The Kings’ dismissal of the Edmonton Oilers on Monday felt like much more than one of 82 games, more than a nice, dry place to go on a rainy night in Los Angeles.
It was a statement. It was the Kings at their best, doing good things big and small while they nearly silenced runaway NHL scoring leader Connor McDavid and got a superb performance from a penalty-killing unit that has sometimes sabotaged otherwise strong efforts.
“We feel really good right now,” Kings defenseman Drew Doughty said after their 6-3 victory at Crypto.com Arena, their ninth win in the last 12 games. “We see that when we play some of our best hockey, we can play with the best teams in the league right now. If we keep doing that, things are looking really good for us.”
They scored four power-play goals in a game for the first time since April 5, 2012, the first two from winger Kevin Fiala — who had recorded a hat trick against Vegas in their previous game — and the last two from Adrian Kempe. Fiala also added two power-play assists, becoming the first Kings player to record at least four power play points in a game since Adam Deadmarsh had four assists on Feb. 8, 2002.
“When he’s on, he can dominate games,” Doughty said of Fiala. “He’s very good. Good vision, good shot. He’s one of the better one-on-one guys I’ve played with in my career. I thought he dominated [Monday]. He was unbelievable. He could have had seven, eight points, I thought, and he was amazing.”
Fiala, acquired from Minnesota last summer, enjoyed the high tension. “I think it was a playoff game right now. Lot of emotions. Lot of physical,” he said. “Lot of penalties and the special teams I feel like won the game for us and so I’m very proud of the team overall.”
He had reason to be. The Kings were credited with 22 blocked shots, led by Sean Durzi’s five, and with 26 hits, led by Kempe’s six and Mikey Anderson’s five. Also of great significance, they negated all six power plays gained by the Oilers, who had converted a league-leading 32.2% of their advantages before being stymied by goaltender Pheonix Copley and the Kings.
The power play is glory time, a chance to show off skill and slick passing and enjoy the spotlight and applause when it’s successful. Penalty killing is drudgery, and it offers few chances to celebrate. The Kings lately have been showing they’re willing to put in the work, and it showed up Monday in their penalty killing and their feistiness against the team that eliminated them from the playoffs in a seven-game series last spring.
Coach Todd McLellan pointed to the individual improvement shown by Fiala since the start of this season and the larger growth of the team. Fiala, whose defensive play can be shaky, has been paying more attention to his defensive responsibilities. That’s a good sign for a team that is intent on building around its defense and somehow is second in the Pacific Division despite having a minus-1 goal differential.
“The whole team played to score. Now we’re playing to win and we’re finally getting it, but that doesn’t mean it just stays with you. It can leave quickly,” McLellan said.
Willingness to work can carry teams out of slumps. The Kings (24-14-6) have learned that lesson.
“There’s good teams that never go anywhere because they don’t quite get everybody willing to do things that they don’t want to do,” McLellan said. “Sometimes average teams go a little further along because they do get players to do things they don’t want to do. And that could be giving up ice time, that could be blocking a shot, a scrap. You can go on and on. Sacrificing offense to check at a certain time.
“Players don’t always want to do that. They want to go bar-down. Make sweet plays, all the adjectives that they use. But sometimes just getting them to do the things they don’t want to do can point you in the right direction, at least.”
Fiala capped a sequence of quick, precise puck movement with a shot from the right circle that got past goalie Stuart Skinner at 9:21 of the first period. Anze Kopitar was credited with the second assist, the 1,100th point of his NHL career. He’s only the fifth active skater who has reached that number, after Alex Ovechkin (1,458 through Monday’s games), Sidney Crosby (1,456), Patrick Kane (1,207) and Evgeni Malkin (1,181). The point also was Fiala’s 600th at home, by whichever sponsor name the arena carries.
Fiala struck again at 11:11, taking advantage of the Oilers’ defensive confusion to walk in from the right side and beat Skinner on the glove side. Edmonton got one back at 17:02, a few seconds after a Kings penalty had expired. Darnell Nurse’s shot from the point was deflected once by a King defender and again by Kailer Yamamoto, and it eluded Copley at 17:02. The Kings padded their lead to 4-1 with yet another power-play goal, on a shot by Kempe that landed in the glove of Edmonton goalie Jack Campbell, who had replaced Skinner. However, replays showed that the puck had fully crossed the line and it was ruled a goal.
Edmonton closed to within 4-2 late in the second period, but Alex Iafallo got behind the defense to give the Kings a cushion. McDavid’s unassisted goal at 9:26 of the third period was his first point in two games against the Kings this season. Viktor Arvidsson finished the scoring, into an empty net.
“Guys are certainly playing with confidence. Guys are playing for each other, guys are doing all the small things like blocking shots, getting clears when we need them, starting games strong,” Copley said after stopping 28 shots and improving to 11-2-0. “Those are the kinds of things that when you do them regularly you give yourself a chance to win, and that’s what we’re doing right now and that’s why we’re having good results.”
It was a good result on a rainy Monday. Or any other night.