Kings’ penalty kill is rising to the occasion
There were few solid chances in the Sharks’ six power-play minutes on Tuesday night: a couple of long shots, a lot of hollow passing and one chance that fluttered toward Kings goalie Peter Budaj before he smothered it into the ice with his glove.
For the most part, the Sharks were muscled out of comfort by the Kings’ penalty kill. They had their shots blocked. They forced low-percentage looks. The Kings eventually won 2-1 in overtime and the three penalty kills fueled the home-and-home sweep.
This has been common across the last month, as the Kings boast the NHL’s second-best penalty kill since Dec. 5. But it is not a continuation of a season-long trend. The Kings allowed two power-play goals in back-to-back games on Dec. 1 and 4, and were ranked 21st in the league in penalty kill percentage through 25 contests.
The script has since been flipped, as only the first-place Chicago Blackhawks have a better penalty kill in the time since.
“I don’t think we’re doing anything different, I just think we’re executing a little bit better,” said Kings center Nick Shore, who played two minutes and five seconds of shorthanded time on Tuesday. “When we have chances to get the puck down the ice we have, and then whoever is in the net has come up with big saves when we need them.”
Ten Kings players teamed for the three penalty kills against the Sharks, which center Jeff Carter — who scored the Kings’ first goal and assisted on the game-winner in overtime — called the “key to the game.” After an off-ice workout on Wednesday, defenseman Derek Forbort said the forwards have done a good job generating offense while shorthanded. Teams can’t score if they don’t have the puck, he deadpanned, and taking it away is the Kings’ simplest penalty-killing formula.
In the last month, opponents have gone on 34 power plays and scored just three goals. The Kings went eight games without allowing a power-play goal during that span. The importance of their penalty kill is only heightened by the ongoing search for their midseason offensive form, as they have scored more than three goals in just one of their last nine contests.
“It’s hugely important. I think we know what we want to give up, we’re only giving up those certain things,” Forbort said, explaining that the Kings are fine with a telegraphed shot in favor of an opponent dicing into the teeth of their shorthanded defense.
“It’s just putting constant pressure on the opponent, both offensively and defensively.”
Even if that approach has not changed since the start of the season, the results certainly have.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
On the air: TV: Fox Sports-West; Radio: 790
Update: The Red Wings are second-to-last in the Atlantic Division with a 16-16-5 record. They hosted the Kings on Dec. 15, and the Kings won 4-1 behind two goals from Tyler Toffoli. Toffoli remains sidelined with a lower-body injury, but Kings Coach Darryl Sutter was hopeful earlier this week that he could be back on the ice soon.
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