Jonathan Quick is hurt, but the Kings aren’t panicking, because so far, his absence hasn’t been an issue. That’s because his replacement, Ben Scrivens, has been stellar in his work as an understudy. He’s played in three games after having subbed in Buffalo for Quick, who went out partway through that game, and he’s scored two shutouts. That was coming into Tuesday, when the Tampa Bay Lightning were in town.
In Tuesday’s game, he started out once more with blanks. Period one saw him face seven shots, one of which was a trick redirect through a crowd out front. None went in. There was also, to be honest, a shot (more like a whack) of a puck that came from some indeterminate spot in front of the net and was waved at and flipped, end over end, to the net. It was one of those that might have floated in, everyone in the building looking at it like it was traveling in a different time dimension. Instead of breaking the young man’s shutout streak, the puck hit the crossbar and bounded harmlessly away.
Scrivens had a shutout streak of 155 minutes and two seconds going coming into the game. He obviously was over 175 after one period. Fans might have been watching intently to see how far it would go from there, or they might have just been enjoying the fact that in front of him, the Kings were playing well, despite the obvious unfamiliarity with the opponent. They put two goals past the Tampa Bay goalie, Ben Bishop, in the first ten shots and twenty minutes.
Scrivens’ streak went on through most of the second period, but like your mother said about summer vacation, all good things must come to an end, and this one did with a few minutes left in the period. It was at 16:17 exactly, extending the time Scrivens had held opponents at bay to 191:19. Hmm. What do you call that when the numbers line up like that? Hello, any mathematicians out there?
While we’re on goalies, Ben Bishop, a St. Louis draftee who then went to Ottawa, has thus far played in 17 of the team’s games this year. He is arguably the largest single contributor to the team’s great start. His record coming into the game was 13-2-0, and the team’s was 14-6-0. They were sitting at the top of the East. The only recent dark spot—a loss against Phoenix to start their current four-game road trip.
Interestingly enough for those who like East-West comparisons, the Kings’ record going into the game was 14-6-1. Do the math on that. The LA team had played one more game, amassed one more point, and sat seventh in the West. Tampa Bay, as was said, was first in the East. Their goal differential, by the way, was close: for LA, 58-46 (+12) and for TB, 64-50 (+14). Of course, that would change over the course of the night, as LA steamed out to a 4-0 lead before Tampa Bay dented the net one time. And even at that, the Kings returned the favor right after, with a couple of hard bumps turning into a loose puck at the Tampa Bay blueline. Matt Frattin shunted that into the zone to a wide-open Dustin Brown, who put his fourth goal of the year in.
Why the offensive explosion? The offensive parts of the Kings’ lineup is doing what they’ve always been known to be capable of: they’re scoring. With Jeff Carter and Kyle Clifford out at forward, the Kings are giving some looks at their young corps, most of whom started the season in Manchester. The most notable of these thus far has been Tyler Toffoli, who was appearing in his eighth game of the season on Tuesday evening. He had, to that point, notched more than a point a game, at four goals and four assists. In the LA press earlier in the week, his linemate Mike Richards was quoted as saying that he was quite happy with the work Toffoli was doing, and suggesting that, in fact, Toffoli was a player with most of the look of Jeff Carter, who he was replacing. The third member of that line, for the record, has been Dwight King, who also had eight points coming into Tuesday evening, but over the course of 21 games. He added a goal to that number.
Two other names have also surfaced with this LA team. Linden Vey has been up from Manchester for a couple of weeks now, getting into seven games and putting up three assists before the Lightning game. His skills, as described by Coach Sutter, are best put into the category of playmaker. Vey finds himself on a line with Trevor Lewis and Tanner Pearson, another newbie. That player, who has gotten into three games plus Tuesday, scored the first time he put on a sweater in the NHL’s regular season. That, so far, has been his sole contribution as far as points go. He was, one must note, actually recalled in the playoffs versus San Jose last year, the third player in team history to make his debut in the NHL playoffs. Among AHL rookies last season, he found himself tied for seventh spot in points with 47.
Vey hasn’t scored yet, but he’s had his chances. Tuesday evening, he showed his hustle and playmaking further in period two when he assisted on Dwight King’s goal. The LA fourth goal, it came off of a Bishop mistake. He cleared the puck around the back of his net, toward the right side. Vey picked it up at the right hash marks and flung it quickly toward the net. King put a stick down and deflected it through the legs of Bishop. It happened with the Kings down a man.
Tampa Bay squeaked back towards contention by making the game 5-2 early in the final period. It was off a turnover that Victor Hedman flung at the net from the Kings’ blueline. It hit Alec Martinez on the way to the net and redirected, beating Scrivens to the long side. As the puck got there, he kind of flung himself at it, obviously to no avail.
The game was the 1000th for Martin St. Louis. This was indicated in the building near the start of action, and he waved to the crowd to acknowledge their applause. After the contest, he talked about the loss. “We’ve got to stop this at two games,” he said. “It’s not a panic but we’ve got to correct our mistakes. Execution is just as important as working hard. When you’re not getting results, everybody points to hard work. You might not look like you’re not working hard. . . .We’re getting some unlucky bounces a little bit, so that makes it look worse. I don’t think [Tuesday] was a 5-2 game. Our execution was not quite there. We’re hesitant, not talking enough . . . . But you’ve gotta be aggressive inside the structure.”
His coach, Jon Cooper, was taciturn after the game. He said “we play them twice, and we won one and they won one. I can live with that.”
Funny, then, that the Tampa Bay locker room was closed for so long after the game, an indication, usually, of a coach who needs to voice his displeasure at how his team has played.
The Kings, for their part, are not in a hurry to praise themselves. Justin Williams commented that Kopitar is doing what he needs to, but that lots of players are carrying the team. He also said that the Kings recognize that it’s a long slog through the season.
The Kings next host New Jersey on Thursday, while the Lightning continue their West Coast trip with San Jose on Thursday and Anaheim Friday.
Quick is out four to six weeks with a groin injury. Think about that: had Bernier been here, this would have been his chance. But the goalie who came back for him in the trade with Toronto is doing as well as anyone would ever hope any netminder would.
Great for Christmas: my new book, a novel called Pond Hockey. Thanks for the support.