Kings Blow Late Lead against Coyotes

“[Jeff] Halpern is a healthy scratch tonight,” said the guy over
the press box speaker at the start of the Kings-Coyotes game Thursday night.

Intrigue? Not
really. 

Coach Terry Murray was just
intent on keeping his fourth line of Brad Richardson, Raitis Ivanans and Scott Parse together. They had been a unit two nights ago in Anaheim and done well. That,
plus the presence of Ivanans might, he probably thought, be necessary with the
Coyotes in town. Their leading
penalty getter: Paul Bissonnette, with 112 minutes. Just behind is Martin Hanzal with 102.

Actually, the Kings’ fourth line did more than deter the
other side from unneeded acts of violence. At least in the first period, they played some good
hockey. Or maybe everyone else on
the squad just played bad hockey. Or maybe not bad hockey, but just the kind of lazy, uninspired hockey
that  seems to have become their
trademark in the past few weeks.

The only good chance that the Kings had in the first period – after amassing a total of five shots on goal – was when Richardson came out of the corner with
a shot. Ivanans was on the
doorstep looking for a rebound. The puck bounced past him, but the play was a threat.

The rest of the time, the Kings broke
into the zone with just one man, or they sat back in their own zone defending
against needless penalties, a total of three. In fact, that shot total is a bit deceptive, if that can
be.

The Kings had two until about
two minutes left, and they then got one long shot on Jason LaBarbera, another,
and another in the last six seconds of the frame. They played like it was a two-shot effort, to be accurate
about it.

The only reason the Coyotes didn’t prevail with a goal was
that they weren’t much better than LA. On their three power plays, they had just two shots, neither one
dangerous. Their best chance in
the 20 minutes was a slapshot from the point by James Vandermeer. Jonathan Quick, once again in goal, was
out high, above the crease, and he got it and swallowed up the puck.

Did you read that right? Yes, Quick was in goal. 

This despite being relieved of his duties after allowing
three goals on eight shots in Anaheim Tuesday. And despite the fact that his counterpart, Erik Ersberg,
held things together while the Kings came back from 4-1 to tie the game in
regulation. And despite the fact
that he then held on for OT and the shootout in an effort that saw his team
come out ahead by a 5-4 score.

Why? You figure
it out. Either Murray continues to
ride a tired horse, or else he thinks Quick is far better than his understudy,
or perhaps he just can’t quite pull the trigger to rest the guy. But since the team isn’t playing all
that well, it seems like the ideal time to give Quick a rest. Maybe the logic is that he needs time
in net to tune up (going back to Murray’s thoughts that he didn’t get a lot of
good practice time at the Olympics), and since he’s a kid anyway, tiredness
isn’t a factor. 

Whatever way you figure it, it’s not working. The team is not rallying to their
keeper’s defense, literally or figuratively. And Quick is not stealing games. Something has to change somewhere if this squad has hopes of
doing anything but stinking out the town come playoff time next week. Some people think the best solution is
to bring up Jonathan Bernier and hope for a magical run, for which there is
precedent in league history, if not in the Kings’ past.

Back to the action Thursday night, the Kings’ fourth line
did indeed engage in some rough stuff in the form of Mr. Ivanans whacking it
out with Bissonnette early in period two in the Phoenix end. At the other end of the rink, Quick was called upon to make his best save of the game on a wrap-around from
left to right by Radim Vrbata. Quick spread out with a splits to block the shot.

The Kings got a big play from their big player midway through the period. Drew
Doughty took a puck near center and zoomed toward the Phoenix end. Across their blueline, he split the
defense and went in on goal. There, he deked Jason LaBarbera out of position and scored. 

Is this guy as good as Bobby Orr? At least at moments, he is. And those are getting more frequent. Bets in the press box Thursday night
have the play appearing on Coach’s Corner Saturday afternoon (or evening, for
those of you in the East).

The second period ended with the Kings having been down four
minutes on a Randy Jones brain fade—a high-sticking double minor in front of
his net with the puck not within 15 feet—but no further scoring on either
side. The Coyotes at this point
had enjoyed five man advantages and fired just three shots on those.

Overall, the two teams had mustered
about what one team should in a game in terms of shots: 30. The tally was exactly even at 15 apiece. Which means, of course,
that between them, they were 10 shots light.

For the Kings, this represented something of an improvement
over period one, with ten shots on the frame. In terms of the action, though, there was still just the
minimum.  Neither team could set up
in the other’s end, and no one star (Doughty excepted) was able to bust through
and show his stuff. In other
words, this looked more like an early season game where everyone’s just feeling
out and trying to find his way than a late-season contest between two teams
which are in the playoffs.

What was wrong with these guys? That’s exactly what everyone in LA has been trying to figure
out for weeks. In Phoenix, the
questions are probably not as intense, given that their team has won 5-2 and
3-2 in its last couple of games, and that they reeled off nine straight wins in
March and have points in four of their last six games, including three
wins. Of course, it might also be
that everyone is so busy debating the merits of their ownership situation that
they don’t have time to discuss what’s going on on the ice.

But hold on just a second. As if to reprise his fellow blueliner’s beautiful goal, Jack
Johnson got one of his own. He
singlehandedly took the puck from two Phoenix players in front of his own net,
and gutted it out of the zone up the left boards. Once clear of the enemy, he flipped it ahead to Ryan
Smyth. Smyth took it (alone,
again) into the Phoenix zone. There, he faked a slapshot and passed it to Johnson, who had caught him
up. He took it toward the net on
the left side, moved to the front with a forehand-backhand move, and flipped it
into the top of the cage to give the Kings a 2-0 lead.

Phoenix got one back with about six minutes left when Wojtek Wolski
took a puck behind the net and fed it back out against the grain to Matthew Lombardi. They added a second when Zbynek Michalek took a low shot from the point which Taylor Pyatt gave a slight
redirect to in front of the net. The puck went through Quick’s legs as he was down. He seemed, for some reason, to open the
five hole briefly and then close it, but a second too late.

So let’s recap. The Kings got two picture-perfect goals, but neither one from any of
their 12 forwards. They blew a
two-goal lead in the last half of the last period. Their goalie looked a little outmatched on the second goal.

To go back to the standings and playoff matchups, though,
Phoenix is fourth for sure. The
Kings are fifth, sixth, or seventh almost for sure. That means that LA and Phoenix might see one another again,
for their lives, starting next week sometime. 

You’d think that with these stakes, each team would be
playing at a level to impress the other. Or perhaps each was playing possum Thursday night, not
showing its good stuff, and waiting until the real games begin.

Any way you figure it, Kings fans saw
a win, but not a great one. Phoenix fans, by contrast, watched their team lose and might just do so
again when they play their last game of the season Saturday against San Jose. And, of course, there’s always the
possibility that they were just playing not to get hurt, since nothing
whatsoever would change for them, win or lose.

The game eventually went to a shootout, where Anze Kopitar
scored first and Vrbata last through three rounds to tie it at 1-1. In round four, Jared Stoll went high glove and LaBarbera got the
save, then Adrian Aucoin went right in and scored low. Quick stayed down for a second, on his knees,
likely disappointed and perhaps showing a little bit of frustration.

The Kings now have two games left as they host Edmonton on
Saturday before ending their season on the road in Colorado on Sunday.

Brian Kennedy
appears on the Fox Sports Puck Podcast this week. Download and listen Saturday.

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