A consortium of journalists called out the Kings for not expecting to be in the Jennings race for the fewest goals allowed by a team throughout the regular season. Week Six conveyed a flip side to that comment, with the Kings allowing only two goals in the two games they played in. The Florida Panthers, who have just come off a short-lived offseason doing the song and dance in the Stanley Cup Final, just to come up as the runner-up, have fared exceptionally well without the critical injuries to Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad. The only other opponent the Kings had to face was St. Louis, a travesty of a hockey team since their highs in 2019. They remain a stingy defensive team, tied for 6th in the league in goals against.
The Kings overcame a solid Florida Panthers team due to their now notorious quick starts. The Kings of old were slow to start, especially matinees (Next Saturday vs Montreal, yikes). Since the first two defensive downfalls to start the season, they have scored first in nine of the fourteen games. Against Florida, Kevin Fiala scored on a pretty backhand just 1:20 into the game. The game was a low event and well-checked in all three zones. The difference in the match was a special teams goal in which Anze Kopitar blasted a well-placed one-timer from an excellent Kevin Fiala feed. The special teams for the Kings were superb. 1/3 on the powerplay and 5/5 on the penalty kill while getting an even-strength goal. That’s your match, as Paul Maurice summed up to boot.
Completely different story for the Blues. The Kings came off a playoff-type, championship-level defensive-checking dedication to a four-goal first-period outburst in which the Kings would set cruise control after the first period, barring a filthy Kevin Fiala goal off a catch and release bursting into the zone. You hate to see the Blues break the shutout, especially off a bad read by Jordan Spence late into the game that opened up a semi-break for Neighbours, releasing a great shot that beat Talbot. To be fair, the Kings took their foot off the gas after the first period. No team can step on another team’s throat for 60 minutes, as Darryl Sutter so poetically pointed out during his Kings tenure. But the 1-3-1 is suffocating once the score reaches the point it was on Saturday. The Blues utilized a majority portion of attacking zone time compared to the Kings for the final 40 minutes, and to only break through once gives way to show that Cam Talbot just might be an elite goaltender in this league right now.
Penalties and Talbot go hand-in-hand
Last week, I mentioned the PK. It ballooned the previous week up to 87%. They are now tied for second in the league at 89.1% with the Dallas Stars. They have successfully killed off the last 20 opposing power play opportunities, returning to the Kubalik goal in Ottawa (6 games now and counting). We went over how the diamond formation has changed the penalty kill’s dynamic after some off-putting statistics in the last couple of years. Edmonton was operating over 50% against the Kings on the powerplay during the postseason; I digress. The PK has changed, but Cam Talbot is not getting enough credit. Amongst goalies who have played ten games or more, he leads the league in save percentage and second in GAA. He has been outstanding, and if he continues this, he should get Vezina consideration. I’ll repeat this: Rob Blake has had some incredible signings, but Cam Talbot, with his history with Todd McLellan and his system, for a one-million-dollar contract (with playing bonuses) might just take the cake thus far as his best acquisition given the circumstances.
Fiala and Dubois were called out directly and indirectly before and following the 4-2 loss against Philadelphia, in which no player played a solid game. Both players had been removed as linemates. Both players were expected to produce separately as the main drivers of separate lines. Fiala answered in a big way this week. He factored in a goal and a primary assist in the 2-1 win over Florida, essentially being the game-breaker for that playoff-type win. He answered with another two points against St Louis. Fiala might be back on track with four points in the last two. We will have to continue to monitor his bad penalties, but are you willing to deal with it if he’s putting up two points a game? The hope is that he will learn over time.
Dubois had a strong game against Florida and had a power move to the net in which he was forced to leave the game, unable to return. The move he pulled that resulted in him going to the locker room was one Kings fans were hoping to see when he was acquired. Power moves to the net with his fast speed for a tough save and a potential penalty to be called: precisely what you expect from Dubois. He returned to action after the injury scare to have one of his more complete hockey efforts, earning a pretty goal off some dynamic chemistry from Arthur Kaliyev. He was a force in the offensive zone and was described as a “bully” by Todd McLellan following the game. The hope is that he builds off of this game and continues to be the alpha and driver on his line.
The Kings will go on a small road trip next week, playing Arizona (again), and have Anaheim on the front half of a back-to-back. They will continue to put their undefeated road record to the test. The second half of the back-to-back will be Montreal at home. The back-to-back will also feature two matinees, so the Kings will also put their poor matinee record to the test.