Let’s face it, part of the fun in following a hockey team is in the soap opera aspect of the unfolding season. Sure, we’d all like to see our team win every game and the Stanley Cup. But isn’t it more interesting if they pull some surprises from time to time? Isn’t it better when they go from down to up, out to in, bad to good, than just being great all year long?
If you’re a Montreal Canadiens fan and the season is the one where they lost only eight games (1976-77), then maybe you’re OK with dominance. Otherwise, it’s a game of changes, and the season’s never dull, even when your team is losing.
So it is with the Kings, still the worst offensive team in the NHL, and now having played in half a dozen 1-0 or 0-1 games, losing all but two. Check that. Coming into Saturday that was the case. Exiting it, they’d played in seven, and lost four.
Why? Because they’re a terrible, boring hockey club, and their only saving grace is that they’ve got one of the best three or four goalies in the league. If not for Jonathan Quick, they’d be midway between ninth in the West, where they are after losing to Calgary, and fifteenth. That’s right—down in Edmonton-Columbus territory.
The numbers are plain. The Kings have scored 124 goals. They’ve given up 126. The Jackets have scored 133. They’ve given up 186. The Oilers are minus 21 in goals. The Sabres minus 31. That’s goaltending. Oh, sure, and defense, etc. But if not for Jonathan Quick, this thing would have sunk like the Italian ferry a long while ago.
What’s wrong? Anze Kopitar won’t go to the net, as detailed by Gann Matsuda at FrozenRoyalty.net this week. Their second line, and no, this is neither a joke nor a misprint, is currently Mike Richards with Dwight King (seven career NHL games) and Jordan Nolan (7th round pick). Is that what the team acquired him for?
Imagine the scene: “OK, Mike, you’re going to go to LA.”
“What? I’m happy here in Philly.”
“Yeah, but the girls are pretty out there. And you can drive your Ferrari all year long.”
“OK, but only if I can get decent linemates.”
”Don’t worry, we’re sending Simon Gagne out there too. And if he doesn’t work out, they’ve got Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Justin Williams. Imagine the possibilities.”
See the reality.
He goes from Jaret Stoll and Dustin Penner (recently a healthy scratch for three games and a universally acknowledged disaster in this stint out West) to two youngsters, big guys at 6’3” but with no experience and arguably not a ton of skill between them. That’s not the way Darryl Sutter sees it, however.
When asked after the last game why he had King out with the game 1-0 for Phoenix and a minute left on the clock, the answer was something to the tune of, “Well, he’s a good player.”
Really? You have nothing else? No other weapons with which to battle a team that is about to overtake you to slot in seventh in the West? Is the guy being a good player the same thing as his being a good enough one to have on the ice with the game on the line?
Apparently not, and even with Penner in the lineup once more Saturday (Trent Hunter was sent to Manchester, freeing up a roster spot, and Stoll is still hurt), things were bleak.
Neither team scored until the third period, and then it was the visitors. Not to say the goalies didn’t play a part. Both were good, Kiprusoff great at times, as on saves on Williams late in the third and on Richards in the second, when he made a diving glove save with half the net wide open. And each team, by my count, hit at least two posts, so each goalie was both good and lucky.
To round out the non-story of the game (I mean, when there’s just one goal, what’s to report?) the Kings, of course, made the obligatory goalie pull with about a minute left in the game, and even then couldn’t get anything really going. Oh heck, let’s just say it—the crowd was big. Like the place was full, which is almost never true, even when NHL sellouts are announced. And the crowd didn’t even bother to boo. They had either been lulled to sleep or were too disgusted to bother. That’s Kings hockey these days.
Other points of interest: Mike Richards is going to be the subject of an NHL36 eposide.
The team wore its retro jerseys in honor of Charlie Simmer, who was honored before the game. He gave a long and very interesting interview between periods two and three. More on that later.
I’m on Duck Calls with Josh Sunday, AM830, after the game (around 6:00pm Pacific).
Please check out my new book, My Country Is Hockey. And you can follow my infrequent, but not boring, tweets @growinguphockey.