Every good playoff rivalry needs an antagonist. A heel. A villain.
Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty is auditioning for the part.
The Kings defenseman received a one-game suspension Thursday from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, and Doughty’s illegal check to the head of Golden Knights forward William Carrier during Game 1 is the first major flash point in this Western Conference quarterfinal series.
Doughty and Kings coach John Stevens are expected to comment on the suspension Friday.
“I think when things like that happen you’ve just got to continue moving forward,” Knights center Cody Eakin said. “I think you get worked up about them or start thinking about them too much, you stray away from your game a little bit.
“We’re playing strong, hard on the forecheck, finishing checks when they’re there and not going out of our way to chase guys down the ice and it was effective for us, so we’re going to try to continue the same.”
Doughty delivered a crunching check midway through the third period of the Knights’ 1-0 victory on Wednesday, which caused Carrier to faceplant to the ice like a woozy MMA fighter.
Doughty, who was not penalized on the play, had a hearing with Player Safety on Thursday afternoon.
Los Angeles’ Drew Doughty suspended one game for an illegal check to the head on Vegas’ William Carrier. https://t.co/oOTey5uuRn
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) April 12, 2018
“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. This is an illegal check to the head,” the league said in announcing the suspension.
“It is important to note that while Doughty’s first point of contact is with Carrier’s arm, the illegal check to the head rule does not take into account what the first point of contact is.”
Carrier, who dished out several punishing hits throughout the opening game, did not return and was evaluated for a concussion.
He did not participate in the Knights’ optional skate Thursday at City National Arena. Coach Gerard Gallant said Carrier is day to day with an upper-body injury.
“We’ve had some history, I guess, with these guys and those hits,” Knights defenseman Brayden McNabb said of his former team. “We’re in playoff mode. It’s all about wins. We’re going to be hard on guys if we have the opportunity, but we’re not going to go out of our way to do anything stupid or take penalties.”
The Knights faced a similar dilemma against Los Angeles during a home-and-home series in late February when forward Oscar Lindberg was blindsided near center ice by Kings winger Kyle Clifford in the first period and suffered a concussion.
The Knights spent much of that game and the one after trying to exact retribution, and Los Angeles won both times.
If Carrier can’t go in Game 2, Gallant could insert rugged forward Ryan Reaves onto the fourth line or opt for the faster — but less physical — Oscar Lindberg.
The possible return of wing David Perron for Game 2 further complicates Gallant’s decisions. Should Perron play Friday, add Ryan Carpenter and Alex Tuch to the list of potential fourth-line wings.
“It heats you up a little bit because you know that if I’m in that game, I’d probably try and go do something about it, or maybe I can calm that situation down,” Reaves said. “A lot the times, just being able to get a good, clean hit on a (defenseman) or just a good, clean hit on anybody is enough to calm the game down knowing that I’m running around a little bit.”
The loss of Doughty, a Norris Trophy candidate, is a blow for an already-thin Los Angeles defense corps, which was missing Derek Forbort and Jake Muzzin for Game 1 and struggled to contain the Knights’ speedy forwards.
Doughty played a game-high 28:02 in the opener and spent the majority of his ice time matched against the Knights’ top line of William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith.
“It’s going to be tough if we don’t have him,” Kings defenseman Oscar Fantenberg said prior to Doughty’s suspension being handed down. “He’s the best defenseman in the league, so it wouldn’t be easy. Everybody would have to step up and give us those good minutes in his place.”
1. Rinse, wash, repeat. The Golden Knights stuck to their winning formula in Game 1. They were fast and physical, and never deviated from their game plan. If they can do that Friday, they’ll head to Los Angeles up 2-0 in the series.
2. Strike first, strike hard. No mercy, sir. Los Angeles had a minus-27 goal differential in the first period during the regular season, and allowed a goal early in the series opener. The Knights don’t want to let Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick get into a groove and steal a game.
3. Getting closer. Including the postseason, the Knights are 0-for-16 on the power play against Los Angeles. But they moved the puck well on Wednesday, generating five shots on three man-advantages, not to mention Tomas Tatar’s point-blank effort late in the second period that went wide.
David Schoen Las Vegas Review-Journal