I once wrote, jokingly at the time, that the Kings’ strategy must be to score one goal a game and never let the other side get one as their key to winning. The point, to my recollection, was that the team was boring their fans to sleep by focusing too much on defense. Boy, was I off-base, because if a 1-0 win isn’t fun to watch, what was that on Saturday night at Staples Center in LA with Dallas in town?
Coach Terry Murray described the game as being “a little broken up. Both teams, they had their moments. The flow was going, then something would happen where there was chaos almost. Misreads. Both teams then get great scoring chances.” He followed up to say that the Stars’ Raycroft made one unbelievable save on a one-timer. “It wasn’t a textbook game,” Murray summed up. “It had its moments where it bid for excitement from both sides, and one team came to dominate the other, and then the other team would take over for a while.”
It wasn’t, in other words, the game that most would have predicted a month ago—a walkover by the Kings. Nor was it the game most people would have looked for from the vantage point of yesterday—a high-scoring tussle. But it was a thriller, with Jonathan Quick stopping 28 Dallas shots and Andrew Raycroft stopping all but one of 24 Kings shots. Each made, at one time or another, a heroic effort to dive out and smother a chance with his chest.
But the fact that Murray saw the game as choppy and uneven is not surprising, as there are a number of anomalies happening in Hockeywood right now. One is that goalie Quick hasn’t let a puck past him in three full games, plus. In blanking the Stars, he did something that no Kings’ goalie had ever done before, notching three straight shutouts.
IH asked him about the historical importance of that feat. “Obviously being on the East Coast, I didn’t know too much about Los Angeles growing up, and since I’ve been here, you certainly learn a lot about it. I did an interview with Rogie [Vachon] last year, and I had the opportunity to see what kind of class act he is, and you meet some of the guys who used to play with him, you hear about how great he was. It does mean a lot to have that record now.”
But he was quick to put it into a contemporary perspective. “You quickly forget about it and you move on and you focus on the next game.” He said in response to another writer’s question, “It’s great, but I’ve never been a guy to look at numbers, shutouts, save percentage, that kind of stuff. . . . I feel like a goalie, you judge on if you win or lose. That’s what’s most important to me. That’s what is most important to this team.” Fans, though, are enjoying the feeling that, for this moment, their netminder is invincible.
Another oddity with the team is that defenseman Jack Johnson is putting the puck in the net, repeatedly. He has three goals to date, each one a game-winner. Last year, he had five goals in 82 games. Altogether, he has played in nearly three hundred NHL games, with now 25 goals. He has never scored more than eight in a season. This year, he’s statistically on pace for forty.
“Well, how about that?” Murray reacted to a question about number 3’s production. Then he talked about Johnson’s goal, the only one in the game. “That’s a tough play for the goalie. He’s got to go from the middle of the net to that one-timer that’s coming. There’s a lot of traffic, and you’ve got their five players and our three forwards in that mix right off the faceoff win. That’s why it’s critical to shoot the puck on that faceoff win.”
On the other hand, the coach reminded those gathered that early in the year last season, Johnson was one of the top-scoring defensemen in the league. “His game was tremendous, [he was] playing big minutes for us.” This season thus far, Johnson has played a season-high 30:57, at Philly on the 15th of October, although he’s averaging around 22. He was on for 23:27 against the Stars.
“With the unfortunate injury to Doughty, he has taken on more, and he has responded to the challenge. I like what I’m seeing.”
Johnson likes it too, though he didn’t exactly see the puck that went in the net. IH asked him about it after the game. “I couldn’t see the puck by the time it went in. There were a lot of bodies in front of me, and a goalie. I think I was the last one to raise my hand, the last one to realize it went in. I was just trying to get it by the first guy. When you’re shooting from the point here, you’re usually not going to beat a goalie if he sees it, you’re just hoping to cause rebounds for forwards and havoc around the net. I think I was the last one on the ice to realize it went in.”
The final curious thing about the Kings is that Dustin Penner isn’t scoring. Oh, wait. That’s the “new normal” for him, at least since he’s been with this team. But his coach isn’t particularly worried. Murray commented after the game, “He’s giving me good work. That’s what I want. I want him to work, I want him to check, be responsible. He’s getting in and recovering some pucks in the offensive zone and D zone. I’m happy with that. The points will come. I think he’s got the ability to put some big numbers up, but right now, everything’s good.”
Indeed, the big guy, playing with Mike Richards and Dustin Brown, forced a key turnover in the third period and went hard to the net, though he couldn’t get a shot off on the play.
Earlier, in period one, he had gotten to the net as a puck was thrown there from the blueline, redirecting it between the goalie’s pads right on the doorstep. It was smothered, but might as easily have gone in.
Penner’s night ended with him recording two shots, four hits (tied for team high with Matt Greene), and about sixteen minutes on the ice. His effectiveness was in his presence, and while he isn’t dominating (yet), and maybe people expect him to because of his size, his coach is obviously giving him time to get it together. Of course, that’s easier to do when the squad is winning.
A robot used to diffuse bombs dropped the ceremonial puck before the game. My thought? “Finally, a smart referee.” Just a joke. I was a ref myself for several years… Drew Doughty is making good progress rehabbing from his injury. He may be activated on Tuesday after a week on IR. That does not mean he will play that night, when the Devils are in town… After Tuesday, the team is on the road for three games to round out October… My new book will be out in early November. It’s called My Country Is Hockey, and it’s not just for Canadians, but for hockey fans everywhere.