The LA Kings finally busted out of their goal-scoring doldrums by unleashing five on the Washington Capitals Monday night at Staples Center. Among the contributors were several who are expected to score (Kopitar, Stoll, Williams), one who doesn’t all that often (Johnson), and one whose goals are as infrequently spaced as Dustin Brown’s teeth (Kyle Clifford).
Looking at the paucity of offensive production this year, the team coming into the night with fewer goals than any team in the league by three, you might think that a five-goal night hasn’t been seen on the season. Wrong. The Kings had played four prior games where they scored cinco, though it hadn’t happened since November 17th in Anaheim. On the other hand, knowing that 20 of their 88 goals had come in four games of 42 makes it even more obvious how sad their offensive progress has been.
Do the math, and you’ll get 68 goals in 38 games. Yikes!
Of the contributors, Clifford added an assist for his first career two-point night and was named the game’s first star. After, he said, “It’s a good source of confidence. We had a little bit of everything tonight . . . . Even our power play got one, so it’s definitely good. You know, we worked hard and we deserved to win there.” He added, “Our mindset it was a playoff game tonight. We needed these two points to keep moving up. Obviously we had a tough one the other night [1-0 loss against Columbus], so it’s good to get the win here.”
On the assist, he flew down the right side of the ice with the puck, head up all the way. He spotted his teammate, Johnson, cruising to the slot (JJ played offensive hockey all night long, ending with three shots and an assist to go along with his goal). Clifford then threw a soft but pinpoint accurate pass over, and Johnson shot it past starter Tomas Vokoun. The goalie was replaced going into period three with the Capitals down 4-1 and took the loss.
What’s interesting, you ask? That on the play, Clifford looked for all the world like a world-class skater and puck-handler, proof enough that these days, there’s no room for a slouch on an NHL roster. Clifford is with the Kings mostly for toughness (54 PIMs so far), but he’s hardly inept with the puck.
His coach had words of praise for the guy, who will be old enough to legally have a beer on Friday. When asked about Clifford, Sutter quickly cut in, saying “Good deal. You know what, he made some really good plays. Not just the goal, but also on Johnny’s goal [Johnson’s].” And the timing, too, was important. The Caps scored with just a minute and a half gone in the first period, a point that Coach Sutter elaborated on after.
According to Sutter, it wasn’t about what the Caps did, but what his team did which caused the win, and that was simple: “You don’t teach them nothing. They scored all the goals the same way. Traffic around the net, you don’t, uh, teach that.” He later said that “all the goals” essentially were dirty ones. “Bounces, and guys around the net. That’s how most of the goals are scored . . . .” Then he added a comment about Ovechkin, saying, “Everybody sees the highlight reels and thinks that that’s how it should be, it’s not.” In later comments he said, “You know what, we don’t have to talk about Ovechkin. Drew Doughty played against him every shift, and you know what, give him a lot of credit. You don’t have to talk about Ovechkin that much. Talk about the whole team.” Ovi finished the evening with 22 and a half minutes, three shots, and five hits. He played a scrappy, chippy game, and gave Doughty a couple of good slashes and spears at opportune moments. Doughty responded with chippiness of his own.
Back to the point of how goals are scored and getting to the net, Sutter said that he will not focus on the opponent, Ovechkin on this night, Dallas on Thursday, but rather wants his team thinking about what they do. Practice and what they’re taught must be carried into games, he said. When asked what specifically that entailed, he said, “Scoring. Our guys are capable of scoring. It’s not like they’re over the hill or anything. A lot of them should be in their best years.” He later said, “You’ve got to make them believe it.”
Sutter being Sutter, he responded to questions honestly, if with a bit of contrariness. When asked in follow-up whether he is convinced that the present Kings’ roster is good enough offensively, he cut the question short and said, “I just said that, yeah.”
When asked about his goalie, Bernier on this night, he said, “Didn’t get a lot of work, saved some shots and bounced back from an early goal, it wasn’t really [inaudible].”
He also took exception to a question about the loss Saturday, saying, “Hell of an effort Saturday too, everybody bases it on wins and losses, and that’s not, again, it’s, a lot of times when you lose you’re winning. You’ve just got to stay with it and figure it out and not let anything else get in your way.”
More homespun wisdom, and maybe it works, but despite the attempt at deconstructing the text of the standings, Sutter’s wrong. Losing is losing. No points get you nowhere in the standings, but this kind of topsy-turvy logic seems to lie at the heart of his approach, and with a 6-3-1 record since taking over the helm, who really cares if his ideas sound illogical. His approach is working.
The team is off Tuesday but will practice Wednesday in advance of meeting Dallas on Thursday.
Making his debut on Kings ice Thursday: Brent Brewster. He’ll be playing with other kids during the first intermission. His agent… er, his dad… is Josh Brewster of Hockeytalk.biz and Duck Calls fame. He says the kid is looking forward to his draft year, 2023.
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