When the media is let into the LA Kings’ locker room most nights, it’s about five minutes after the game, and many players are already undressed and off to the showers. The few who are still there are either goalies (lots of equipment), leaders (Dustin Brown), the guy who did something good and figures he’ll be needed to describe it, and the slowpokes who take a long time to get out of their stuff.
Monday night after the Kings blew a first period lead and got outworked all night by the (supposedly) lowly Maple Leafs, the wait to get to the players was over 10 minutes, maybe almost 15. And when they let the horde in, most guys were still sitting there, nearly fully dressed.
The trouble was, nobody would say what had happened in the interregnum, leaving the matter open for guessing. However, there was some evidence that certain things had been said, and by whom. First, a few guys commented that in the game, it was not enough that they play hard for nine minutes, the last nine.
“We start off in the first period, and then we get away from our game,” Brown said. “We played desperate the last nine minutes of the game trying to get back into it.”
“It’s pretty easy to play desperate at the end of it, look good when you’ve got nothing to lose. You can’t put forth the best effort at the end of the game,” noted defenseman Matt Greene. “We need to play a tight game throughout the whole night, even keel. Right now, we’re not doing that.
“Obviously, guys are going to talk after a game like that, so Terry [Murray] came in and said things that need to be said. We’ve got to listen to it, roll with it, and take it in and do what he talks about.”
Are you hearing some continuity? There are various versions of “the team did not play the whole game.” And there’s the notion that the coach gave them a good chewing out.
In fact, the game didn’t get on track for LA, despite its 1-0 first-period lead. But after the break, they let the Leafs score two goals in about half a minute early on in the second period. Things didn’t get better as the frame went on, as the Leafs, who had been outshot 8-5 in the first, outshot the Kings 12-7 in the second.
On the positive side of the game, the Kings got great goaltending from Jonathan Quick in the loss, as Greene noted.
“You can’t fault goaltending in any game we’ve played this year. It’s a common thing,” he said.
But they lost to the Leafs, who by all accounts are already out of the playoffs. Why?
Looking at the game from above, it was obvious that the Kings were not able to deal with the wheels of several Leafs players, notably Phil Kessel, Nikolai Kulemin, and Mikhail Grabovski. Time and again, they beat Kings’ defensemen by scooting around them at the boards. Often, passes were fed to the front of the net and redirected on Quick. Leg saves seemed to be the theme of the night for both goaltenders as pucks came at the off redirections from four or five feet out.
Could it be that the Kings underestimated the team quickness of an opponent which the press keeps telling all of us is out of sorts?
“Our coaches do a great job of scouting the other team,” Greene said. “It doesn’t matter who you’re playing, it’s the NHL. Teams are good.”
The tone wasn’t exactly angry, but sounded kind of weary, maybe fed up. It matched the mood of Brown, who was resigned in his demeanor. Unhappy, both of these guys, who probably were also smarting from the load of grief they’d likely just taken from Murray.
“Some of the players were talking in there before I went in,” said the Kings coach. “They were talking about the game. You guys saw the game where we came out in the second period after a pretty good start in the first and got away totally from everything that was going the right way. Turning pucks over in the neutral zone, not getting the puck in, not skating the right way in our pursuit of the puck.
“[Toronto] kept coming at us. They had some speed on their rushes, and [we] made some decisions whenever the attack was coming at us that were not correct and not right and it ends up in our net. Emotionally, we just let up on the gas pedal I felt in that second period.”
Other nights, Murray has been more complimentary of his team in losses, pointing to the fact that games slip away in single moments sometimes, or that bounces just don’t go your way. Neither of these would have explained this 3-2 loss, though. The Kings saw their defensemen standing still, both at the Toronto blueline and in retreat to their own end, while Kessel and company blew around them.
Let’s review. According to the players, the problem with the lack of adequate answer for Toronto’s fleetness is not the coaching. It’s not that the Kings couldn’t deal with the speed of the opponents. And the reason for the loss is not lack of skill, it’s just that the LA squad decided for some reason to play a nine-minute game, rather than a sixty-minute one.
So what ought to be done with the Kings? There’s really nobody to sit. Willie Mitchell and Alexi Ponikarovsky have both just come back from injury. Neither looked good on this evening. Mitchell got beaten badly by Grabovski in the third. Ponikarovsky was demoted from the first line midway through the game.
There’s enough youth on the team now that bringing someone up from Manchester won’t cause a meaningful shakeup, but would only make unsteady a lineup which is already on shifting ground.
So what do you do? Make a trade? They just got Marco Sturm. Change up lines? That’s just been done, too, a couple of games ago. The result was that the whole team was out of synch, stalled at the blueline time after time.
This team’s in trouble, and there are no answers any better than everybody’s got to play harder, longer. But if a four-game losing streak at home, followed by a game in which they almost let the other team come back, followed by a game lost to one of the worst teams in the league, at least on paper, isn’t enough, what will be?
Murray has two days to figure it out before the St. Louis Blues come to town.