Koping With Loss: Kings 4 - Red Wings 2
The Red Wings were able to activate Kyle Quincey thanks to the universe doing them a solid and tearing Drew Miller's meniscus, meaning Ken Holland didn't have to do some fancy general managing to get the Wings out of self-imposed cap hell.
We're not serious of course, as we would never wish injury on any Red Wing player, and hope that Drew gets better very soon; because the penalty kill, whether we like it or not, seems to really depend on his being in the lineup to be good. The Wings found this out yet again as the 2 power play goals they gave up to the Kings proved to be the difference in a 4-2 LA victory. While the Wings were playing the second half of a back-to-back, a situation that has proved to be disastrous for them this season, they played a competitive game but fell to a very strong and rested LA team.
In what would be a sign of things to come, Darren Helm drew a penalty 29 seconds in, sending the Wings to their first power play. A lot of good movement resulted in some quality chances, but nothing came of it. Shortly after the penalty expired, a bad pinch by Brendan Smith led to a 2-on-1 for the Kings. Anze Kopitar out-waited a flailing Mike Green before feeding Tyler Toffoli, who easily scored on the Kings' first shot to make it 1-0. Despite thinking the Kings were going to take over, the Wings held on and didn't wilt after giving up the goal. Darren Helm drew his second penalty of the night, but the Wings were unable to generate any shots, and the power play ended early when Tomas Tatar was guilty of tripping. The Wings were able to kill the short penalty, not without yet another odd-man rush after yet another Smith pinch. The Wings tied the game thanks to some good play by the top line. Pavel Datsyuk gained the zone and made a spin-o-rama pass to Helm, whose shot was tipped by Tatar. The Wings weren't done as they got their first lead of the game when Alexey "almost scratched but then Jeff Blashill remembered I'm pretty good" Marchenko picked up a loose puck in the high slot and fired a shot past Jonathan Quick.
Score: Red Wings 2 - Kings 1
Shots: Kings 12 - Red Wings 10
Great period: Darren Helm
Tough period: Brendan Smith
The pace slowed a little in the second period, particularly at the beginning. The Kings began to assert themselves physically, and their forecheck remained very aggressive. Jimmy Howard made a few strong saves and looked confident handling the puck, but the Wings spent very little time in the Kings' zone and were on their heels for the first half of the second. The Wings had a little push and got some good chances, but for the most part the Kings owned the period. They were rewarded for their efforts after a questionable tripping call on Jimmy Howard. A clean faceoff win allowed Kopitar to have a wide open look. With Milan Lucic legally screening the goalie and not spearing anyone in the face, Kopitar's shot beat Howard and the game was tied. Jonathan Ericsson took a hooking penalty with 3 seconds left in the period, and the Kings carried momentum and a power play over to the start of the third.
Score: Red Wings 2 - Kings 2
Shots: Kings 22 - Red Wings 14
Strong period: Jimmy Howard
Tough period: everyone else
The Kings started the period on the power play, and the Wings looked like they were going to kill it off, but Kopitar's magic was not to be contained, as he drew 3 Wing penalty killers to him, which freed up the point men. Alec Martinez' one-timer beat Howard short side, and the Kings regained the lead. The Wings responded with their first sustained offensive pressure since the first period, but the Kings remained stoic and prevented second and third chances. The Kings had a couple of shots, but the Wings took over after giving up the 3rd goal. The final half of the period was very frenetic, with both teams rushing up and down the ice and bodies falling all over and grown men and women openly weeping. The Wings tried valiantly, but they simply ran out of gas, and Dwight King's empty net goal with a minute left sealed the Kings' 4-2 victory.
Score: Kings 4 - Red Wings 2
Shots: Kings 31 - Red Wings 27
Strong period: Henrik Zetterberg
Tough period: Niklas Kronwall
Darren Helm had himself a first period. 2 drawn penalties, 2 assists, and was a buzzsaw on the ice. As the game progressed, especially in the 2nd period, he looked like the only Wing forward who was skating. He's your player of the game.
Let's talk about Jimmy Howard. Starting his first game in 2016, and after getting pulled in each of his last 2 starts, we were curious how he'd respond to the rust. Getting scored on on the first shot didn't help, but Howard settled in and looked sharp. He made some very strong saves late in the first and throughout the second period, and kept this game within striking distance while the Wing skaters were standing around. He probably should have had the third goal, but I feel comfortable saying that without Howard, this game is over well before that happened. While he took the loss, he was one of the better players for the Wings tonight, and hopefully this leads to him playing like he did earlier this season.
That being said, if you say "we would have won had Petr Mrazek started", then you're forgetting the part where the skaters in front of either goalie have to score more than 2 goals a game. If Mrazek starting is required for the Wings to win a game, then the issue is with the skaters, not the goalie.
It's time to talk about Gustav Nyquist and the slump that he's in offensively. After spending the first quarter of the season competing with Dylan Larkin for the team lead in goals, Nyquist has been a black hole offensively, and his goal-less streak is now at 10 games. Worse, he's not generating any high danger scoring chances himself. The man is in the lineup to score goals, but his slump is officially concerning.
In the first half of the game the Kings had 2 odd-man rushes and another one that was called on an offside. Brendan Smith was on for all 3 of them, and while it will be easy to blame him for the result, a pinching defenseman has to be covered by the winger on that side, who should recognize when Smith is pinching in and be ready to exit the zone. He's been more aggressive all season, which is what Jeff Blashill wants.
That being said, tonight looked like it marked the return of bad Brendan Smith, who looked like a liability every time he was on the ice tonight. That is, until the third period, when the 2016 version of Smith showed up and he started making crisp outlet passes, smart decisions at either blueline, and skated well. The decision on who will sit on defense might have been made and it's a shame because Smith has been one of the Wings' better defenders all season, but tonight he wasn't consistently good.
Jeff Blashill decided to go with 11 forwards and 7 defensemen tonight with the return of Kyle Quincey. The result was a mishmash lineup where no 2 lines or defense pairs were the same shift to shift. I'm not sure what sort of effect that lineup juggling had, but I'd love to hear a digger ask Blashill about it and whether he thought, in hindsight, that sticking with a traditional lineup would have been better. Of course, that would have meant Joakim Andersson on the 4th line, so I'm not sure the net effect would have been all that different.
The winning streak is over, but this was an expected loss, and they didn't play all that bad considering how they've normally fared in the second halves of back-to-back games this season. The Wings will have a few days off before concluding the road trip Thursday against Arizona. 4-1 is not a bad record, and the Wings have been able to maintain a good position within the division.