One thing fans know when they attend an L.A. Kings game—someone is going to get a shutout. His name will start with a “J”—Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Berner, Johan Hedberg. Screech! What was that last name? The one of the New Jersey Devils’ goalie. Yup. He was the one who blanked the Kings on Tuesday night. The ending, a 3-0 pasting of the hometown squad, did not please the coach, at all.
But neither was he willing to blame the goalie, on this night Bernier rather than Quick. Why did Bernier start, since the latter had posted three shutouts in a row, and currently has the longest scoreless streak of any Kings’ goalie, ever, at nearly 190 minutes? Because the coach is responding to a mistake he made in 2009-10, when he overplayed Quick. His resolve since then has been to create at least some semblance of a rotation, though Bernier had played only one game before this evening so far on the season.
His analysis of his goaltender’s play was simple. “Bernier was fine. He made some big stops in the early going. We gave up some big chances in the first period, and uh, he was, he played well. This was not about the goaltending. This was all about managing the puck and turnovers and giveaways that ended up being very easy goals.”
Murray laid the blame directly on his key offensive players: “Well, the game is about turnovers, and all three goals that New Jersey score[d] ended up being plays that we had possession of the puck, and we just don’t execute, and they come right back at us, and they’re scoring. The bottom line again is that the best players on New Jersey, you take a look at the scoresheet, and they’re the guys who determine the outcome of the game. We needed to be better. Our best players have got to be better players here in order to win games in this league. We just were not on top of it.”
When he circled back to the goalie, he said that he had no worries about Bernier’s confidence. “He’a s pretty gifted guy with his ability to manage his mental part of the game. As a young goaltender, you’re always on top of and watching what his mechanics are, and how aggressive he is in his play, but over the course of time, he has always shown me the ability to deal with what’s going on out there.”
The game started off with flurries on both sides, though period one ended with no score. Bernier made one spectacular save off his shoulder on a slap shot by Dainius Zubrus.
The second saw the Kings surge ahead in terms of momentum. They had some good chances, but were turned away by Hedberg. Things came undone, however, when the home team had the man advantage at about the five minute mark and completely blew it. They were so disorganized they barely got the puck into the other zone.
From there, things went downhill. Though LA was outshooting the opponent 14-11 midway, the goals started coming at 13:12 and continued in rapid fire for five minutes. Zubrus got both the first and third. The first was an odd one, a puck going off his shoulder, then seeming to bounce off his body before he followed it into the net. The ensuing review was nearly five minutes long.
Goal two was on a turnover by Kopitar. Elias got that one. The third was a 2-on-1 where Bernier was cheating a little bit to his left to guard the second player. Zubrus blasted it by him on his right.
Murray said of that one, “You’ve got a guy walking down the slot. . . . He’s a guy who can really shoot a puck a ton, and he just blew it by him.” No way could you charge that to the goalie, and when yet another question was asked of Murray on that point, he had had enough.
“You can dissect this thing any way you want, you know,” he said. Then he, and the reporters around him, grew quiet. He had made his point—it was the lack of defense by the forwards, and their miscues, that lost it for his team.
Bernier himself had said earlier, “I don’t really compare myself to Quick. I just want to do my job, to go in there and play the way I can play.” He added later, “There were two turnovers, and they got kind of lucky on the first [goal], but I don’t think it comes down to those three goals. It comes down to the way we played the puck tonight.” He’s right. It’s just too bad that the team had to play dead in front of him. The poor guy has been in two games, and he’s lost them both. The other one was in Europe, to Buffalo, 4-2.
The Devils were dealing with a lack of top centers. Both Travis Zajac and Jacob Josefson are out for extended periods. In their place, Zach Parise has moved from left wing to center, where he has rarely played. He is pivot for Kovalchuk and Nick Palmieri or, a few times, David Clarkson.
The team has also called up Adam Henrique from Albany, a move which Coach Pete DeBoer was happy with. “I thought [his line] was very good. We got contributions from everybody tonight. You know what? As long as he’s getting chances, I’m not worried about how he’s playing. I’m not worried about the finish. That will come. He’s creating chances because he’s working hard, and it’ll eventually go in.”
The young man had 13:05 of ice time with two shots and two hits. Perhaps more important for a team lacking in centers was that he won 5 of eight 3 faceoffs, 63%. Parise was just slightly better, at 64% on nine of 14.
The Devils go to Phoenix and Dallas next, while the Kings are out for three games, against Dallas, Phoenix, and Colorado.
Quick can pick up his record-setting pace when the Kings play Dallas Thursday… New book coming: My Country Is Hockey. It hits stores and online outlets in early November.