Sunny Monday in January, probably in the 70s. Why not play NHL hockey? That’s what the Kings and Sharks were saying by the very act of dropping the puck at 1pm on January 15th. I took the train—no point in getting into late afternoon Los Angeles traffic on the way home, even given the fact that it was a holiday.
And as I came across the front of Staples Center from east to west, there was Bob. Absent were the huge crowds that had obscured his statue Saturday night. Instead, fans patiently took their turns for photos with him. Well, not flesh-and-blood Bob. Brass Bob, standing where he will for millennia. Does brass last that long? Do contractors who make brass likenesses of sports celebrities guarantee the half-life of their creations? What does any of this have to do with hockey?
Nothing, and everything. Broadcasters, as former-player-turned-radio-man Brent Severyn once told me, “are out of hockey,” if they had been former players. They aren’t the team. But they sure do feel like the team, and it’s been well documented how much of a loss Miller’s retirement was for fans of the LA team.
But get this right: it’s not like the team is commemorating his demise. Bob’s healthy and strong, and he’s taken excellent care of himself, especially since he had heart surgery a couple of years ago. Everyone hopes he’ll be around the team in a visible way for a long, long time.
But having him there in the forecourt of the arena all the time, reminding fans of his place in the half-century history of the team, is comforting. It’s a message: hockey matters here, and it has for a long time. So hi Bob, again. See you next game.
Now back to the Kings and Sharks: the first period produced a San Jose goal, Chris Tierney’s 11th, on a play where the LA defense kind of found itself going the wrong way. The fault was also down to goalie Darcy Kuemper, who let out a fat rebound on a point shot. It went to Jonas Donskoi, who put it across to Tierney on the open side
The Kings seemed to dominate much of the play territorially, though they were outshot 13-6 in the period. Part of the problem: passitis. This disease cannot be remedied by pills, only by players recognizing that when they are in the slot (Adrian Kempe), one more pass down to the goal line is not recommended. Sometimes, you’ve gotta shoot the puck.
On the plus side in period one, the Kings were successful in containing the San Jose power play, breaking it up at the blueline twice during a late-period chance. They also had the good fortune of a Sharks player breaking his stick at one point.
One minor but interesting point: the aforementioned penalty was called at 17:59. It expired with about .6 of a second on the clock. The faceoff was to be in the San Jose end. The Kings pulled Kuemper. The referee called for a second to be added to the time. The Kings were set to restart with 6 players on the ice. A linesman noticed that this would mean that the entire penalty would not be served. They put Torey Mitchell back in the box, set to spring out as soon as the puck hit the ice. Nothing came of the play.
Period two saw yet another fat rebound into the slot, which was quickly turned into yet another goal. The play was made easier for Barclay Goodrow because there was a weak backcheck going on by the Kings forwards, namely Tyler Toffoli, who was kind of lazing back towards his net as the puck came out off Kuemper’s pads.
Toffoli might have been put off by the fact that he was playing with Andreoff and Mitchell. Clifford had been with the two prior. In fact, that was the line that was scored on in the first period. Was Toffoli caught in a change, or was he demoted? That’s why IH is at the games—to observe the minute details.
And here’s the answer: at 18:06, there was Toffoli with those two others again. They played a hard-working shift, pushing and trying to force the puck toward the net.
You have to ask: should that be Toffoli’s game?
What’s going on with the Kings? They weren’t all that much different against the Ducks in a 4-2 loss on Saturday. Have the other teams figured out whatever it was that they were doing to allow for more offense early in the season?
The Sharks almost made it more scary, putting on a flurry with 25.6 seconds left in period two and getting Kuemper down. The puck went toward the net, and was stopped in the crowd. It landed in the slot again and a Sharks forward played it back towards the net. Christian Folin was in the goalie spot, and he made a leg save to keep the game different by only two.
Just to stick with the line analysis for a minute, period three started like this: with Toffoli playing alongside Kempe and Lewis. Then out came Gaborik with Iafallo and Nick Shore. They were followed by Clifford, Andreoff, and Torey Mitchell. The last unit out was Kopitar, Pearson, and Brown.
So the lines were righted. But how do you play offense when you save your best players for the fourth shift of the period?
Here’s the math: 102 points sitting on the bench for the first three minutes of a period when you’re down 2-0.
The Kings did find a way back in, with a goal scored by Trevor Lewis at 12:42 of the third. They had just come off an unproductive power play.
And let the record show that they hit two posts in the game. A goal here or there is what makes the difference in today’s NHL. Those pucks might have turned the tide.
The Sharks earlier got a third goal when Drew Doughty forced himself up into the offense, then coasted back while Clifford and Martinez played defense. The Sharks had a 3-on-2, and with Clifford trying to stop a cross-ice pass, they had the puck get through anyway to Donskoi. Doughty caught him up and hooked over his stick. Donskoi got off a sort of shot, and it was knocked in by Boedker at the edge of the crease. The team added an empty-net goal near the end, Thornton’s tenth of the year.
The Kings lost their fourth game in a row. They have only two wins in their last eight, plus an OT point.
After the game, Trevor Lewis said, “We’ve got to clean up some things and get some more urgency of play within the game.” But that ignores the fact that the Kings won the shots and shot attempts battle and the faceoffs. They outhit the Sharks by 2-1 (34-17).
He would add, “They were more desperate than us tonight. We have to crank it back up here, get the intensity and urgency back up.” He also said that Martin Jones in the San Jose net had been strong. “He’s a good goalie, but they’re a good defensive team too. When we recovered pucks tonight, we didn’t get a whole lot.”
“It starts in the D zone and carries on in the forecheck. When we do forecheck, it’s kind of in and out. Back in our end. You get tired playing that way,” Lewis said.
Chris Tierney of the Sharks saw things more or less the same way in terms of what the Sharks do. “You dial in a bit more when you’re playing a rival. . . . This is kind of what this team’s built for is playing those tight games, and you know, two or thee-one games where we try to lock it down and prevent them from scoring. Our team does a pretty good job of locking it down usually in the third period and holding onto leads.”
The Sharks have won two straight and three of six, with two OT points thrown in. They exit the game just out of the second wildcard spot, and with four games in hand on the team they trail (Minnesota). The Sharks have played fewer games than anyone in the West save Vegas (42 games).
The Kings play Pittsburgh at home on Thursday before heading to Anaheim for a rematch of the fight-filled game of Saturday last. They then host the Rangers next Sunday.
San Jose is on the road versus Arizona and Colorado.
My new book is Mixing Memory and Desire: Why Literature Can’t Forget the Great War. If you’re interested in the topic or have connections to a library or librarian, please help me with some promo.