You’ve got to lose sometimes. It’s a rule that applies to everyone but the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL this year. So it was that the LA Kings went down 5-2 to Jaromir Jagr and the Dallas Stars on Thursday night. The Kings had been on a streak of winning five home games in a row and nine games in their last eleven overall.
The teams were even early on, aside from the power play. By midway in the first, with Dallas ahead 1-0, only a handful of shots had been recorded, total. The first period ended tied at ones. The second started carefully, for both sides. There had been no shots recorded in the frame with six minutes gone. Then Reilly Smith fired a puck off the post behind Jonathan Quick. The first official Dallas shot came with 12:29 left. Smith threatened again two minutes later, moving across the crease with Quick following, spread-eagled out with his chest. This was just short of halfway.
The Kings went ahead 2-1 later in the frame off a goal by Jeff Carter, his 16th of the year. He took advantage of the good work of Mike Richards and Dustin Penner. Yes, that Dustin Penner, who as the third star of the game notched an assist, but was big and fast and on the puck all evening. Anyway, Richards and Penner did the hard work to pin the puck in Dallas’s end behind the net, and Carter fired it off of the skate of Jordie Benn and behind Lehtonen. Shortly after, Dallas tied it at 2-2, again on the power play.
The Stars never looked back, and the Kings never looked in it after that. They scored goal three at even strength at just past five minutes of the third period, and another just shy of ten. The last one was into an empty net. Quick was not pulled, a la Bernier two evenings before, but the goals he let in came at widely spaced intervals. Had their been a fifth, however, it might have been done. Kind of one of those, “You’re not going to leave me in to get shellacked, are you, coach?” things. The Stars actually recorded a paltry 22 shots to LA’s 33. They also lost bigtime on faceoffs, gaining only 32 % of those. They were outhit 41-24. In other words, they lost on everything but the scoreboard.
Their coach afterwards said, “I thought we played a decent game. I thought the faceoff circle hurt us. . . . The bulk of their chances were coming off lost draws, and shots were coming off there. We needed to do a better job as a group.”
Their fourth goal was also Jagr’s, and with every one, he and Selanne teeter totter next to each other for all-time supremacy, something he said after the game that he never thinks about. “I’m not 25 anymore, so I don’t look at the stats. I have no idea.”
He did say something revealing: “I’m getting paid a lot more money than I did last year, so I have a little more responsibility on the power play and scoring goals. That’s why I have to change my thinking a little bit. I’ve got to be more hungry for the goals than I was last year.”
The teams came in relatively close, with Dallas at 11-9-2 and the Kings 12-7-2, separated by two points. The stars had played a game more, however. The word around was that Dallas, as a smaller team, would have a hard time muscling the big Kings group. Their coach afterwards said something to that effect. “They’re a big team, and they play hard. There’s a reason why that group over there won the Stanley Cup,” he commented. Sure, but his guys are reportedly tiny, which is a problem in the West.
Anyone tallying up heights and weights, however, is going to miss one important fact: the Stars, to a man, are lean, muscled, and fierce looking. OK, maybe not their goalie, who is just tall. But the locker room afterwards showed a ferocious looking bunch of guys, tattooed, muscled, and perfectly fit. It’s hard to believe, but that’s not always the case in an NHL locker room, especially this year.
In fact, one of Dallas’s bigger guys, Jagr, is 40. That does nothing to stop him or quell his energy on the ice or for the game. Afterwards, he said, “We’re not the skillest team in the league, but we can work hard. I think we can get a lot better. . . .” He later said, “The goals and the points are not in my head, but . . . my body never gets tired. I work during the night, but I can play another game. I don’t know why, but my body doesn’t feel it. I don’t get tired. The more I play, the fresher I get. I’m kind of a freak. . . . I would be better if I played one more game tonight. That’s my advantage. I like those overtimes.”
Rick Kehoe, who coached Jagr in Pittsburgh, once told me that he’d never seen a guy with a bigger hunger for getting better. That was two decades ago. Nothing’s changed, apparently.
The youngster Cody Eakins commented, “Most games on the road aren’t pretty, but we played the right way the majority of the time we were out there. We bent a little bit, but we stuck with it.”
Coach Gulutzan said afterwards that the key to the Stars’ win was “timely goals.” If that’s true, and why not, it’s an interesting strategy—get outplayed but win anyway.
The Kings did a great job commemorating the late Stompin’ Tom Connors, who died this week. Dave Joseph, arena announcer, talked about Connors and then they played “The Hockey Song,” with lyrics on the big board. Classy and appreciated.