Going into Thursday’s game, the Los Angeles Kings were dead last in the Pacific Division.
A dominant 5-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights in Sin City not only pushed the Kings up one notch in the standings, it ended a three-game skid and may also have ignited a new trend of going in the upward direction. Any time you leave Nevada with your shirt is a good sign, but flying home with any kind of winning usually means fortune has smiled on you.
These now-vanquished Golden Knights (24-17-6, 54 points) are not just any team, after all. They stand tall — tied with the Arizona Coyotes — at the top of the large heap of the Pacific Division contenders. To beat them in their own casino was no easy trick. Of course, it helped that Vegas goaltender Malcolm Subban had a dreary night, stopping just 18 of the 23 shots he faced. But it was in the face of a Golden Knights comeback bid when Los Angeles showed its game face best.
Easy goals happen. Before you could lay down a prop bet and settle into your seat, the Kings were up 2-0 on two slapshot goals by Alec Martinez and Ben Hutton — from the same spot at the left point. By the end of the first period, it was 4-0.
So it was all up to how the Kings played with that lead. Two Vegas goals in the second period against goaltender Jack Campbell were the result of deep turnovers — by defenseman Sean Walker and forward Dustin Brown (whose clearing pass hit a referee’s skate).
But that was it. Campbell stopped everything else sent his way, finishing with 44 saves.
Kings’ Fire Was Evident in Loss to Stars
Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to the Dallas Stars at home may have put some extra fire into the Kings and started them on what they’re hoping is a positive pendulum swing.
Both Stars goals were the result of breakdowns, including a glaring one in which Walker — the last man back — tried to intercept a long Dallas pass at center ice and got burned by the Stars’ Blake Comeau, who went in alone and lasered a shot past Jonathan Quick.
The other breakdown against the Stars came on a hook by Drew Doughty on Jamie Benn, who was maneuvering around Doughty. That led to a Dallas power-play goal. Otherwise in that game, the Kings played like hounds — like they had the hunger for those heady days of yore that resulted in 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cups.
Quick was spectacular in that win over Dallas, stuffing snipers Tyler Seguin and Joe Pavelski from in close and twice denying Mattias Janmark on breakaways.
So avoiding defensive lapses in front of Quick and Campbell appears to be what the Kings need most as they move on in 2020. Fortunately, the Kings ran into Subban on an off-night. That luck is not going to happen on a daily basis. Easy goals aside, Los Angeles’ offense successfully found a flow that may be contagious.
Third-Line Production Provided Big Boost vs. Vegas
Production from the third line was another positive sign. Winger Adrian Kempe potted two goals against Vegas, including one on a slapshot directly off a faceoff (stick on puck as the rubber dropped to the ice) that stunned Subban.
The Kings (18-24-4, 40), who moved past the Anaheim Ducks (17-22-5, 39) into seventh place in the Pacific, will find out soon enough if they’ve got the gumption to turn the slow start around. They visit the Carolina Hurricanes (25-16-2, 52) on Saturday. The Hurricanes are tied for fourth with the Philadelphia Flyers (23-15-6, 52) in the Metropolitan Division.
>> Sports journalist since 1981
>> Grew up in Marlboro, Mass., and live in Mililani, Hawaii
>> “I always play to win when it comes to skin and bones.” — Bill Lee/Warren Zevon
>> No coach ever screamed “pass the puck” at me