Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
The Los Angeles Kings came out flying on Tuesday. A Kevin Fiala goal opened the scoring 35 seconds into the game, followed by a Gabe Vilardi power-play tally just over five minutes later. The Kings continued their dominant play in the first, outshooting the New York Rangers 13-6, holding their two-goal lead into the first intermission.
The second period proved to be the antithesis of the first. The Rangers scored three unanswered and controlled most of the play. A seeing-eye shot from the point, a fluke goal off Drew Doughty's stick and a 6-on-5 goal flipped the game on its head.
A crazy sequence in the third period saw Cal Petersen make a highlight reel diving save and play without his stick for a lengthy period. Directly after the Kings survived a lengthy spell of Rangers possession with a stickless Petersen, they came down the other way and almost immediately scored. Tying the game at three. Chris Kreider would break the tie just 54 seconds later though, beating Petersen from a tight angle on a shot he should be saving.
"Cal has to make that save," said Todd McLellan. "Cal made some outstanding saves. Cal was playing without a stick, we had two broken sticks, Edler blocked it, Cal punched it out. If that goes in, maybe we recover, I don't know. The one we did let in took a lot out of our team. He stopped a breakaway after that, we mishandled the puck at the blue line. Cal made some really good saves. Sometimes it's the one that you need rather than all the ones you made that make the difference in a game. And we needed that one."
The difference in net was a key before the game and proved to be a difference. Igor Shesterkin finished with 35 saves on 38 shots and -0.12 goals saved above expected. While Petersen finished with 20 saves on 24 shots and -2.01 goals saved above expected. Petersen's game was defined by the Ranger's fourth goal. The three prior were not his fault, and he was playing okay bordering on good before that moment. But when the Kings needed him to step up, he didn't.
Several things separate Petersen and an elite goalie like Shesterkin and the ability to make timely saves is a big one.
One huge positive from the game was the play of Anze Kopitar's line. They had gone cold recently and Fiala was exactly what they needed to heat back up. With six points between Kopitar, Fiala and Adrian Kempe the Kings had a first line they could rely upon again.
"I thought Anze and Kempe had one of their better games lately," said McLellan. "And that's probably do to the fact that Kevin was there helping them out. When I say that, I'm not demeaning Gabriel Vilardi's play. He's been really good. Just a different mix tonight a different energy on that line. And I thought that line gave us a game we maybe haven't seen in a little bit."
"Our game tonight matched our year," said McLellan. "We're inconsistent, we're up and down. Whether it's within a game, two game segments, one game segment, back-to-backs. We're still searching for that."
The word "inconsistent" has been one of the few consistents of this season. The Kings have struggled to play a full 60 minutes and repeat good performances. Twenty-two games into the season, this is a real concern. At this point, these issues should be ironed out, yet the Kings are still searching for answers.