LOS ANGELES – The Kings have a solid hockey team, one that expects to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season. Those Kings also played pretty well in spurts Wednesday night during the opening game of their season.
They worked hard. They created chances. Alas, they did not have Mikko Ratanen and Nathan MacKinnon, but the other team did. And that was a big problem.
Ranaten (two goals, four points) and MacKinnon combined for three goals and seven points as the Avalanche opened the 2023-24 season with a 5-2 win at Crypto.com Arena.
“Just excited, I guess,” said Rantanen, who scored four points on opening night for the second straight season. “I missed some of the camp, so I was just excited to play and just playing with good players also helps.”
It was far from a flawless performance for the Avs. There were too many penalties, though a couple were heavily disputed. The penalty kill looked like it was incorporating a lot of new players, but Alexandar Georgiev saved some of his best moments during a 34-save performance while his team was down a man.
When the Avs got it rolling, often with the top line on the ice, they looked like a club that expects to contend for the Stanley Cup. But there were also stretches where the Kings took the play to them, and Georgiev needed to do some damage control.
Los Angeles got to within a goal in the final seconds of the second period, but Colorado salted the game away with a strong final 20 minutes.
“Resilient is probably the right word,” Rantanen said. “We had a good chat in the second intermission to stay on the gas, and I think the third might have been our best period. It was just solid both ways and we didn’t give up a lot. We defended, a lot of blocks and (Georgiev) was excellent. It shows the mentality of the team and what we’ve got to keep working on.”
MacKinnon claimed the first goal of the season 7:25 into the opening period for the Avs. Devon Toews pushed into the Kings zone on a rush and tried to get the puck behind the net. Jonathan Drouin collected it and got it to Rantanen below the Kings’ goal line.
There were three guys in black uniforms between Rantanen and a cutting MacKinnon, but Rantenen led him perfectly into a patch of open ice, and the Avs’ star center shot back across his body to fool Los Angeles goalie Cam Talbot.
Colorado’s power play made it look easy on the second goal. Rantanen carried the puck into the offensive zone and left it for MacKinnon. He sent it across the top of the zone to Cale Makar, who used a screen from new addition Ryan Johansen to find a hole behind Talbot for a 2-0 lead.
“I think overall, (the power play) was good,” Makar said. “I think we were moving it well with the opportunities that we had. There was probably a couple more times that we could have shot the puck, but that’ll come. I really like Johansen in the middle. I think he was doing a great job.”
The top line threatened to make it a runaway with another one 53 seconds later. Rantanen set up Toews with another pretty pass, but the defenseman missed a largely open net from a tight angle. Rantanen scooped up the rebound and rifled the next shot past Talbot anyway.
The Avs dominated play for a few minutes after that and were probably one shot from a knockout punch, but Los Angeles found a goal and its way back into the contest at 6:18 of the second. Carl Grundstrom redirected the puck in front of Georgiev after both Avs defensemen fell on the play – Grundstrom dumped Jack Johnson behind the goal line before repositioning, while Josh Manson went down along the side wall.
The more egregious goal against came very late in the second period. MacKinnon and Drouin went surging forward from a faceoff at center ice with 10.6 seconds left in the period, but the puck didn’t come with them. Anze Kopitar chipped it into the Avs zone, and a pair of Kings got behind Makar and Toews. When Quentin Byfield tried to center the puck, it went off Makar’s blade and into the Avs net with 4.6 seconds left.
There were definitely some chippy moments in this contest, highlighted by a large scrum in the second period after L.A.’s Pierre-Luc Dubois caught Fredrik Oloffson with a leg-on-leg hit. Logan O’Connor pulled Kings forward Alex Laferriere out of the pile of bodies and challenged him to a prolonged fight.
In the end, the Avs had too much firepower. The new-look top line, with Drouin joining MacKinnon and Ratanen, flashed plenty of ready-made chemistry. The other lines looked at times like they might need more time to gel. But this will go on the ledger as a quality win against a good team on the road, even if there will be some aspects the coaching staff will want to clean up.
“I thought everyone was here to compete hard,” coach Jared Bednar said. “I thought there was pretty good tempo to the game. I thought the penalty kill did a great job, and the power play got us one. An all-around good game from our group to start it off.”