The signs pointed to the LA Kings losing against Ottawa Monday night, more on Ottawa’s account that the home team’s. The Sens have been consistent this year at rebounding after losses, getting a point in any given pair of games they’ve played all the way back to early November, when they lost two straight, and the first six games, of which they won but one.
Having played in Anaheim the evening before and lost 2-1, it was sure that they’d be primed to take the Kings to the wall. And their first shift or two showed their desire, with an aggressive forecheck which saw three guys stay in the zone until the Kings brought the puck to their hashmarks.
Further, the Kings can’t score, coming into the night seventh in the West but last in the league in goal totals with 107. Heck, the next nearest were five above them, at 112 (Islanders, Wild, and Blue Jackets). Ottawa, by contrast, was near the top of the league with 154 goals, with only a handful of teams doing better and the best squad, Boston, at 168.
Each team, further, seems to be specializing in one-goal games, Ottawa having played 26 and the Kings 29, so even if it ended up 3-2 (to reference Coach Sutter), the visitors would have had a good chance at coming out on top.
In the end, the Kings won in every category, 4-1 on the scoresheet, 34-28 in shots, 53%-47% in faceoffs, and only fell short in hits, which the Senators dominated, 34-24. What happened?
First, the Kings got two goals from their fourth line, which on this evening was Kyle Clifford, Colin Fraser, and Kevin Westgarth. Defenseman Willie Mitchell actually scored the first one, but it was the play of the others which set it up by rimming the puck around to the point for Mitchell to blast toward the net. Clifford and Fraser got assists, and the former had already had a fight, in minute three against Konopka. You know where this is going right? Straight to Gordie Howe and his hat trick of a goal, an assist, and a fight, something which hockey historian Joe Pelletier says Howe did only once in his own career.
Clifford’s fight was important because the Sens are not the team they were a couple of years ago when they could be knocked off the puck with a feather. Their lineup shows four guys with 50 PIMs or more. By contrast the Kings have just two. As Sutter said, “Ottawa’s got a big, heavy team, and we have seen that we have to play like that, it’s important that they [his guys] do.”
Clifford’s contribution came up after the game in Sutter’s remarks. “The last time he had a fight in here, we didn’t play as well right after, and when a kid like that goes to war for you, you’d better respond in an emotional way.”
Commenting on the matter, Clifford said at first that he had never had a Gordie Howe hat trick before, but later corrected that to say that maybe he had in juniors with Barrie. But he was more interested in talking about the porterhouse steak he won from Kevin Westgarth on a bet they’ve had for two years on who would do it first. “I did a fifty-two ounce [steak] once, so it should be a good one. . . . It’s been two years, and now we’re just going to keep going forward,” he said.
Clifford himself further helped the cause by scoring midway through the second period. The shot came from Doughty at the point with Fraser in front of the net. He got a touch on it, and then Clifford came in, took a whack that seemed designed to move the puck across the crease, and then picked it up again on his forehand and shot it past Craig Anderson for his third of the year to make it 2-0. The Kings would add a power play goal six minutes later to go up 3-0.
Another tally was added on a penalty shot by Trevor Lewis. It was a bad call, the referee thinking that the puck was covered by a hand in the crease, apparently. It wasn’t, but rather was bumped by Chris Phillips to Nick Foligno, who shoved it under the goalie, but the referee saw it differently. Lewis was called upon to take the penalty shot after Sutter asked his bench who of the on-ice players should do so. Brown and another player were yelling for Lewis, the coach said, and he himself knew that the player had done well in his shootout attempts, so he went with him.
Lewis took the puck in, did a stutter step and a deke, and shoved it just under the goalie’s mitt along the ice. Ottawa got their only goal at eight minutes of the third on the power play, but after that, LA shut it down, with the teams being even in shots at eight apiece in the third period.
So LA heads into the break with a win, and the signs are good for what comes after. The Kings are still in the basement scoring-wise, but the defensemen are—finally—shooting the darn puck on net. More than one time, they fired low, hard slapshots at the Ottawa net. In most games this season, they’ve fired it six feet wide or over the cage. Maybe this will turn into goals as the season winds through its final turns.
Looking forward, the Kings are going to send outstanding goalie Jonathan Quick to the All-Star game. This, for anyone who knows recent history, can spell trouble. Last year, Jonas Hiller got knocked on the head and lost the rest of his season, essentially. A couple of years before that, the Habs’ Price got so shelled during the game that it took him a year to get his confidence back. It’s something the Kings are aware of. Sutter said, “Those goalies, they’re great competitors. Touch wood, I’ve seen goaltenders get hurt before at All-Star games, and you know, you want the kid and his family to enjoy it.”
“You get in the skills competition, with the goaltenders, and guys are bombing shots at them, and trying to beat them on breakaways and all of that,” he cited. “You’ve seen goalies hurt at All-Star games before.” But he also mentioned that the team has a couple of extra days off compared to some teams, since this was their last game until the break, and so even the travel should not put Quick behind the players on other teams. Thus far, he has appeared in 42 of the team’s 51 games.
Sutter plans, by the way, to do fitness testing with the team Tuesday rather than practice. Team members also said that they are looking to a rest, since many guys are playing hurt.
The team spends a lot of time on the road after the break. They play Columbus at home, then are gone for six games on the East Coast. Of the thirty or so games remaining, just a dozen are in LA. Unless you consider Anaheim to be LA, in which case you’d be a baseball team called the Angels.
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