The L.A. Kings are losing, though not by a lot. Saturday night, they lost, 2-1, against the Chicago Blackhawks.
In the prior six games, all losses except one game, won in OT, the worst margin was three goals. That happened twice.
“I didn’t like our game overall here tonight,” Terry Murray said after Saturday’s game. “I thought we were sporadic. There were times in the game when we were really good, but it’s a sixty-minute game.”
There are two apparent causes of the problem. The first, the team has tried to address, and it’s the lack of a steady left winger who can play on the second line (or first, depending on what you call the Kopitar-Brown-someone else trio—the assured first line continues to be Smyth-Stoll-Williams).
What they’re trying now is to have Wayne Simmonds with the aforementioned duo, moving Brown from right to left wing (he shoots right) in the process. Saturday, while Murray seemed generally pleased with the line, and with Brown in particular, on the ice, they sometimes looked unsure, especially crossing the blueline. They would end up bunched up, each with homing instincts which told him to be somewhere other than where he was.
“They have been doing a pretty good job with puck possession and cycling,” Murray said about the line. “I was hoping they were going to create a lot more in the game tonight than what they did. That’s one of the lines that has to get it turned around for us.”
The trouble with moving Simmonds up is that he and Handzus, along with Alexei Ponikarovsky, were a great shutdown line in the third spot for the Kings. That third line now is made up of Michal Handzus, with Ponikarovsky hurt, and two others, on Saturday Kyle Clifford (up from the fourth line) and Trevor Lewis, two kids with about a half-season’s worth of games under their belts, combined.
That left the fourth being Kevin Westgarth, Brad Richardson, and Dwight King. Never heard of King the King? It was his sixth game, playing about half what he did the last couple of games, at seven minutes. He was second in points on the AHL Monarchs when he was recalled, and he’s just one of a number of names which are probably going to cycle through as the team hopes that depth is hiding in Manchester.
The second problem that’s holding this team back is not being talked about right now, but it’s simple—they don’t have a defenseman who can score. Willie Mitchell, who is injured, scored just four times last year. Matt Greene twice. Jack Johnson eight goals. Drew Doughty had 16 last season, but he’s on pace for five right now.
Part of the problem is that nobody, not from any position, is shooting the puck. The Kings had nine shots in period one Saturday, about up to average, but just three in the second. The coach after had a funny take on that, given that his team was at home.
“It says on the sheet I saw at the end of second period we had three shots on goal. I disagree with that,” he said. “We had a couple of real good opportunities there; there was more than three shots on net. But the bottom line is we’re not getting enough there on a consistent basis to give ourselves an opportunity to find those second and third opportunities.”
But with the defense particularly, there’s nobody with a cannon, except Doughty. Nobody is feared, because none has a laser like Lubomir Visnovsky used to. Only Doughty can shoot off a one-timer at the point. Johnson can’t hit the net no matter how much time he has. And the others aren’t fast enough to get one away before defenses have time to adjust.
Jarrett Stoll has been playing the point on the power play, and he’s got a one-timer, but against the Hawks, he didn’t use it, instead looking pass.
“Scoring is something we’ve got to make it happen,” Murray said. “You’ve gotta pay a price to score sometimes. . . . Too often, in consecutive games recently. There’s things we need to get better at.”
Murray also pointed to another factor in the loss to the Hawks, which is bad luck. The first Chicago goal was “Bad luck. That is unbelievable. It was a two-on-one for us, and it hit the shaft of his stick. If the pass goes to our player, that defenseman is sliding, he’s below the goal line, out of the play, and it’s a tap-in goal. Jack [Johnson] comes in and looks for the shot, and unfortunately it gets blocked and they have a two-on-one going the other way. It was a lucky break. Those are things you just have to absorb.”
The other Hawks goal came when Patrick Kane drove to the net and had one go off his body and carry into the cage. It was reviewed. Lucky, sure, but the Blackhawks had slowly poured it on, holding the puck ever longer, driving it or carrying it deep in the Kings’ end. Kane, in particular, seemed to be able to hold it forever, wheeling about where he willed while the Kings chased. Chicago shoots from everywhere, often whipping wristers through the crease from odd angles hoping for a bounce. Perhaps that’s why everytime one looked at the scoreboard Saturday night, it seemed like the Blackhawks’ shot total was about five behind what it should have been. They ended with 23, to LA’s 22.
After that second goal, scored at 1:06 of the third, the Kings didn’t respond, at least, not intensely enough to score more than a goal, which came on the power play with just three players on the ice for the Blackhawks. The loss left them ninth in the conference, just a point above Anaheim, unbelievable as that might seem, though the Kings have three games in hand on the Ducks.
The team is not panicking, according to Murray, and he’s not feeding the despair (as Randy Carlyle seems to be doing down the road in Anaheim).
“The tone of voice is the correct tone of voice right now on the bench,” said the LA coach. The players are talking, there’s, they’re saying the right things. It’s a confident voice, and they know what needs to get done. I’m not concerned about that.
We’ve got to get this thing corrected right away. It’s uh, it’s an opportunity. . . . That’s something that we’ve got to bring on a more consistent basis, the physicality in our game, and we’ve got to start on Monday night.”
Anze Kopitar concurred in the locker room.
“We’ve got to snap out of this thing really soon now,” said Kopitar. “Just play a little harder and a little smarter there and get back on track.”
The team will be in Anaheim to play the Ducks Monday night.
Brian Kennedy’s book Living the Hockey Dream is an entertaining way to spend an evening or two. Pick it up to stuff your stocking.