The Los Angeles Kings‘ chances of at least earning a split of their first two Western Conference first-round playoff road games with the Vegas Golden Knights got a whole lot more difficult late Thursday afternoon.
That’s when the NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced that Kings top defenseman Drew Doughty, a Norris Trophy candidate who led the league in total minutes, was suspended for one game for “an illegal hit to the head” on Vegas forward William Carrier midway through the third period of the Golden Knights’ 1-0 series-opening victory on Wednesday night.
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Friday night at T-Mobile Arena.
Carrier, who had a game-high 10 hits in the contest, including several hard ones on Doughty, left the ice woozy with what was called an upper-body injury after the hit while carrying the puck into the right corner of the Kings’ zone. He didn’t practice Thursday and was listed as day-to-day by Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant.
Replays showed that Doughty initially hit Carrier on the top of the left shoulder but the hit then continued and caught the Vegas forward in the head.
“Doughty delivers a high, forceful hit that makes Carrier’s head the main point of contact on a hit where such head contact was avoidable,” the NHL said in its narrative on the video review of the play. “The illegal check to the head rule does not take into account what the first point of contact is.”
Doughty set career highs for assists (50) and points (60) this season and ran his consecutive games played streak to 328 in Wednesday’s series opener, just two shy of the team record held by Anze Kopitar. The timing couldn’t be worse for a Los Angeles squad that is already without injured defensemen Jake Muzzin and Derek Forbort.
Doughty had a phone hearing with the Department of Player Safety after practice on Thursday afternoon. Kings head coach John Stevens refused to discuss the situation with the media afterward other than to say “if it is (an issue), it’s next man up, obviously.”
The opener featured 127 hits, including 68 by the Kings, but both coaches pooh-poohed it as being an overly physical game.
“When I see 68 to 59 hits, I don’t buy it,” Gallant said. “If they’re counting every bump, fine. Jonathan Marchessault, he got eight hits. I mean, he finished some checks. But I don’t buy it.”
“I think the teams played hard (but) I’m not sure where that number comes from,” Stevens said. “I don’t think anybody would be playing tomorrow if those numbers were accurate. I don’t want to sound disrespectful when I say this, but sometimes I don’t even know where they’re situated when they are marking those stats. There’s such a variety in the way those are gauged building to building that we usually go and look at our own stats.”
The Golden Knights believe it is crucial that they keep home-ice advantage with another win Friday night.
“It’s big,” said defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored the only goal of the game on Wednesday. “Obviously when you get that first win you want to keep that momentum rolling. We’ve been playing pretty strong at home all year. We’re just going to try and keep the same game plan.”