note, the Blackhawks are playing their final game in a lengthy circus road trip. No, the Kardashians are not in town, it’s the actual circus with clowns and illusions. I realize I need to be more specific, but we have to move on.
15:00 – Just as I sing his praises, Doughty whiffs on a pass that leads to a near goal for the Blackhawks. If this game goes to overtime, we might have a Keith/Doughty marathon dance-off to determine a winner. These warriors have not left the ice all game. (Also I love how Doughty went right to his stick on the bench. Veteran move for when you mess up, blame the equipment.)
12:00 – As I see him take the ice, I realize I haven’t mentioned Kyle Clifford and the fourth line at all tonight. Frankly that’s because Chicago’s speed makes it very difficult for him to be effective. Carter again gets the puck to the net, but neither Lucic nor Toffoli can level the score. Inches.
9:33 – Dustin Brown shovels the puck to Trevor Lewis, who tries to jam one right through Darling’s pads and legs. Spoiler alert; it doesn’t work. But I like the enthusiasm though.
8:15 – After minutes of offensive inactivity, the Blackhawks capitalize off of a turnover and Kane takes a howitzer of a shot. The Staples Center faithful collectively gasp as it goes wide. There’s something about the special players, and their ability to be in the right places at the right times.
7:00 – Germany’s favorite son Christian Ehrhoff rips a shot that Darling manages to barely get a piece of. If you were dialing up a game plan for winning a game with tired legs on the road, Chicago’s would be perfect. Head coach Joel Quenville has his squad dumping and changing, backchecking hard, and not taking unnecessary risks (for Blackhawks standards that is). Winning games you’re not supposed to is the stuff that champions are made of.
5:55 – As soon as I type the previous sentence, Brent Seabrook gets the puck stolen by the Slovenian Dream, Anze Kopitar. Anze spins a reverse pass to Marian Gaborik, who makes no mistake in sending that puck to the back of the net. We are all knotted up at 2-2, and my reverse jinx skills are on point. In the blink of an eye, Anze Kopitar saw an opening and he took it. The quick stick, the strength, and the vision. That’s your captain, Kings fans.
3:30 – More L.A. pressure, but the Hawks do a solid job denying passes in the scoring lines. The Kings are playing a real disciplined game, especially against the offensive threats of Kane and Toews. Dustin Brown zips to the middle of the net and aims for Trevor Lewis, but the two fail to connect. Brown hasn’t looked this fast in quite some time.
1:30 – Kopitar throws a nice check behind his net, but the Blackhawks regroup for some offensive pressure. A Kings 3-2 develops with Carter as the leader, but Duncan Keith slams the door like only he can. Lucic nearly gives the Kings the lead, but Darling is up for the task. The pace has skyrocketed within seconds.
0:00 – The Kings muster some pressure, but the Blackhawks reverse it and Toews has a breakaway! Impossible! L.A. defenseman Brayden McNabb recovers and alters the shot as Toews sends it wide. The buzzer sounds, and
Sorry if I’m a little excited. But if given the choice between the NHL’s new brand of overtime and meeting the Pope, I might have to let Mr. Frank down a tad (I still respect and love Pope Francis, so please don’t take that the wrong way or tell my parents). I’m more excited than Jessie Spano on caffeine right now.
5:00 – Doughty, Carter, and Kopitar take on Kane, Toews, and Keith. Best vs. Best. The Kings win the draw and enter the zone, resulting in a low angle shot from Carter which deflects out of play.
4:15 – Both teams make line changes, and the Blackhawks 2-1 is broken up by Toffoli (?!?). Hossa takes a shot on Quick, who somehow deflects it with his blocker. There is no organization, there are no rules, this is anarchy! A Kings chance is denied, then Quick slams the door. Darling with a save on the other end! Now Quick’s turn again! Finally it’s Gaborik on a breakaway…..
(I need a minute)
(Ok I’m ready)
A great finish by Gaborik, but once more, it was Anze Kopitar who made the perfect pass to spring him on the breakaway. Wow. 3-on-3 Overtime does it again, and this time the Kings manage to churn out a difficult 2 points against the defending Stanley Cup Champs.
This Kings game was a microcosm of their journey in 2015-16. Stay the course. Never quit. Down two goals against an elite team? Have no fear. There’s too much talent, too much resilience, and too many big-game players to pack it in. The Kings remain on top of the Pacific Division, but there is plenty of work left to do. But the course sure is fun isn’t it?