When things aren’t going your way, they’re not, and for LA Thursday night, it looked for a while like things might continue on a downhill trajectory. The puck was bouncing every which way, and never their way.
“We were maybe a little frustrated,” said Kings coach Terry Murray about the first period. “Things were not going the way we wanted with puck movement, bouncing pucks and passes that were not completed. You could sense it on the bench, behind the bench.”
With the Panthers in town off a loss in Anaheim, the Kings got a goal at about midway through the first period from Jarrett Stoll. It went in after he got a pass out of the corner from Justin Williams. He in turn had had the puck from Ryan Smyth.
But just three minutes later, the Panthers got one of the weirder ones seen in this arena in a while. The puck was thrown from the point high, high over the net. It hit the glass and bounced right down into the crease. There, a waiting Michal Repik batted at it, and again, and the second time, he whacked it into the open right side of the net.
“That, I mean, the defenseman falling backwards, it hits the stick and off the glass and back in front,” Murray described. “There’s not a thing you can do about that.”
You can answer, of course, but LA didn’t do that so well, registering just seven shots in each of the first two periods. They had made some shifts in their lineup over the prior couple of days to get some more offense and to get around the shortage of left wings that had captain Dustin Brown playing at that spot rather than his usual right side (he shoots right).
Moved up to the first line was Trevor Lewis, to play with Smyth and Stoll. On the second line were Williams, Anze Kopitar, and Dustin Brown. That broke up the Williams-Smyth-Stoll combo that had been successful earlier in the season.
But things got broken up and shifted around more as the game went on.
As Murray said, “I changed things,” then he shifted gears to, “I’ll probably start the way we ended the game tonight in practice tomorrow, but I’ll tell you quite honestly, I’ve been pushing this line around in my mind for a while, and that was Handzus, Kopitar, and Brown.” (More on that later)
Moving back to the third line was Wayne Simmonds, joined by Kyle Clifford, who was scratched for two games twice early in the season but has now played every one since late October. He averages about ten minutes, over the past six contests. Fans will note that the reuniting of Michal Handzus and Simmonds makes this more the characteristic shutdown line it had been all along in the early going of the season.
But the team did not shut down the Panthers in the second period, despite being good in the middle going. They didn’t get a ton of shots, but they controlled the puck in the Florida zone. The period began with a great shift by the Brown line, with traffic in front and a point shot. Later on, as was mentioned, the Kings had the pressure, though again, without a lot of shots. Their total of seven in the period was matched by Florida.
“There was a lot of good effort in the second, and [also] in the third, to find a way to get it done,” Murray said about the second period.
Before the second was over, however, another Panther shot went in when an unguarded David Booth cruised to the left faceoff dot and got a pass out of the corner which he fired past a somewhat surprised Jonathan Quick. It looked like it went under his arm, and you might blame the goalie, but better would be to pin it on the defense, who had chased the Steves (Reinprecht and Bernier) into the corner and remained quite unaware of Booth. Then again, neither did the forwards see him. On the ice was, ironically enough, the Kings’ checking line, previously identified as Handzus et al.
The arena was so quiet it was like nothing had happened.
At the end of two, it was 2-1 Florida, with the shots 17-14 in their favor and the Kings with about a minute of shorthanded time left when the buzzer sounded. The Kings left with a few boos coming down on their heads. But just a few—it’s been far worse.
Was it too much to think that they’d get a tight plan going in the seventeen-minute break and come out to take the game back? Nope. They had to kill that penalty, and Lewis made it exciting by rushing the puck for a good shot in the slot, but Florida took it back and threatened with a point shot and rebound just after. But the Kings pressed, and when Clifford carried it to the net and glanced it off a sliding Florida defenseman’s stick, it went into the low slot to Peter Harrold, the sometimes-forward, sometimes-defenseman, sometimes-scratch. He took a fluttering wrister, and it went past a crowd and into the net. Clifford recorded his first NHL point on the assist.
“I just drove down to the net and did a power forward move there, and it just popped out to [Harrold] and great shot by [him],” Clifford said.
He says that his parents will likely be in touch pretty soon after this one.
“They got the puck for me, and I’ll keep that,” Clifford said Probably send it home to my parents and I’m sure that they’ll like that. They’ve watched every game; they stay up late and watch it on TV. They’ve made it to Buffalo and the closer areas, and they’ll be coming down [to LA] eventually.
“It’s my first NHL point, and so it’s something I’m going to remember,” he said. “It would be nice to get that first NHL goal, but it’s a nice win by our team.”
The coach has said the words “shot mentality” so many times in press conferences this year it’s come to be expected that he’s going to do so, and apparently some of his team are hearing the message. For Harrold, it was his first goal of the season, but eighth of his career in 155 games. He also has 24 assists to his credit.
The Kings added a goal, the winner, by Kopitar with Handzus on the ice and Brown assisting. It came late, and the Panthers had nothing to offer in reply.
“I have a sense that that could work,” Murray said about the Kopitar line. “You’ve got a big guy on the other side with ‘Zus, and they can hold the puck, they cycle. I’m going to take a look at this game real close, the third period, and get another review of it and see what I can come up with.”
Murray points to the win as a positive, but says that the team needs a winning streak, maybe putting five, six, seven games together to keep pace with the rest of the league. That task will be tough, though, with the Red Wings coming in on Saturday. The Kings can just hope that Anaheim tires them out Friday night.
Brayden Schenn is still in town, following a stint in Manchester. He has appeared in eight NHL games to date this season.
Brian Kennedy’s book Living the Hockey Dream tells the story of hockey heroes and normal guys like Mike Weaver, holding down the blueline for Florida on Thursday night.