Column: Kings have first three-game run with win over Golden Knights
Not so long ago, the Kings might have yawned if they’d won three straight games. It wouldn’t have been a big deal. But after spending most of their time at or near the bottom of the NHL standings lately, they were thrilled on Sunday to string together three victories for the first time this season. They found an extra twinkle to the bright lights of Las Vegas after Tyler Toffoli ended an 18-game goal drought and lifted them to a 4-3 overtime victory over the Golden Knights.
“It’s amazing,” defenseman Drew Doughty said after Toffoli took advantage of a bad shift change by Vegas defenseman Nate Schmidt and scored 69 seconds into overtime at T-Mobile Arena. “This has been the toughest year I think a lot of us have ever been a part of. To get three in a row going in the Christmas break is going to make the break that much better. We feel really good in here.”
Their win on Sunday over the team that swept them out of the playoffs last spring followed victories at home against Winnipeg and at San Jose on Saturday, also in overtime. Suddenly, the Kings (14-20-3) are eight points behind Edmonton, which sits in the second Western Conference wild-card spot and has played one fewer game. The Kings’ playoff chances remain remote but are no longer absurd, thanks to Toffoli breaking in alone on Marc-Andre Fleury and scoring for the first time since Nov. 16.
“With all the social media and everything it’s hard not to see where you are,” center Anze Kopitar said. “We have a few boards with standings in the locker room, too. So you get a glimpse of it and it’s not pretty, but we’ll enjoy this one and get some rest and make sure that we’re ready on Thursday.”
The Golden Knights scored first, when Tomas Nosek’s chip shot of a bouncing puck appeared to glance off Kings defenseman Oscar Fantenberg before it got past goaltender Cal Petersen at 10:10 of the first period. The Kings pulled even early in the second period. Matt Luff’s forechecking pressure led to a turnover by Vegas forward Ryan Reaves, and Adrian Kempe was able to control the puck. Kempe unleashed a shot that was deftly redirected in midair by Michael Amadio at 3:32 for his second goal this season.
Vegas regained the lead at 10:01, when Jonathan Marchessault set up Reilly Smith for a blast from the left side. The Kings made it 2-2 while at even strength, on a heady play by Alex Iafallo. He beat defenseman Nick Holden to the puck and skated behind the net for a wraparound attempt, scoring when he banked the puck off Fleury at 12:52. That extended Iafallo’s point streak to seven games and gave him four goals in nine points in that span. “AI has been producing lately but he should be. He’s on Kopi’s line,” Doughty said. “We expect him to produce and he’s been doing that just great.”
The third period featured more back-and-forth scoring between tired teams that had both played the day before. Jeff Carter gave the Kings a 3-2 lead at 2:06, when he converted the rebound of a shot by Doughty during a power play, but Vegas pulled even when Reaves deflected a long shot by Schmidt at 6:55. Vegas dominated the first few shifts of overtime and took four straight shots at Petersen before Schmidt exited on a badly timed change to put Toffoli in alone on Fleury. Toffoli’s game-high seventh shot proved his luckiest. “I have no clue what their d-man was doing, but I’m not mad,” Toffoli said.
The Kings didn’t have forward Austin Wagner on Sunday because he was recovering from the high hit he took from San Jose defenseman Erik Karlsson on Saturday. The NHL’s Department of Player Safety on Sunday suspended Karlsson two games for an illegal hit to the head that it deemed avoidable and said while Karlsson also hit Wagner’s shoulder, the principal point of contact was Wagner’s head. Kings coach Willie Desjardins declined to comment on the league’s disciplinary action. “I think it is important to protect the players and I think that’s something they’re trying to take out of the game, but that’s the league’s call,” Desjardins said. Nikita Scherbak took Wagner’s spot but played just six minutes and 55 seconds.
The team took a charter flight back to Los Angeles after the game. Desjardins, who has seen his family only once since he was appointed interim coach on Nov. 4, will fly home to Saskatchewan for a few days.
“It’s almost a shame that the Christmas break’s coming up since we’re in the midst of this,” Kopitar said, “but at the same time we played quite a few games so it will be nice to give the body some rest.”
When they return, they’ll determine whether they’re the stumbling bunch that appeared destined for the draft lottery or if they have enough will and wins and pride to make something of the rest of this season.
Follow Helene Elliott on Twitter @helenenothelen
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