Kings Capitalize on Blues’ Collapse

It’s hard to know where the story is when one team goes up 4-1, fights, chases the opposite goalie, and then collapses into a heap of nothingness, allowing the other team to score five unanswered goals and loses 6-4. Actually, it’s not that hard. The story is, the St. Louis Blues collapsed as badly as they could Tuesday night visiting Los Angeles.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock took forever to exit the dressing room for his press conference after, spent 1:08 talking to a reporter from his hometown paper, then turned back and disappeared, leaving other questions unanswered.

What was there to say, really? His few comments told the tale pretty well. “We made a few mistakes, and the puck ended up in our net,” was one gem. “We played a hell of a hockey game, then turned the puck over and lost a little bit of composure in the third period.” That was pretty much how he saw it.

“I’m not commenting on the goaltending,” he rebuffed a question. “We’ve gotta show more composure.”??He did actually answer one LA writer’s question, about losing momentum. “The second goal gave them the momentum. The second goal that went in, gave them the momentum going into the third period. That was a big factor.” Third period? That was way, way down the line. The action, violence, and scoring had piled up a ton by then.

The Blues got out to a one-goal lead late in period one, and then the Kings answered less than a minute later. The Blues potted another one last in the period. They then came out in the second and scored at 1:14, putting Jonathan Bernier on the bench and Quick in net.

That’s a pretty good sign, chasing a goalie who has won five straight before he’s been in for 22 minutes. So is scoring three goals on eight shots. If that wasn’t enough, the Blues scored to make it 4-1 five minutes later, against Quick. Game, over, in most circumstances. Not on this night.

What happened? Hitchcock further said, “We turned it over because they checked us off the puck.” He’s alluding not just to that, but the physical nature of the whole game. There were ten penalties called on the Blues, eight on the Kings. In the first period alone, there were three fights. The middle one, Roman Polak and Kyle Clifford, was right before a faceoff and right after the first tussle. They went at it, with Clifford scoring a clean knockout, and then skating away.

They always say that that kind of things turns games, but you’ve read the recap up to the middle of period two, and you realize that the Blues were carrying it until then, lost fight notwithstanding.

The Kings were down 4-1 when they scored at 13:38 of the second to make it 4-2. Still, the Blues controlled the puck, and even as late as the end of the period, the shots were Blues 10, Kings 14. Not a barnburner, though six goals had been scored on the 24 combined shots. Yup, that’s a combined save percentage of .75.

The Kings changed everything to start period three. They jumped on the puck and scored, twice within a minute, early. It was thus tied with 2:32 gone in period three. After the game, Kopitar commented on erasing the lead. “You think, you get one early, we’ll scrap another one. We didn’t think we were going to get four, but it worked out for us.” One of the goals was his, the sixth in an eventual 6-4 win for Los Angeles. The Kings are now winners in nine of their last 11 games.

The Kings had won over the Blues in St. Louis in February, 4-1. Thus it might have been thought that the visitors would have a stake in holding their lead as revenge. This not to mention that they could be smarting from being embarrassed by the Kings in the playoffs. Kopitar said, “We knew it was going to be a physical game. . . . Those guys wanted to push us around a little bit, and our guys, or we, stood up pretty good, held ground and pushed back. That’s what you want to do on home ice.”

When they were down 4-1, Jake Muzzin said, the mood on the bench was “not great,” but they knew that they had to stick with it. Their goalie being pulled was, he indicated, something of a motivating factor, and “we stayed with it and we got the win.” He also said, “We were calm” in the face of St. Louis’s onslaught. “We stayed with it. It’s a full sixty minutes. In the third period, we tilted the momentum and we took over. We believe that we could come back.” He scored the team’s first and fourth goals and added an assist on the eventual winner, by scoring machine Jeff Carter.

Coach Sutter, after the game, wasn’t awfully talkative. He started with a joke. Then it was, “We’ve been good in back-to-back games. It’s obviously different at home.” He made reference to some examples, on the road, then talked about the goaltending. “I was going to just split [Bernier and Quick] tonight, so that was a good time to do it, back-to-back games, right.”

He commented on his four “kid” defensemen–Muzzin, who scored twice; Ellerby, with 12 minutes; Voynov, with a goal; and “Drew”, saying they were all really good. Perhaps he meant to add Martinez, rather than Doughty, to this list. The former was coming back from injury, in his second game. He got 11 minutes Tuesday backing up 14 on Monday in his return.

The real difference was strategy and execution. Sutter explained, “We had trouble getting to the middle of the ice in the first period. In the second, trying to do more of it and be more aware of it. You need your top players to do it.” He said of the Blues seeming to back off after they were up 4-1, “It’s probably natural for teams to try to protect it. We tried to [inaudible] our mindset the other way, play like we’re always down one.”

The stats also tell the tale. The Blues had 14 shots all game, the Kings 29. Remember, after two, it was 14-10 for LA. That means the Blues had four in period three, and the Kings 15. Each team had 39 hits, and the Kings won the face-offs with 55%.

The Blues played a nasty game early, though each team commented after that the other was big, suggesting respect that ought to have gone both ways. They got LA running, and they scored enough to win. The difference was in part, poor netminding on their side. The fourth Kings’ goal was a wrist shot from almost the goal line. That tied it, and yet it was only after another went in that Hitchcock changed goalies. Halak came out, Elliott went in, and the sixth goal, the one that buried St. Louis, was another wrist shot, not a bad goal, but a play that was the fault of the defenseman, Ian Cole, who turned it over at the blueline. The collapse, at that point, was total.

The Kings now see the Stars Thursday. “Big, skilled team, especially up front,” Sutter said, “They’re a division team. Look forward to playing somebody different.”

Follow me on Twitter @growinguphockey. Read Living the Hockey Dream for stories of a lot of Kings’ players.

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