Bob Miller, longtime Kings’ TV announcer, was clearly beside himself to welcome people to the arena Saturday afternoon. His smile big and bright, he was at center ice standing at a podium surrounded by history and dignitaries. History was in the form of the Clarence Campbell trophy and the Conn Smythe. Dignity in the form of the Kings’ braintrust—Tim Leiweke, Dean Lombardi, and Luc Robitaille. Eventually, the Stanley Cup would be brought in to join them.
Soon after, the players from last season were introduced. Each skated out to center and got his Stanley Cup ring. Then the Cup made an appearance and all the players got to hoist it over their heads as they handed it to one another in turn. Finally, the banner went up, the players all helping to get it in place.
It was the moment, or series of them, that people have dreamed about in SoCal since, well, since before a human landed on the moon and back when Elvis Presley wasn’t a puffed up version of himself, or dead. It was what they’ve been buying tickets for for decades. And it was spine-tingling.
Good thing that this was included in the price of the ticket, because, unfortunately, after this bit of theater, there was a hockey game to be played, and only one team played it. You probably know by now that was the visitors.
The Kings were outshot by the Blackhawks just 22-21, but they had only one or two good chances all afternoon while the Hawks generated offense and took advantage of power plays to win 5-2. But it was not the scoresheet which told the story. The Kings were behind the play all afternoon. What their coach described after the game as being “just a foot or two out of position” when talking about a neutral zone mistake was somehow multiplied as the best players on Chicago took over.
Patrick Kane looked huge, never more so than when he tried a pass on an early Chicago power play. When it didn’t connect, he got the puck back and buried it himself.
To be fair, goalie Quick had no chance, as it was 5-on-3. But Quick wasn’t as sharp moving side to side as he had been all last year. Easy to say when you know his back was injured and that he had surgery to correct a disk problem, but replays show him just not getting across like he did last year. He said after the game, very politely and without apology, “I’ve been saying all week that everything’s fine, and it is.”
Back on the Chicago side, Marian Hossa scored a goal, the team’s second. Toews got one, on a Kane rebound that he followed to the net. In fact, he came down the middle lane unchallenged, the poor goalie spinning on his knees and trying to get back around to the puck that the Captain put behind him with no real chance. Hossa added another later with Toews getting the assist. In short, Chicago’s big guns were gunning, with no response from LA.
For his part, Coach Sutter was his truculent best afterwards. When asked by a woman reporter what he saw that the team needed to do, he refused an answer. Instead, he asked her what she’d seen. He ended the encounter by saying that almost everything needed working on, but that he couldn’t mention anything in specific that needed working on.
In other words, “Bug off, people. I know we didn’t play well.” As he said on Monday night talking about the event ahead of time, “they’re not machines, they’re people,” when referencing his players. In other words, all of this was going to affect them, the hype, the fact that they were given their rings just before the game. How could it not?
Perhaps a bit troubling was that none of the team’s mature leaders could settle things down, though Rob Scuderi scored a rare goal for LA. But at least, he and Captain Brown were in the locker room after the game, willing to take questions, able to say without flinching that this won’t do.
For Brown’s part, it came out in a sensible disquisition about timing and systems. He said they just needed to get things settled down. Though nobody’s changed and the team’s system is not different, a little more practice time will sharpen the Kings up.
Scuderi took a different approach, saying that players need to play, not be distracted by ceremony. Neither guy was angry, though, nor desperate. You wonder what will happen a month from now if things are not better. Will it be the old, grim-faced Brown, the captain whose will demands an answer, or is this Stanley Cup enough, really?
Right now, nobody’s saying anything but “repeat,” at least they weren’t last week. But to get there, the rings have to go in the safe deposit box and be forgotten. The team now goes on the road to sort things out, the cliche being that getting away from distractions will allow them to focus. Fortunately, nobody said that Saturday. That would have been too easy.
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