Preparation for the Playoffs, Please

It feels, without looking at the standings, like the Kings and Ducks coming into Saturday night are about even in their production as NHL teams this year.

Further, the way things have been going in the couple of weeks since the Olympics ended, their trend lines are definitely headed in opposite directions. At least, again, that’s one’s impression.

The truth is a little bit of that, and a little something else. In fact, coming out of the break the teams went in different directions. For Anaheim, it was win, OT loss, OT loss, loss, loss. For LA, it was win, win, win, win, win.

But then Thursday and Friday of last week happened (like all weeks, this one had those days included), and in those two nights, things turned, at least a little bit. Thursday, the Kings had the Maple Leafs in, and lost 3-2. Now, that as a measuring stick might mean something had the Ducks not lost to that same squad on Monday past by a 3-1 score. The fact that both teams lost to the same Toronto squad, however, negated the Kings’ loss as significant. However, Friday, the Ducks found themselves in Colorado and came out on the better end of a 6-4 game.

So once more, at least at the moment the first puck was dropped on Saturday night in LA, the Ducks were on a winning streak, and the Kings a losing one. What would happen Saturday night felt like it would tell the difference as each team, having played 68 games, launched its home stretch run of games which would eventually result in the playoffs. Or so one is free to assume.

Anyway, even had the Ducks still been on their losing ways, they would still be well ahead of their LA counterparts in the standings. They got out to such a fiery start that they sit, even with the fact that they’ve gained only four of the last ten possible points to the Kings’ grabbing eight of ten, well ahead of the LA team. The points coming in? Kings 82, Ducks 95.

Other measures of production are also interesting. The Kings have scored 164 times. The Ducks? 216. The Kings have let in 142 goals. The Ducks? 171. So that’s a plus-22 for LA and a plus-45 for Anaheim. Most of the time, that’s an indicator of how a team is doing. Take for instance the Blues. They have a ridiculous goal diff of plus-69. On the other hand, the teams right around the Kings in the West (they are currently 6th) have a plus-1, a plus-6 and then minuses from ninth all the way to lowly fifteenth in the Conference.

So what about storylines Saturday night? Well, the Kings’ Quick has the flu, but he’s dressed as a backup. Martin Jones is in the nets to start. The Ducks had their presumed backup, Frederik Andersen, in the pipes.

Also out with the flu, Dustin Brown. And for the Ducks, not playing were Cam Fowler, Teemu Selanne, and Stephane Robidas. The latter was originally said to have been targeting a date around about this one to make his first Ducks appearance. Three days from now, the team faces Washington at home. Perhaps then. Selanne doesn’t play back-to-backs this year, and Fowler is banged up.

One thing that people in LA were talking about was whether the game might function as a playoff preview. And that could happen, the way that the division format works right now. If the Sharks take over the Ducks for first in the group, then two and three play, and that would be Anaheim versus LA. Would people out here want to see that? Heck yeah, but it would be more fun to see them match up in round three, of course, being greedy.

For their part, however, the Ducks were downplaying the importance of that question in the press late in the week. Their focus, they said, was less who they would be facing and more the nature of their play at the time. And a lot of folks were more than willing to point out that a bunch of their game needs fixing. The areas cited included the power play and the scoring coming from other than their top line.

It wasn’t like they could immediately address those things and fix everything all at once, but they did seem on Saturday night to get the secondary scoring thing right. Their two goals were from other than their top line, the scorers being Tim Jackman and Patrick Maroon. Maroon, of course, has spent time with the top group, but on this night he found himself with Palmieri and Bonino. The top line was Perry and Getzlaf, natch, with Silfverberg.

Those goals might not seem like a lot, but the Kings scored just one, though one was disallowed late (on which more later) and the game ended 2-1.

And what are the Kings thinking about how their game has shaped up of late? Jarrett Stoll pointed to the defense, citing the quality of the Kings’ two-way play to indicate that the team’s identity is largely constructed of how they keep other teams off the board. Boring to watch maybe, but effective, if fans don’t mind winning 1-0, 2-1, or, in a blowout game, 3-2. Of course, when they score just the one, then this is not a strategy that can be counted upon.

The Kings do have one issue brewing, and that is the fact that captain Dustin Brown is on the outs with the coach. This is partly reflected in Sutter’s comments that the player is essentially playing the way that he was when Sutter got to LA two years ago, and his refusal to say anything more on that except, in a rough paraphrase, ‘you guys asked these questions before, and I’ve answered them.’ Well, that’s true, but they bear being asked once more, and they deserve answers. It’s not enough to say nothing but let your actions leave room for interpretation.

As a side note to this, there’s a fair amount of disquiet amongst the writers who cover the team, especially those who do it for a living, because Sutter essentially won’t talk unless he feels like it. His after-game press conferences have become parodies of themselves, with him answering in words or grunts and then turning away and screwing up his face. They used to be five minutes long, which is essentially what they are over the whole NHL. They’re now often a minute or two. Nobody feels like there’s any point in getting dissed, so they’ve stopped asking questions.

So back to Brown: the word is he has the flu, and Sutter is intent on keeping that from running through the team. But he was essentially benched in P3 on Thursday, and the coach cited the fact that his line looked “tired.” But Brown has also had very little power play time of late, in fact, just seconds in the games following the Olympics, and Sutter’s comments about him, when he’s bothered to say anything at all, have been less than charitable.

They boil down to “I don’t expect that much from this guy, and the fact that he’s the captain doesn’t mean much” (again, a characterization, not a quote). Hmm. But it was this same Brown who reignited this franchise a number of years ago by staying in town over the summer with a number of other guys and working out. It was this same Brown who said that his commitment to the team was total, and that was at a time when there was nobody who believed in the LA Kings. Nobody.

The question, then, becomes whether history matters. To Sutter, apparently not. To Brown, who knows? He’s not likely to sit around and brood if in fact this flu thing is more than just an honest reason for his missing a game.

So to finish out on the game. The Kings were much better than the Ducks in the second half. They poured it on, shots-wise, and they were dominant with the puck. Marian Gaborik, recent acquisition, was excellent in getting to the net. A couple of times the team passed up shots, a bad habit, but they had 38 at the end to the Ducks’ 20. Frederik Andersen held the Ducks in it and was rewarded with a star after the game.

The big moment was in the third period when the Kings Kopitar held the puck and went across the slot with it, shooting late and seeming to beat the goalie. The play was called dead, and it appeared they were reviewing whether the puck went in. But then what was called was goalie interference on Gaborik, who apparently was seen as not trying to stop but instead piling into Andersen. However, there was a stick behind him and a Ducks’ player riding him all the way to the net. That player, btw, was Silfverberg. So the goal was disallowed and the game carried on, the Kings still dominating.

Commentary after the game was as expected. Boudreau was adamant that the no-goal was correctly called. Getzlaf said that his team isn’t concerned with whether they play the Kings or not, only with getting their own game in shape. And Sutter, well, he said that his team had allowed two easy goals.

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