Boy, did the LA Kings dodge a bullet on Wednesday night at home versus Columbus. They got out to a lead, let it get tied, got the lead again, tied again, and won the game. With .3 seconds left on the clock. Not three seconds. Three-tenths of one second. It was a win they didn’t deserve by some measures, but one that their coach said wouldn’t be remembered as being so close a month from now. It’s just two points.
The team outshot the Blue Jackets 33-22, true. And they won the faceoff battle and the hits, 30-25. But they played down to the level of the other team, although the coach denied that idea afterwards, saying that Columbus was not by any means the marginal team that their standings results would appear to make them out to be.
The truth was more in what he had said to open his comments, namely that the Kings “were real average” on the night. “The difference between this game and the last time we played Columbus was special teams. The last time we had eight power plays and didn’t score [they lost 1-0]; this time we did score two power play goals. And then we kill Justin [Williams’] penalty.” That was for interference with about ten minutes gone in the third and the score knotted at twos.
Drew Doughty was quick to admit his team’s faults. “In the second and even the third, we were a little slow. I thought we let them take it back to us, so, you know, it wasn’t a great game for us.” He added, “We’ve just got to learn from the wrong things we did and build off this game.”
He wasn’t too upset, however, having been the one who scored the winning goal. That came on the power play after Columbus’s Pahlsson was called for holding with a little over a minute left. The call was marginal, as others had been during the game. And it came on the heels of a missed goalie interference penalty that would have put the Kings a man down.
The goal was a rebound that Doughty found while pinching in, a smart move with just a couple of seconds on the clock. He pushed it ahead and over the goal line, but the clock ran out of time as he did so. The LA players and the fans celebrated, though somewhat mutely. Columbus stayed on their bench as if overtime were pending, while the Kings started to file out. After a couple of minutes, the signal came that the goal was good, time having not run out when the puck crossed the line. The goal, naturally, came at 19:59 of the third, but there was no faceoff to come after. Instead, it was over.
The timing of the goal allowed his coach to muse on the old days in his post-game thoughts. “You know what, you never used to [pause]. You’d need the red light to come on, right? Used to be you never had the tenth [‘s of seconds]. In the old Chicago Stadium, it was just a clock.” He then made a sweeping motion with his hands to mimic the hands of a clock.
After the game, Justin Williams also noted some flaws in LA’s play. “Anytime you have a lead going into the third period, you have to lock that down. We have to clean up a few things,” he said. He scored the team’s first goal and is playing noticeably better in the last handful of games. “I feel I’m making more good plays than bad, and that’s important for a creative guy,” he said.
His coach also mentioned that he sees Williams playing with confidence, and that this is what has improved his game. He now has points in nine straight, though he doesn’t put a lot of stock in that per se. “I do feel more confident. I think points are a deceiving stat, but I know my effort is there,” the player said.
Notable for a good game also was Dustin Penner, who scored the team’s second goal on a turnover at the Columbus blueline. He took the puck toward the net, ripped it, and beat Curtis Sanford on the short side past his glove. It was the kind of goal he was supposed to be scoring all year, but only his fourth. That’s the same number Doughty has, by the way.
Sutter has been saying since he got to LA that it’s a 3-2 league, and with the score actually being 3-2, it was a bet to see who would mention it first. No press people did, but Sutter did. “It’s a 3-2 league,” he said. And when we laughed, he said, “It is.” But he wasn’t willing to talk about Columbus with disparaging words. “There’s not a lot of difference in the teams,” he said. “I’m sure the guys at the start of this year said Columbus is going to be a lot higher team than they are.” In fact, they’re missing what are arguably their top four defensemen.
The style they play is what any weaker team does—give it to the guy with the touch (Nash) and hope he can make a play. Their power play is awful, barely registering any zone time, let alone much danger. They can’t break out of their own zone at even strength, either. They do start periods well, as they did in two and three here, and they can make plays at times. On both goals, they made quick passes and adjustments to the puck, scoring pretty goals. Odd for a team that lives the cliché, “we’ll take them any way we can get them.”
When pressed about the fact that the team had pulled out a squeaker, Sutter said, “I can only remember losing two games in the last six weeks, so . . .” and then the words grew faint in his mouth. He didn’t need to say more. He’d made the point.
LA starts a six-game road trip in St. Louis Friday, but the coach doesn’t see it as a six-game trip, but rather as a series of two-game sets. They play back-to-back to start and end the trip, against Calgary and Colorado February third and fourth, and then against the Isles and Stars on the eleventh and twelfth. Sutter said, “We’re just going to go one at a time. I couldn’t tell you [what the record will be]. It’s two tough back-to-back. You’re going into the Eastern time zone to start, you get in in the middle of the night.” He then elaborated on the schedule and said again, “I don’t look at it as six games.”
The team actually has a better road record than home record this year, being 10-5-6, so it’s not a make-or-break deal.
As the season goes on, the Kings also play a number of games in a row with teams who are behind them in the standings, including Phoenix, Calgary, Carolina, and others. It’s no guarantee, since the team doesn’t play all that well consistently against teams with worse records than they have, but with a cushion of six points on the ninth-place team, they have some room to breathe.
The coach compared Penner to Frank Mahovlich, prompting one local radio guy to ask, “These days, or back when he played?”
Please join me at Vroman’s in Pasadena, where I’ll be reading from My Country Is Hockey on February 9th at 7pm. VromansBookstore.com for information.
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