Kings vs. Jets: 5 Takeaways from L.A.'s Convincing 3-1 Win
Their sixth straight win displayed glimpses of what new acquisition Marian Gaborik can offer on star center Anze Kopitar's left wing. However, it was the second and third lines that provided the scoring at even strength while the team's typically staunch defense held strong in front of Jonathan Quick.
This was a prototypical Kings win as the squad performed reasonably well for two periods and then raised the level of play beyond its opponent's grasp to clinch the two points.
The team outshot the Jets 20-5 in the third frame, smothering Winnipeg in wave upon wave of heavy forechecking. By game's end, the shots were 41-18 in the Kings' favor.
From Drew Doughty battling Evander Kane all night to Dustin Byfuglien sending Jake Muzzin into the Winnipeg bench, there was quite a bit of action to keep track of on Thursday.
Here are five noteworthy stories that emerged from the Kings' win over Winnipeg.
The New 1st Line Needs Time to Jell
It wasn’t a perfect start for the new top line in Los Angeles, but Marian Gaborik’s mere presence changed the complexion of the Kings’ game against Winnipeg.
The forwards carried considerably more speed through the neutral zone, the passing was crisper, the decisions were quicker and one actually got the sense this team could score more than twice in a game.
Though Kopitar and Gaborik didn’t generate that much offensively, head coach Darryl Sutter needs to stay the course and allow his skilled forwards to develop a mutual understanding. The sheer pace Gaborik brings to the table is a quality Kopitar will have to adjust to as the Kings were a generally plodding club prior to Wednesday’s trade deadline.
Simply put, the fit is there. Kopitar can distribute the puck and work the dirty areas, Williams hounds defenders and Gaborik showed he still possesses the speed and shot to capitalize on any chances created.
Even during this fairly quiet outing, Kopitar and Gaborik nearly converted on two goal-mouth opportunities. Just imagine how effective they can be once they get rolling.
The ceiling for this line is sky high.
Mike Richards and Jeff Carter Must Be Kept Together
Despite seldom playing on the same line in Philadelphia, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter appear to share a telepathic connection on the ice.
Sutter would be foolish to tinker with that, though he already has this season with catastrophic results.
When Richards and Carter are paired together, they can be lethal. On Thursday night, Richards found Carter in space for a handful of scoring opportunities that developed seemingly in the blink of an eye.
Midway through the first frame, Richards maneuvered away from Jacob Trouba’s neutral-zone pressure, swiveled on a dime and fired a rocket pass across the entire width of the ice right on Carter’s tape with a full head of steam. The sniper fired a shot off the post.
In the second period, recognizing that Richards was about to recover the puck near the Kings' blue line, Carter dashed up the ice and was met with a breakaway pass before the Jets could even react. Alas, he fumbled the puck on the backhand.
Those are only two examples of how the duo's uncanny chemistry can pick defenses apart.
With better finishing or luck, Carter could well have ended the game with a hat trick at even strength. He registered five shots on goal and most were in high-percentage areas.
All this is without mentioning Richards’ stellar goal—essentially the hockey version of a pick-six, with the second-line center sniffing out Tobias Enstrom’s pass through the neutral zone and launching a slap shot by Ondrej Pavelec's glove for the game-winner.
We’re approaching the time of year when Richards becomes a complete nightmare to play against. Pairing him with Carter benefits both of their games and elevates the Kings to the title of true Stanley Cup contenders.
A More Balanced, Confident Power Play
Gaborik’s arrival instantly jumbled L.A.’s power-play lines for the better. The Kings went 1-for-4 with the man advantage on Thursday but, more importantly, they moved the puck around with more conviction and precision than they have all season.
Bumping Tyler Toffoli down to the second unit with Justin Williams and Richards offers the team two groups that can legitimately threaten to score on the PP.
In fact, the second power-play line was more dangerous than the first against the Jets, netting the insurance marker and consistently testing the shape of Winnipeg’s penalty kill by dishing the puck around quickly to exploit seams in the defense.
Kopitar, Carter, Gaborik, Doughty and Slava Voynov fared quite well in their own right, changing the point of attack with movement and deft passing so the penalty kill couldn’t read the play. This marked a refreshing change of pace from the Kings' usually static 25th-ranked PP.
Once viewed as a momentum-sapping situation, the Kings’ revitalized man advantage is set to become an actual advantage for the team.
Alec Martinez Should Be a Fixture in the Lineup
Matt Greene’s recent absence from the lineup has allowed Alec Martinez to step in and prove his worth yet again.
He’s capitalized on his opportunity to the fullest, registering two goals and three points in his last three games.
In addition to his offense, Martinez provides tremendous mobility on the back end. He and Doughty are the only two Kings blueliners who can skate themselves out of trouble and drive play toward the opposition’s net.
Most fans were already aware of his worth, but this purple patch has certainly caught Sutter’s eye as well. Maybe this will finally persuade him to keep Martinez in the lineup permanently. Last season, LA Kings Insider noted the team simply wins more when he's playing.
Beyond the win-loss column, the 26-year-old is a good schematic fit as his pace and puck-moving ability complement a defensive corps that’s heavy on defense-first rearguards.
Also, he’s quite useful in the possession game, with Behind the Net indicating that he boasts a stellar 14.01 on-ice Corsi (shot attempt differential per 60 minutes). For the sake of reference, Willie Mitchell, Voynov and Robyn Regehr sit at 10.23, 9.73 and 6.47, respectively.
Martinez has been everything you could ask for from a third-pairing defenseman.
One could argue that he deserves a shot on the top pair next to Doughty. He’d certainly flub fewer passes and make wiser decisions than Muzzin.
Willie Mitchell Is Running on Fumes
The 12-year veteran has carved out a solid NHL career as a stay-at-home defenseman. Unfortunately, he’s a step slower than he used to be both physically and mentally.
Typically a blueliner who could be relied upon to make smart choices and remain on the right side of the puck, Mitchell is getting caught flat-footed more than ever in 2013-14. By hesitating for even a half-second, the 36-year-old is frequently putting himself in no-man’s land and allowing opposing forwards to blow by him on the outside.
This was the case once more on Thursday as a few Jets forwards outraced Mitchell to the puck and put the Kings in vulnerable positions.
In addition to keeping poor gaps, Mitchell has really, really struggled with the puck this season.
Simple plays such as dump-ins or clears seem difficult when he’s in possession. This has led to extended shifts in the defensive zone, which tacitly drain the team’s energy and momentum.
With a little over 13 minutes remaining in the second period against the Jets, Mitchell committed a brutal giveaway in the Kings' slot, granting Byfuglien a glorious chance from what should have been a straightforward clearance.
On a club that thrives on controlling the puck, the defenseman's shortcomings are significant.
Mitchell has been bumped down from the second pairing to the third and is evidently on his last legs. Hopefully, they have enough left to carry him through a lengthy postseason run.