The Kings blew a point on Saturday night by letting Michael Cammalleri of the Calgary Flames in behind the defense off a faceoff with seconds on the clock. A few nights before that, they took the Sharks to OT and ended up losing. So they might have been happy to get another crack at a victory with the St. Louis Blues in town on Monday night. Compounding the need to win—that the Blues came in with two fewer games played and still leading the Kings by two points.
To get ready, the Kings made a couple of lineup changes, namely welcoming Matt Frattin back from IR (four games) and sitting Linden Vey; they also continue to feature Jeff Carter (back for his fourth game after missing ten) and to sit Tanner Pearson. Also in the lineup was Colin Fraser, who had been out for three games. These switches are not exactly one-for-one, but since the lineup is a zero-sum game (twenty’s the limit), the changes described pretty accurately describe the ins and outs of all the Kings’ men. Also sitting, by the way, was Daniel Carcillo, who had dressed for the last seven games in a row, albeit in a capacity that saw him garner just seven or eight minutes some nights.
One very interesting stat: the Kings had let in one more goal than the Blues coming into the night. But they had scored nineteen fewer. So when you hear the b^&ching about nobody scoring on the LA team, you’d better listen. In fact, the Kings have as few or fewer goals as anyone in the West save two teams.
The Blues’ success is to a significant degree down to their goaltending. The team had, coming into the game Monday night in LA, allowed just 57 goals, to put them tops in the West. The second-best club in that conference? LA. And that’s why it was hard to figure when the Kings got out to a 3-0 lead before half of the game had been played. It wasn’t that the St. Louis netminder, Halak, was particularly bad.
The visiting coach, Ken Hitchcock, explained things after the game: “We’ve had slow starts. We were outplayed significantly in the first period, outcompeted. Not ready for the tempo. That’s our responsibility as players and coaches; we’ve got to get ready for the tempo of the game. We revved it up halfway through the hockey game, and you can’t play like that. The score is 3-0, and I don’t think you can judge the game by it’s 3-0. Who knows how much they let their foot off the accelerator. . . . They took it to us.”
To put that in perspective, the first Kings’ goal was a bit lucky on their part. The play was produced by a good pinch by Regehr, who put the puck even lower to Williams, who passed it out to Stoll. He fired a wrister from deep in the slot, and it went immediately off the shaft of Derek Roy. The goalie had no chance to adjust to the movement of the puck.
The second goal was similarly non-standard. Drew Doughty beat Halak clean and watched as the puck clinked off the crossbar. He and everyone on the ice froze for a nanosecond, and Tyler Toffoli picked it up and winged it back into a wide open side of the net.
He wasn’t done. In period two, he scored his second of the game. This one was more standard, and shortly after, Jeff Carter showed his skill, and perhaps the fact that Halak was not one hundred percent on his game by this point, by putting a wrister far side on the goalie. It went under his arm and struck the post. Had it gone in, fans would have had the choice between calling it a well-placed shot and blaming the netminder for having his arm flying out too far from his body.
So after two frames, it was 3-0 for the Kings, and the question wasn’t, I suppose, so much “Where’s the netminding for St. Louis” as “Where’s their scoring”?
Think about it. How do you get to twenty goals (Steen) and fourteen goals (Backes) and just not show up one night? It’s not that they weren’t getting their minutes. As of the end of period two, the former player had about fourteen minutes, the latter twelve. For perspective, the Kings’ leading scorer is Kopitar, seven goals, and second is Richards, with six. Justin Williams has ten goals and is third on the team in points.
By the end of the game, which the Kings won, 3-2, Steen had 23:24 and Backes 20:32, mainly because Hitchcock rode them hard all through, but most particularly in the third frame.
Here are a few observations about the two Blues scorers in the third period. First off, they spent an awful lot of time on the ice, both regular strength and power play. But they didn’t produce anything. The team did get two goals, but one was after a power play had just expired. On that PP, the lineup to start was Backes and Roy, Oshie, Steen, and Shattenkirk. The first three tries on the man advantage were all useless. They made an ill-advised long pass that got picked off and went down the ice. They rushed but without being all up together and had the puck turn over. And they had the puck go under a stick (this was on the second unit, with Boumeester at the blueline) and down the ice. So there was nothing doing at all. The goal came off Shattenkirk’s stick, assisted by Tavasenko (and Schwartz). The second goal was exactly the opposite (minus Schwartz).
When Steen was on the ice at full strength, he was all over the offcnsive zone. And when he was waiting for a breakout pass, he was skating furiously backwards and sideways at
the same time, like his movement was irrepressible. Once, he beat two guys and got a shot on net. Then a moment later, he got the puck behind the net and went backhand for a shot that was saved by Ben Scrivens. In short, when he felt like cranking it up, he certainly could.
But neither he nor Backes was on the sheet at the end, and Backes explained the play: “It’s a heck of an uphill climb to try to get back in the game and get a lead. . . . We’ve had a couple of tough lessons in a row with these two games [this one and a 6-3 loss against Colorado on the 27th]. Tonight it was chasing it, but not winning the battles on the walls.” He later said, “The best way to win these games is not to let them get up 3-0. It was a one-goal game tonight, but we could have been a lot better if we had not let them start the right way and had a committed effort for sixty minutes from everyone on the ice.”
So here’s another way to think about it: the Blues have a lot of goals, and their differential is high. But when one end lets down just a bit (Halak) and the other end fails just a little bit (the scorers), there’s not a lot of room for error. And so when both ends sag, they’re dead in the water.
The St. Louis team now goes home to face the Isles and Ducks, while LA heads to Anaheim for a Tuesday night tilt.
You can follow me @growinguphockey, and I wish you would. Pure nonsense, most of twitter, but that’s OK, eh?
Yes, Sutter always says it’s a 3-2 league. But after the game Monday, he said nothing. The team apologized that he was not available for comments.