Yes, indeed, it is a 3-2 league. That’s Daryl Sutter’s famous quote from a couple of months ago to describe the closeness of games in the NHL in this era. But sometimes, another truth lurks behind what is apparent, like that score, which is how Los Angeles beat Phoenix on Tuesday night. It was the second meeting in a row for the teams, the first of which LA won, 4-0.
It was 3-2, but only because Shane Doan scored his second goal of the night with 40.9 seconds on the clock. Before that, LA had been up by 2-0, then 2-1 and 3-1. All the while, Phoenix pressed. In fact, they poured a record number of shots faced onto Jonathan Bernier (42) while allowing 29 by the Kings.
In the end, it was two things that sunk them: undisciplined play, and the fact that their captain couldn’t do it all by himself, though he did try. His coach praised him for his effort after the game: “He recognizes the situation we’re in. We need wins, and we’ve been playing hard but we have to take it to another level. He’s the guy that led us in that department. He was a bull out there.”
He also spoke about his team. “We had a great effort. It’s too bad we didn’t win,” he said. “Our guys deserved to win tonight, we played harder than they did. We had more chances than they did.” He talked about a number of other things, then circled back to that. “Our team deserved a better fate than that. We had lots of push in our game tonight. This was a game that shouldn’t have been close. We missed a lot of opportunities.”
But in the end, it was a losing effort, and their fault, in many ways. Witness this: they started the third period with a minute left on a power play. They did nothing with it. In fact, their PP, which is in the bottom part of the league (23rd coming in), stinks. They just don’t move the puck. Their “strategy,” if it might generously be called that, is simple and stunningly ineffective. Let one guy carry the puck into the zone while three others stand on the blueline waiting. They did this in period one, and they were still doing it in P3.
The Coyotes made their own breaks, but they didn’t take advantage of any of them, and with Doan forming a one-man wrecking crew, he alone can take credit for the score, not the least because he got both of his team’s goals (cue Coyote yowl here. Or don’t, because it’s so damn annoying.)
It’s too bad they lost, in a way, because Phoenix came out hard. Their first three minutes were grand. By eight minutes gone in the first, they had nine shots to LA’s four. But then when LA scored, they deflated. They had a power play with two minutes left in the first period and got zero shots. This after pouring 15 on Bernier to that point. If that wasn’t bad enough, at the end of the power play, they took a penalty, Lombardi for tripping. They thus ended that period and began the next shorthanded. Like I said, they made their own breaks, or denied themselves those.
Period two saw the Kings pull to even with 18 shots for each team, but no sooner did they do that than Phoenix put on another push. By the end of the period, they were up on shots, 25-20. It seemed like they had a chance. The score was just 2-0. But they couldn’t capitalize, and then they kind of fell apart. They took four minors in period three to the Kings’ three. The second of these, by Derek Morris, was totally needless. Dustin Brown of the Kings was going to the net, and the puck got away from him and was headed to the corner. Morris hauled Brown down long after there was no way he could get his hands on the puck again. The Kings scored on the power play, Stoll roofing a wrister to make it 3-1.
They didn’t see the loss as their doing, though. Coach Tippett complained about the refereeing, though in a way that would keep him out of the NHL’s unwavering eye. “Unfortunately we got a couple of calls that went against us, and they dictated the game.” He was asked about the Derek Morris penalty particularly, though which of the two Morris took was not specified, and he said, “I looked at all of them and I got no comment. All I know is the league was talking long and hard about taking care of that, you know, this year.” He must be talking about the holding penalty issued to Morris in the second, though he did not elaborate. The second Morris penalty, described above, was going away Morris’s fault.
Doan had this to say: “Obviously everyone in this room is frustrated and disappointed and you know, desperate. We have to start with a desperate game and play the whole game as desperate as we can. There were a lot of good things in the game, and we’re going to take the positives out of it and keep going.”
The face read something like this: “I’m alone here. I did this stuff I’m talking about. Others, maybe not.” I’m not saying he was thinking that, exactly, and the fact that Doan was still sitting in his equipment long after the end of the game when we were finally let in the room suggests that he talked with the team at length after. But you just get the feeling like he’s sitting on the deck of a sinking ship, and he knows that he’s done everything he can, but he can’t bail the water out fast enough.
“You can’t be in the situation where you lose three or four in a row,” he summed up his night and his team’s recent lack of success. “We played good, and we’ve got to figure out a way to win.” This might mean something like, “the other 19 guys in here, OK, 17 if you subtract the goalies, need to get it figured out. I already know what to do.”
His coach said, “The frustration we played with tonight, we can turn that into a positive energy. If we play like we played tonight, we’ll get our fair share of wins.” Maybe, but not if you replicate this exact sixty minutes, because while the good minutes were good, not enough of the 60 were good minutes. Maybe Thursday, when the team plays Vancouver at home, things will be different. Doan, it is certain, can only do so much, and scoring all the goals every night is not likely to be a strategy he will continue.
Those 42 shots against were not at all typical of the Kings, who came into the league second in that stat, with 24.4 allowed on average. And the scoring, too, was not typical of the Kings. In their prior ten games, all but one time, one team scored at least four goals.
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