Kings Smack Down Wild But Lose

The NHL really should give netminders assists on plays where they touch the puck or feed it to someone who scores a goal.  What’s that? You say they do?

Oh, but the goal has to be scored at the other end?  That explains why Jonathan Quick didn’t notch a couple of points in the LA Kings’ 3-2 overtime loss to Minnesota on Saturday night.  He gave the Wild two gifts, the first one a pass right onto the stick of Mikko Koivu, the second a touched muff of a puck behind the net that Cal Clutterbuck wrapped in.

After the game, his coach was decisive in his comments about the first miscue.  “Puck on your stick, that’s concentration, that’s making the right play, right decision making.”  Period.  Did he think about pulling him?  “No,” simple answer.

The game was eventually decided by a goal, 3-2, in Minnesota’s favor in OT.  But while the loss may be down to Quick, the lack of a win wasn’t his fault.  Blame two things: the Kings’ horrible power play, which blew a lot of chances but none more a gift than Antti Miettinen’s four-minute sit after a high stick cut Dustin Brown on the side of the mouth.

The other thing to blame?  That the Kings went shorthanded in the overtime period when Drew Doughty interfered with Chuck Kobasew coming down the boards on the left side in the Kings’ end.  The puck was past him, and Kobasew was chasing, but Doughty didn’t let him go in time.

Speculation among some was that the call was erroneous, and certainly, there was enough evidence on the night to prove that the referees were asleep.  Witness a high stick that whacked Ryan Smyth on the side of the face, jerking his head back and cutting him a nasty gash, right in front of the Minnesota net with no crowd in sight.  Greg Zanon did it.

There were a number of high sticks rendered LA’s way during the game, more than most could recall in a single contest in a while.  What’s up with the Wild?

I asked Terry Murray just that after the game, and he paused thoughtfully before saying “You know, there’s not a lot of space out there whenever you get down to looking at the game within the game.  Everybody collapses, there’s ten guys in a really small area, there’s loose pucks bouncing around, the ice is not good.  There’s lots of things that are happening if you accidentally or intentionally get your stick up high.  So, I don’t have the answer for that.  It’s just the way it was tonight, I guess.”

The Kings made the Wild pay.  First Kyle Clifford fought Brad Staubitz, and kicked his behind, with a switch to leftie at one point and three shots on the button.  That was only seven minutes into the first.

In the second period, Wayne Simmonds laid a beating on Eric Nystrom in a fight that went to the ice and got up again with Simmonds delivering a number of unanswered blows.

Message to Minnesota: if your boys can’t win a smack-down, stop playing like your sticks aren’t subject to the law of gravity.  Murray can say what he wants, and he was asked the question again later, responding, “I’m not going to say any player would ever intentionally, deliberately high stick a guy to the face and try to injure him, that would be wrong for me to do that.  It’s competitive play, it’s lots of guys coming together, lots of people in tight spaces out there, and stuff happens.  To me, it’s (the Miettinen incident) is accidental play, and we got the four-minute power play out of it.”

Only it wasn’t in tight.  Neither was the Smyth non-call.  Both happened in relatively open ice.  So did a whack by a Wild player on Anze Kopitar as they headed up ice, again not called.  That was, it seems, the impetus for the first fight of the evening.

It’s simple—on this night, if not as a trend, the Wild are dirty with their sticks.  I’ve said a lot of times that I think the fighting in the game is pointless, but tonight, it was a message, and it was nice to see the team that had been wronged get the best of the scraps.

That they couldn’t get the best of the game was due, obviously, to their lack of production.  Both Dustin Brown and the coach commented on this after the game.  Asked about what makes a good power play (the Kings scored their second goal with the extra man), Murray used it as a chance to critique the failure on the Miettenan chance: “When you have a four-minute power play, to me, I’d like to see it get back up top to the umbrella and get a lot of pucks to the net.  You can really wear the penalty killers down.  With a lot of play in their end, their [Minnesota’s] defensemen are starting to show some wear in the third period, so if you simply get pucks to the top, umbrella, and get pucks to the net and make them battle and compete, I think you end up, you get a lucky break.  You’re going to score  a big goal.”  But they didn’t, because they did none of these things with their four minutes.

The Kings took just two shots on the four-minute advantage, but one was a pass through the crease that Ponikarovsky got a shot off of but was saved by an alert José Théodore.  It was dangerous, easily the game-decider at that point, but just one chance.

What’s the average number of shots in an NHL game?  Thirty.  That’s one every two minutes, and that’s all the Kings averaged with one extra man, which obviously is not good enough.

When pressed about the above comments about the PP, Murray pulled back.  “I’m not going to start putting people on an island here, you know, isolating guys and saying they’re the reason why.  It’s five guys that are out there, it’s a group that has to recover pucks, they have to make plays . . . and get the puck to the right place.”

The Kings now have a five-game road trip to look forward to, and part of what they may see while away is the debut of Marco Sturm, who comes to the team from Boston.  In fact, he’s flying all day Sunday to be in LA for doctors’ visits to check his recently repaired knee, and the other one, too, which was fixed in the past.  Pending that, he will be available to the Kings.  What they gave up for him was “future considerations,” which the GM said Saturday between periods one and two he could not reveal.  He did say that “it’s like the Modin case,” and that acquistion, at the trade deadline last year, would have cost the Kings more than the seventh-round conditional draft pick announced had they won the Stanley Cup, according to a source I spoke with.

Murray said of Sturm, “His resume is pretty good.  When you look at it on the offensive part of the game, he has put some pretty good numbers up in his career.  He’s a well-rounded player, can play both ends . . . can play in all situations.”  Read the latter as, “on the power play.”  he continued, “A lot of quickness, he’s going to put a lot of pressure on defending teams with wide attacks.”

The main gain is that Sturm can fill a left-wing spot left vacant with Scott Parse out.  Lombardi commented that when it became clear that Parse was out for the long haul, Sturm looked even better as an option.  Over the past week or so, the Kings have juggled lines to try to fill in that gap on the left side, with little effect.

Interestingly, Lombardi also said that getting Sturm doesn’t bind the team so that it couldn’t make another deal, probably later in the season, since, as he mentioned, there isn’t a lot available right now.

Living the Hockey Dream

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