Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Kings entered Nationwide Arena coming off of two road loses, with a record of 13-14-6, while the Columbus Blue Jackets, with a record of 14-15-4, have won their last five home games. During their last meeting, earlier this month at Staples Center, the Kings shutout the Blue Jackets 3-0, and they were poised to let history repeat itself. Blue Jackets unfortunately have to play the rest of the season without their rookie phenom, Derick Brassard, after he dislocated his shoulder last week during a fight with fellow rookie James Neal of the Dallas Stars. Both teams have a rookie in net; the Kings giving Jon Quick the nod for only his second start of the season, while the Blue Jackets have the amazing talents of Steve Mason guarding their post. Mason comes into this game leading the league with a 1.91 goals against average, and 4th in the league with a 0.929 save percent - not too shabby at all!
Kings come out for blood. It seems the main strategy Kings head coach, Terry Murray, wanted to accomplish was to dump the puck into the offensive zone early and often, play aggressive forecheck, gain the offensive zone with speed, and get as many shots on goal as possible. They applied these tactics from the first dropped puck, and got off to an early lead with the first goal of the season for Raitis Ivanans coming in the first three minutes of the game, after Mason allows a big rebound right on the doorstep to his net. This was a goal Mason could have stopped regardless, but it came off Ivanans' stick like a knuckle-puck.
Kings kept digging and finding loose pucks, with lots of shots on net, even though many were low percentage shots from the point. Half-way into the first, you can hear the Blue Jackets crowd getting testy, wanting their team to step it up. Unfortunately for them, the Kings get a second goal in the first period, as Anze Kopitar gives a beautiful (delayed) one-timer to Patrick O'Sullivan, for O'Sullivan's ninth goal of the season.
At one point in the first period, the Kings outshot the Blue Jackets 11-2. The only real test in the first for Quick was a big save off a point-blank shot from Rick Nash, who always has an impact on the game. It is no wonder the Blue Jackets are last in the league on the power play, because they did absolutely nothing on their three opportunities in the first period, including 20 seconds where the were 5-on-3. Blue Jackets coach, Ken Hitchcock, decides to change things up a bit for the second period, and his team started playing much more aggressive because of it. Blue Jackets defenseman would pinch in on plays in their offensive zone to keep the puck in their possession, and the team in general was attacking the Kings passes in the defensive zone and in the neutral zone. How do the Kings respond? With even more shots on goal. Even though the feeling on the ice was that the second period went to the Blue Jackets (unfortunately for them, this is not boxing, and the only thing that matters is they didn't score), the Kings outshot them again, this time 21-10. Those 21 shots on goal in the second set the Kings season high for shots on goal in any period. Most of those 21 were shots from the point, with the only scoring opportunity coming during a power play when Kyle Quincey unloaded a big slapshot that hit the goal post.
For the most part, this was not a physical game, other than some key hard hits from the Blue Jackets in the second. Kings really had no answer for their physicality, and didn't really need to - they played a Red Wings style game, letting their sticks do the talking. The third period was more of an onslaught from the Blue Jackets, and the Kings only came on the attack when they could. For about the first 8 to 9 minutes of the third, the Kings defense played played extremely soft and sloppy. Other than that stretch, they controlled their zone with smart passing, and aggressive forechecking on the other end of the ice. At one point, it felt like the tables were turning in the third with a Rick Nash goal, but it was ruled from the officials in Toronto that the ruling on the ice, of the goal coming off a highstick, would stand. For those unaware of the rule - if a player touches the puck with a highstick (above the level of the crossbar), then an ensuing goal off that highstick is not counted. With 2:08 left in the game, the Kings seal another 3-0 shutout with the first goal of the season from Peter Harrold, who played give-and-go with Kopitar.
Of the five penalties the Kings sustained in the game, three came because of Rick Nash - this guy is a big, fast scoring machine, and really draws a crowd when he's on the ice. Nash reminds me a little bit of Eric Lindros in his prime, with a little less weight and his physical play is centered on extending his offense, rather than being a bruiser. Jon Quick played a solid & controlled game, even on only 24 shots, there was a small stretch half-way into the third where the Blue Jackets crashed the net and kept trying to jam the puck through.
Even though Steve Mason let three goals in, he still played one hell of a game himself, facing 42 shots and a really determined Kings team. As I am sure Ken Hitchcock already knows, he desperately needs to work on his team's power play, as they never seem to get anything set. Although the goalies and Patrick O'Sullivan were awarded the three stars of the game, I would have to go with Anze Kopitar over O'Sullivan. Kopitar had two assists, seemed to always be pressing the issue to get the puck into the offensive zone, and played some great team defense. He's not a big guy, but he makes up for it in stick handling, forechecking and ice awareness.