Kings Still Finding Ways to Lose

The Kings can’t buy a win.

One night they take shots, lead until late in the game,
and lose in a shootout. The next time
out, they take a million shots, come back from behind, and lose a
shootout. 

What are they doing
wrong? Nothing, really. 

Saturday afternoon against the visiting Edmonton Oilers, the Kings
controlled the play most of the game once an initial Oilers’ surge in the first
half of the first period was over. 
Along the way, they fired fifty-five shots against goaltender Devan
Dubnyk, from every conceivable spot.

Nothing went in, until Dustin Brown got a goal at 6:39 of the third
period. That started a comeback from a 3-0 deficit, which had been
compiled by the Oilers on just shot 14 (they ended with 16). The Kings’ goal came on shot 46 by comparison.

Actually, that SOG stat is probably a little bit
deceptive. 

The Kings were firing
away, but many of their chances came from a long way out, or with nobody in
front.  

“We talked about it on the bench,” said Kings coach Terry Murray. “He saw a lot of pucks coming in from
the blueline. We’re doing a great
job with our cycle, possession, getting pucks low to high, shots from the top
end, but we didn’t have the traffic.

“There was a loose puck there on almost every shot that came to the net,
and we were not in position to put second and third opportunities back in
there. That really is the story of
the game. . . .  Anybody who is
playing in the NHL who sees the puck from the blueline is going to stop pretty
much every one of them.”

He had earlier given a quick note of commendation to the
opposing keeper, saying, “No question, he stopped everything.  He was really, really good.”

The Kings added a couple more goals (Jared Stoll, Michal Handzus) to tie
the game before it went into OT and a shootout. In the end, they came up short. 

Afterwards, veteran Sean O’Donnell was realistic about the
game, and its meaning. 

“It doesn’t
really matter whether we came back or not; at the end, we need two points,” he said. “It was an important game, and not to
get two points was a real disappointment. 

“We have to realize that we can’t just turn it on
come Wednesday or Thursday of next week. We did some good things tonight. The shots. You don’t want
to break it down too much, but we’re still losing some checks, and the main
thing I see, the penalties. Come
playoffs, you can’t be taking four, five, six penalties.”

Listening to that, you get the hint of the larger
perspective that this game should be put into.

The game was significant for two reasons. First, the LA team has gone cold since
the Olympic break, and going into the playoffs, it’s not at all clear whether
they have what it takes to make a charge, or even to make the first round
interesting. Though they’ve been
in close games of late, going to overtime and shootouts, they have managed just
three wins in their last nine games and four wins in their last ten.

A second reason for concern as the game faded to history is
that with the loss, the Kings haven’t allowed their goalie to regain his
confidence.

Murray has been
playing and playing Quick in order to get him back to form before the
post-season. Each time it seems
like maybe it’s time to rest him, he appears again, but he never seems any more
settled.  He lets in a goal each
game that might best be labelled, “one he’d like back.” Saturday, that was, the third one,
which came off a pass from Frenando Pisani to Tom Gilbert and beat goaltender Jonathan Quick just past his glove
hand.

The tendency of this young netminder early in the season, in
the words of one Kings insider, was to try to make the save before the shot was
taken. This caused him to often be
out of position, cheating too far to one side or the other or going down too
fast. He corrected that
mid-season, but now seems nervous. He’s kicking out rebounds too far, and when he handles the puck, it’s
downright scary. Each tendency
bespeaks a lack of settled confidence, and Murray seems to be trying to help
him regain it by getting a win. 
Only he keeps losing, setting up a cycle that may be adding fatigue to a
lack of confidence.

Aside from trying to regain him his confidence, Murray
accomplished something else starting Quick on Saturday, because it gave him the
team record for starts. The prior
record was held by Felix Potvin with 71 starts back in 2001-02. Aside from that, with one more win,
Quick reaches 40.

Quick has
already set the team’s single-season mark, passing Mario Lessard when he won
his 36th (Lessard won
35 games in 1980-81, though recall that back then, there were no shootouts,
so games ended tied). But both he
and Murray said after Saturday’s contest that the 40-win mark is not a point
that matters at all.

Still, despite press reports late in the week that had
Murray saying that he’s been thinking for about a month that Erik Ersberg will start
the team’s last game, Sunday in Colorado, it is now likely that Quick will be
back in once more.

“You know, if I were to play, that [getting one
more win] wouldn’t be the reason,” Quick said. “Numbers don’t mean a thing. At the end of the day, you just want to be prepared, to make
sure you’re focused going into the playoffs. That’s the only thing.

“Terry’s made some good decisions all year long, and whatever he thinks
is best for the team, he’ll make that decision, and everyone in the locker room
will be behind him one hundred percent.”

In the press conference area, Murray concurred. 

“You know what, it doesn’t matter to me
either,” he commented. “It does
mean something there [to have him win going into the playoffs], but the 40 number, to me, it doesn’t have meaning, and I hope to him. But it’s important that we get a win
under our belt, going in the right way.” 

The likelihood, then, is for Quick to play in the season finale. But wrapping up Saturday’s action, the team sits on
99 points, and waits. They have a major cold streak going, a goalie who doesn’t seem to be on
top of his game, and yet a set of hopes, both theirs and those of their city
and fans, which will either be sustained by a tough first round series, or
dashed with another failure. 

And
as of right now, it’s not even sure what position they will occupy, and thus
who they will play.

With wins both Saturday and Sunday, they would have assured
themselves of fifth seeding and Phoenix as their first-round opponent.

Now, they could end up fifth, if
Detroit loses Sunday and the Kings win. If LA loses, then they’ll be seventh, no matter what the Wings do.  If both win, LA is sixth.

“I don’t think that’s any concern at all,” Quick noted. “We’ve played some good games here.

“We ran into a hot goalie tonight. Dubnyk stood on his head for two and a
half periods. The way we battled
back from 3-0, we’ve got a lot of character in the locker room. As a team and me personally, we’ve
played some pretty good games.”

“The last six games, we’ve gotten points
and stuff, but there’s always room for improvement,” added Ryan Smyth. “I think special teams will be the important thing going
forward.” 

Fortunately for LA, they have guys like him, O’Donnell, Rob Scuderi, Matt Greene  have been there, and it’s time for these
veterans to step up. If Smyth is
any indication, they are starting to exert their role as voices of
experience. 

Whether that gets into
the heads of the younger guys or doesn’t will make the difference in how the
Kings perform later this week when their first playoffs in eight years begin.

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