In the End, Jagr

Jaromir Jagr was largely visible because of mistakes, if needless penalties fall into that category, on Thursday night in Los Angeles. But when it mattered, he was the big man, and in doing what he did, he put himself in elite company with a former teammate. But that was way late in the going.

Long before 68s heroics, the Kings fired 14 pucks at Cory Schneider in period one, to no avail. Meanwhile, the Devils played a fast and loose first period and yet had only two shots on Ben Scrivens to show for their efforts. Why fast and loose?

Their blueline play, for one thing. They threw the puck across the stripe with nary a care. One time, it was intercepted, by Trevor Lewis, shorthanded. He went rushing down the ice on a breakaway. As he got to the net, he was caught, but he got off a tricky low shot that Schneider saved. It was followed by a rebound, a shot taken by Tanner Pearson. The attempt went a foot wide.

The only real chance the team had in the first period was on another play that skirted the Kings’ blueline. It was a pass across to Adam Larsson, who barely got a stick on it before an intercepting King did. Once Larsson had it, he took it down the right side boards, and he fired on Ben Scrivens. The shot was high, and Scrivens launched himself upwards to get it. One wonders: Is this the book on this guy, shoot high?

The Devils also enjoyed a power play chance, which they completely squandered. They could barely get the puck into the LA zone, and when they did, it mostly stayed up high near the blueline. It was perhaps to be expected from a team that came into the night with twentieth spot in the league in terms of PP performance locked up. As for their kill, it was mostly to Schneider’s credit that the Kings were kept off the board. On the one chance that the LA team had with the extra man, New Jersey shut them down. They were, after all, the seventh-best team in the league at doing that entering the game. But LA had the puck in their end the whole time, and it wasn’t that the Devils were particularly disruptive of what they wanted to do. The Kings just couldn’t make it click, despite a chance by Dustin Brown where he got a pass, whirled around, and shot from right in front of the net.

The irony of this game, in one sense, is that both teams came in roughly in the same spot in their conferences. The Devils were eighth in the East, the Kings seventh in the West. The Devils were third in the Metropolitan Division, the Kings fourth in the Pacific. But the Devils had exactly 21 points in 21 games. That works out to, what? About a point a game (kidding). The Kings had played 22 games, and they were sporting 31 points. That works out to, what about 1.476 points a game? (Yeah, I used a calculator. But I knew how to do the math, which is what should be impressing you.) What does all that tell you? The same thing I talked about a couple of nights ago—that the West is one darn tough conference to survive in.

Anyway, as the game went on, one odd moment came in the second period. Scrivens lost his stick with about five minutes gone, and he stayed in net while it spun to the corner. The Devils then got the puck back to the point, and Larsson laced a slapshot. Scrivens blockered it into the corner, still with no stick. His d-men left him standing there without it while play went on. Nobody seemed to realize what was going on. (“Hey, kid, I’m good enough to play without it,” the wizened old guy said—that’s a lie). Finally, a man whacked the stick back towards the net. Scrivens picked it up. Wasn’t broken. Wouldn’t have mattered if it was. The goaltender can play with a broken twig, unlike any other player on the ice.

The Kings had a chance to make something of the 0-0 score past midway in the period, because of a weak call on a trip by Jaromir Jagr. This was, in truth, only the second time that he’d been noticeable all night. Once in the first, he amassed about four and a half minutes of playing time in the first, and once, he was in front and off to the left of the LA net with the puck. Otherwise, he wasn’t noticed. Until the end. But wait for that.

The penalty allowed the Kings to put on some more pressure, and to up their shot total, which by the end of the period was 27-5 in their favor, but it didn’t make a dent in the nothing-nothing score. The Kings had a number of good chances, with the puck zipping through the crease in the last second of the game in a play that had been replicated more than once in the game. Thing is, that doesn’t get you anything on the stat sheet, though it’s highly likely that a redirect could result in a goal. That didn’t happen in these instances, of course.

New Jersey is not a team that shoots a ton anyway, but five shots over two periods had to be about the lowest in team history. Notable this season is that three times up until Tuesday, they had notched fewer than twenty, with two totals of 19 and one of 14. As is well-known, they also contain their opponents very well, with the season low of 15 shots being set by Nashville, and a 17 shots-against performance being posted by Tampa Bay.

The third proceeded apace until the late going, when each team scored on successive shots. The Devils took their eighth, a chance that saw Ryan Carter go from the right to the left side of the LA net and put a backhand over Scrivens from the left dot. Right after, the Kings took shot thirty, this one a wrister by Kopitar. It went through Schneider’s arm and was tapped in by Justin Williams for his ninth goal of the year. By my observation, they didn’t credit two shots on the play, though clearly there were two.

New Jersey had a power play that was as futile as their others had been, with nothing much generated. Jagr got the puck at the right boards and put a shot-pass to the net for Steve Bernier, but it didn’t get through. One other shot on the chance did. They did manage to control the play and keep the puck in the zone, unlike prior, working the Kings’ penalty killers until they were gassed. The chance ended with Vey knocked the puck out of the zone on a deflection at the blueline. He had no legs to go after it.

OT had Jagr featured again, taking another penalty, offset by Brown’s two minutes for embellishment. When they both got out, they stayed on the ice. A pass by Zidlicky found Jagr in the middle of the slot. He glided backwards, not seeing the net, by his later admission. He shot. He scored the goal that put him in an all-time tie with Mario Lemieux at 690.

After, he said, jokingly (perhaps) that he is a right wing like Howe was a right wing. “He played until he was 50, and I got nine years to go, so . . .” and here he offered a big wink. Earlier, he had commented that he thought his team fortunate to win. “You don’t get points for looking good,” he said his father told him. “So you’ve got to score goals.” Nice taking the advice of dear old dad, though too bad for the Kings, who dominated on the shot clock at least, at 35-15. Interestingly, New Jersey outshot LA in the third, and they each had three in OT.

For the Kings, both Tanner Pearson and Linden Vey had moments of brilliance and mostly excellent play overall. Notable for Vey was a play that turned into a 3-on-1 where he dished off to Tyler Toffoli, who passed over to Matt Frattin on the left side of the New Jersey zone. He shot the puck long side wide. Vey was labeled a playmaker by Coach Sutter a week or so ago, and he has played in eight games thus far, notching four assists in the first seven.

Kings Notes

Look! Buy my book for Christmas, please. Pond Hockey. It’s a novel.

The Kings have Greene, Clifford, and Carter on IR, as has been the case. They scratched Colin Fraser, Jordan Nolan, and Quick, who is also hurt. Nolan had played in all five three games up until the New York Rangers game on the 17th of November. He has now sat out three in a row.

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