Kings' defensive group, now healthy, finding new ways of contributing
The Los Angeles Kings like the unconventional, but Tuesday night at the Staples Center, it was just plain weird. Two defensemen not named Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez or even Jake Muzzin, scored goals in the Kings' 5-2 victory over the Florida Panthers.
The team that only dressed five defensemen last week was back to six Tuesday, but whether that's a full-strength group has been questionable. But the only question left to ask is when Martinez returns and, at the moment, it's not a pressing one. Matt Greene and Robyn Regehr scored two crucial goals as the Kings defensemen combined for seven points.
"It's good to see Robyn and Greene score," Sutter said. "They don't get much credit, and they can give you the blue collar every night. They are our two most consistent defensemen for sure. It's always good to see them score."
There were a few more typical occurrences, like Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik scoring goals, but the game belonged to a beleaguered group of defensemen.
Brayden McNabb, the rookie who recently has drawn the ire of coach Darryl Sutter, tallied two points. Even Jamie McBain had a point -- yes, you read that right -- and it was his first point as a King.
Neither Greene nor Regehr, who are often paired together, have ever shown much scoring prowess, but it's not really either of their jobs to score. Regehr's goal was his 33rd in 1,037th NHL game and Greene's was only his 14th of his 523-game career.
Greene's second-period goal was beautifully set up by Anze Kopitar, who battled his way down the boards and sent the puck across to McNabb at the point. McNabb rocketed a shot toward the goal, Greene got a stick on it, backhanding it past Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo.
It was a move that looked more Gaborik than Greene.
"At first I didn't even know it was Greeney because I didn't know he had that in his repertoire," Kopitar said. "But it was a great play. Great play from Brayden to see him and obviously a great tip to get us on the board. And then Reg just following up the play and being on the spot."
Regehr scored later in the second after Carter stripped a defensemen of the puck.
"It was really just Jeff Carter using his speed to create a turnover in chasing down their defenseman," Regehr said. "Then him throwing the puck out in the mid-to-high slot where their forwards couldn't get it. I knew there wasn't a whole lot of time left in the period so I just decided to shoot it."
The group that has seen the most injuries and the most change this season faced a former teammate, Panthers defenseman Willie Mitchell. Cap space forced the Kings' to make an offseason decision between Greene and Mitchell, and many wondered why Mitchell, a key component on two Stanley Cup teams, was let go, and Greene, who had seen his role diminish over the last two seasons, was kept.
"Well if I saw him wouldn't I say something to him? That seems pretty silly." Sutter on Willie Mitchell https://t.co/j5f50BLLmV— Abbey Mastracco (@AbbeyMastracco) November 19, 2014
It might have been nice to have Mitchell on the L.A. side of things in recent weeks but, Mitchell, who received his Stanley Cup ring before the game, has long since come to terms with his new role as the captain of a young team under new management.
"We're a young team learning to do things the right way like that hockey club," Mitchell said. "We played very, very well in the first and then played well in the third again. It's always easier in the third when the other team is up. The second period we didn't manage the puck well. To beat good teams, great teams and championship teams you have to play 60 minutes."
The Kings are now tied with Vancouver with 24 points in the Pacific Division and three points behind the Western Conference leaders in Anaheim. But more importantly, the defense is finally healthy again.