Physically and emotionally, things must have been exhausting for the Los Angeles Kings lately. They can take a breath and maybe let out a sigh of relief after Tuesday.
Just about any team will be trying to catch their breath after playing a home-and-home set with the hectic, shockingly effective Vegas Golden Knights. That’s especially true when you’re resting Jonathan Quick, thus throwing Jack Campbell into the fire because previous backup Darcy Kuemper is now in Arizona.
On Monday, they beat the Golden Knights in overtime in Los Angeles. On Tuesday, they warded off a torrent of activity to beat the Golden Knights 4-1.
Campbell and counter-punching
It wasn’t as easy as the 4-1 score would imply, even though there were no empty-netters.
The Golden Knights fired 42 shots on goal to 30 for the Kings, but Los Angeles was able to counter-punch, particularly on goals for Kyle Clifford and Tyler Toffoli.
Vegas’ hard-charging style might mean certain “live by the sword, die by the sword moments,” even if they’ve done a marvelous job of walking that razor’s edge. Jack Campbell simply outdueled them tonight.
Back during the 2010 NHL Draft, the Dallas Stars selected Campbell with the 11th overall pick. Campbell was selected shortly before Cam Fowler, Jaden Schwartz, and Vladimir Tarasenko. Being that Tuesday marked just the third NHL appearance of the 26-year-old’s career, it’s not outrageous to say that things haven’t exactly panned out as planned.
Campbell hasn’t given up on his hockey career, and Tuesday stands as a heartwarming reward. The Golden Knights fired a ton of shots on him, but only an early William Karlsson goal beat Campbell. That’s saying something, being that Vegas fired 30 SOG through the first two periods alone.
Tomas Tatar suited up wearing number 90 for Vegas. He fired plenty of shots, but it was Ryan Reaves who made more of an impression, heading to the penalty box on multiple occasions and drawing ire for hits on the likes of Anze Kopitar.
Jeff Carter isn’t technically a “new face,” but he probably almost feels that way considering how long he’s been out of commission for the Kings. After scoring his first goal of the season on the power play last night, he added another one on the man advantage to ice this win against the Golden Knights.
With Carter only at nine games played, he almost feels like a “trade deadline addition” for Los Angeles.
Promising road ahead?
There’s one other significant source of optimism for Los Angeles: the Kings’ early March schedule.
The Kings play their next five games at home, and beyond that, seven of eight contests take place at the Staples Center from March 1-17. This big win strengthens the Kings’ playoff positioning in the West’s playoff races. They moved to third in the Pacific Division with 75 points in 64 games, grabbing slim advantages over the Ducks (74 points) and Calgary Flames (73). They’re also not far behind second-ranked San Jose, who took care of business against Edmonton tonight.
While the Golden Knights face a harsh start to March, they remain in a strong position to win the Pacific, if not the West’s top seed.
Speaking of seeds … if Vegas faces Los Angeles in a first-round series, then games like Tuesday’s bout could already plant the seeds of disdain, even for a rivalry that’s just brimming.
And here we were thinking it would take a long time for this to be more fun than that weird Twitter tiff from September …
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.