January 14th marked the first game for the LA Kings since March of 2020, and with it renewed hope. The first two games against the Minnesota Wild had heartbreaking results, though, losing both games 4-3 in overtime. In those two games, the LA Kings held a 3-1 lead, and in both games, they were victimized by Russian rookie sensation Kirill Kaprizov. The Kings and their fans were glad to see him leave the Staples Center.
Next up, on January 19th and 21st, were the Colorado Avalanche. The Avalanche, led by stars Nathan MacKinnon. Cale Makar and Mikko Rantanen are heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup this season. In the first meeting, the Avs looked every bit the cup favorite and built a 3-0 lead through two periods.
You would expect that in this circumstance, with a team that missed the playoffs last season and hadn’t won yet this season, this game would be over, right? It wasn’t, however, as the LA Kings showed a lot of intestinal fortitude by scoring twice and outshooting Colorado 8-5 in the third period before ultimately losing 3-2 in regulation. A loss is a loss, but the effort in the third period showed this LA Kings team will not go down without a fight.
The Kings kept that energy alive to start the re-match with Colorado on Thursday night, as they certainly played with a lot more tempo. It was reminiscent of how Rocky Balboa started out his second fight with Clubber Lang in Rocky III. The Avalanche would get their counterpunch, though, at the 4:49 mark of the first period in the form of a goal by Mikko Rantanen. Another goal was added by Nathan MacKinnon later in the period, and the Avalanche went into the first intermission with a 2-0 lead. Here we go again.
After the first Colorado goal, Fox Sports West analyst and former LA King Jim Fox said, “This is mental toughness time.” They may not have the overall skill of the Avalanche yet, but this Kings team has shown so far this season that they are a scrappy group – and they did just that again Thursday night. A power-play goal by Drew Doughty and a snipe by Gabe Vilardi tied the game at two at the end of two.
In the third period, the hockey gods finally smiled on the LA Kings.
Now skating on Anze Kopitar‘s line, Adrian Kempe scored his second goal of the season. Then, the very definition of scrappy, Blake Lizotte, scored an empty netter to seal the 4-2 win. A sigh of relief could be heard throughout Los Angeles, and Jonathan Quick, whose stellar play helped earn the win, was given a fantastic 35th birthday present.
With the Kings in the win column, it almost feels like a new season again. Does this mean all is good, and we can expect to see the team in the playoffs this season? No, as there is still a lot of work to do. The Kings overall game still needs to be more disciplined and cut down on the penalties – although they improved that by giving up a season-low four powerplays. Thursday night showed the Kings will have to outwork their opponents to get their wins – which is fine, except they will have to avoid track meets with teams like Vegas and Colorado.
Lastly, the Kings need a finisher – especially for their power play. Yes, they were 2-for-5 Thursday night but had only one goal with the man advantage in their previous three games. The LA Kings do have a certain 19-year-old prospect from Staten Island, NY, who might fill that need very nicely – just saying.
The feeling of dread so far this season has disappeared, even if it’s temporary. Coach Todd McLellan shook the lines up, and that in itself seemed to be what was needed to put the team over the top. One win does make a whole season, but neither does a slow first week. A certain tough, Stanley Cup-winning coach used to say “park and ride,” and he was right – there is still a lot of hockey left to be played.
St. Louis, here come the Kings.