Kings Stay Hot, Beat Sharks 4-3
It’s a game the Kings would have failed to win in the past and a testament to their growth this season.
The Los Angeles Kings are red hot, winning three straight games and four of their last five games after their 4-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks.
Despite starting a little slow, the Kings took the lead just six minutes into the game after Quinton Byfield blew past Erik Karlsson down the left wing, circled the net and fed Adrian Kempe for a tap-in goal. Byfield walked us through the goal postgame.
"Kopi (Anze Kopitar) had the puck there, he was curling and I just tried to curl to the far side with speed, give him an option," Byfield said. "He gave me the pass and I saw Karlsson was stepping up on me, I wanted to beat him wide, I knew I had a step there. I didn't really have an angle to shot and didn't have anybody in front yet so I took it around the net. I saw Kopi and Juice (Adrian Kempe) in front so I just tried to get it out front."
After the goal, the Kings took over the period, outshooting the Sharks 22-8 after 20 minutes. Despite the big gap in shots, the Kings left the first period up just 1-0.
Heading into the second the game was in the Kings' hands; they were dominating and looked to have the Sharks on the ropes. Instead of putting the game away, they let the Sharks back in.
Just over a minute into the period Nick Bonino potted a rebound after Pheonix Copley spilled a Karlsson blast from the point. The Kings regained the lead five minutes later. Byfield grabbed his first goal of the year and second point of the night, tipping in a Mikey Anderson shot in front.
Despite leading after two periods, the Kings were not at their best. After heavily outshooting the Sharks in period one, the Kings were outshot 13-8 in the second.
This pressure eventually cracked the Kings in the third period, with King killer Timo Meier wiring a wrist shot past Copley to tie the game at three.
But, just two minutes later Gabe Vilardi recovered the lead for the Kings, tipping in a Sean Durzi point shot from the high slot for his 17th goal of the season.
Shortly after regaining the lead, Drew Doughty doubled it, arriving late to an odd-man rush and beating James Reimer over the shoulder to put the Kings up 4-2. Despite not playing their best hockey, the Kings had a two-goal lead with under 10 minutes left.
The Sharks didn't go down without a fight though, Tomas Hertl brought them back within one with two minutes left. The Kings were able to hold on in the end, edging their NorCal rivals 4-3.
Winning a game where the team wasn't at their best is a big step for this Kings team. It's something that identifies great teams, and while they aren't there yet, the Kings are approaching that territory. It's a game the Kings would have failed to win in the past and a testament to their growth this season.
"It wasn't our finest game, obviously," said McLellan. "I didn't think that we had the details or the commitment to winning that was needed. Right off the bat, we didn't, when it didn't go our way we kind of got away from it. Extended shift after the first, second period I think we had three-quarters of the team, or 16 of the skaters all almost at 50 seconds or more. That didn't happen in the past two weeks. There were some areas I thought we cheated a little bit and we clearly need to have a practice or two, which we'll get. But when you're not playing your best, it's nice to get a win. I think a couple years ago we wouldn't have won that game when we're not playing our best we're probably down by two and maybe looking for morale victories. Now we can truly evaluate it and admit when we're not the best."
Byfield got his first goal of the season Wednesday, a goal that felt like it had been coming for a while now. Recently both McLellan and Byfield have talked about the chances being there but not the finish, and Wednesday, he had the finish.
Over the last few weeks, Byfield has produced good games, doing the right things outside of scoring and Wednesday he put it all together. If he can find that production, or close to it, on a consistent basis it's a game-changer for the Kings. Adding a productive Byfield to the top line would feel like a deadline acquisition.
Copley moves to 12-2 on the season.
Kempe's 18th goal puts him on pace for 32 this season. Given his improved defensive play, he's more than earning his new contract at this rate. If he can be decent defensively and score over 30 goals, he'll establish himself as a pivotal piece for the franchise.