How do you play the statistical worst team in the league, which comes out against you and takes three minor penalties in the first ten minutes? You score early on the power play, do it again even strength, and then sit back and relax.
And when you do that, you let the other team back into the game, despite the fact that they are playing a rookie goalie making his first start and, further, despite the fact that he goes down in the third and forces his backup off the bench well cold.
And then, after you win the shootout, you claim that your team played well, as Darryl Sutter and Jeff Carter of the Kings did Thursday night after their team beat Colorado in a shootout, 3-2. But there’s no way. That’s just not possible as a point of view on this game. But don’t take it from me. Here’s what they said:
“We’re playing a team with nothing to lose, right? They get a lucky goal to get back in it. I thought we played really well. It’s just, lucky goal and fourth line scores a goal, it’s no big deal.” That was Sutter.
But it is a big deal, because while it is true that fourth lines do occasionally score goals, it’s also true that with a 2-0 lead to a team which is so far back of you in points you can’t see them, you just can’t give that fourth line the chance. The goal he was talking about was scored by Patrick Bordeleau on a shot that came from the point. It was tipped by Stefan Elliott and then touched by Bordeleau. The puck was so radically redirected by the first touch that Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick had no chance to regain his position, and it went by him to his right.
It tied the game at even strength with five minutes gone in the third period. The trajectory of the contest had started lopsided, with the Kings outshooting the Avs 15-4 in period one. The Avalanche took it back in period two, 11-6. By the end of that frame, they were down 2-1, and LA was ahead in shots, 21-15, but Colorado could have been up 3-2, except for a couple of key saves by the Kings’ netminder. On one, Matt Duchene grabbed a puck from the Kings’ defense and burst in alone. He shot low, and Quick made a glove save. Duchene did not record a point on the night, but he was easily the most electric player for Colorado, visible and carrying the puck all night long, and fast.
The Kings’ Jeff Carter said, “I thought we were really good in the first, getting pucks deep and using their D. We were doing that, we rolled pretty good. We got away from that and they pressed a little bit.” Now there’s an understatement. The Kings did not have a shot on goal in the first 11 minutes of period two, and while they had at one point been leading by ten shots, by the time the Avs’ rookie netminder went out in period three, the shots were 26-25 in favor of Colorado.
Carter later added, “We took it to them in the first, I thought, with our speed, and then they came back with their speed a little bit. They’ve got a lot of skill, a lot of guys up front, they can wheel and deal, and when we play our game, they can’t play with us.” That last comment ought to be read as significant, because it betrays a level of confidence that few players ever express. And it takes subtle consideration of Duchene, who ate a few LA lunches in this game.
Perhaps the Kings, reminded that one year ago on this night, they beat Vancouver 4-2 to open their playoffs, were looking ahead. Sutter, however, says no. “We’re trying to get in [the playoffs], that’s first and foremost. That’s what you start the season, that’s what everybody starts the season trying to do. So that’s what we’re trying to do . . . first. It’s a difficult task.” He says that he is not thinking past that, and nowhere close to thinking about getting home ice advantage.
Carter said that they are not looking at potential matchups, but he did admit to thinking about home ice. “We’ve got enough games left we’ve got to focus on, we’ve got to lock up some home ice here.” Hmm. He is looking ahead more than Sutter is willing to admit to, but it’s not often that a hockey team has two messages. Someone’s not confessing all that he knows.
So who’s telling the truth, the Sutter who saw his team play well and isn’t looking ahead further than making the playoffs, or the Carter who saw his team play well and is looking at potential top-four seeding for the post-season?
Neither, when it comes to how the Kings played Thursday. They let down, they let a much weaker team back in the game, and they only won when it went to a shootout. They ought to be giving that some thought ahead of playing whichever of the top eight they’ll face in the playoffs.
The Kings now face Anaheim, which also had their problems with Colorado, losing in a poor effort Wednesday night. Carter said that the game is not a revenge contest, though the Ducks beat the Kings Sunday in Anaheim 4-3.
Sutter commented on the Avs goalie: “He played good, made some good saves for them. I’m not sure what happened to him. It looked like he cramped up there.” That was exactly true, with both legs cramping so badly that he had to be helped off the ice.
Please read my books, starting with Growing Up Hockey. You can follow me on twitter @growinguphockey, but I’d rather you spent time reading. Start with a Graham Greene novel.