For all the hype, none of the pertinent questions about the Kings and Ducks were easily answered Friday night. And especially not the one Kings fans wanted answered: Where’s the offense? Invisible, in the form of many of the key players.
In fact, before the first period was half over, the Ducks were outshooting the LA team by. A 12-1 margin. They ended the period with an advantage of 17-5. No goals, though. Jonathan Quick was the difference. Two saves of note: Quick dove out with his chest on two shots in a row coming from the mid-slot. One more, later in the period: Josh Manson charged down the slot with a puck, fired away, and saw the goalie flash the glove.
Would the game get rough and out of hand as had the one the prior Saturday? Nope. The bruisers—MacDermid for the Kings, Andreoff for the Kings, Boll for the Ducks—were out of the lineup. MacDermid so far out as to be in Ontario, California, with the AHL team. The game last Saturday featured three fights in four playing seconds, less than three minutes into the game. There were no such shenanigans Friday. In fact there weren’t even any particularly egregious hits, at least in the early going.
Would the Kings former captain be playing? Dustin Brown was in, not news as far as the tough hits he frequently doles out are concerned, but surprising because he had delivered a check to the back that drove Shultz of the Penguins into the boards about 22 hours earlier. The league gave him a token fine, but no suspension.
In the game also, of course, Andrew Cogliano. This after his two-game suspension for a head hit last week on Kempe of the Kings had expired. He was recognized with a message from the owners on the video board in the early part of the game. After it was shown, Cogliano appeared on the board. He waved his hand to acknowledge the cheers of the crowd. Many in the assembly had #831 signs.
One fan even had those numbers and the number sign in large helium balloons. This to say that they don’t recognize the suspension and consider Cogliano’s iron man streak to continue. The league thinks it stopped at 830 games due to the suspension.
Notable lineup changes were basically nil. The Kings put Torrey Mitchell in and took Jonny Brodzinski out. The Ducks reinserted Cogliano, moved JT Brown to the fourth line, and sat down Jared Boll.
That goes back to the question why, and the answer is simple: neither team could afford to take this lightly, or risk the loss at the gain of avenging wrongs. The Kings had lost five straight and were looking distinctly like their last-year selves. You remember them—the ones who never scored any goals. The Ducks were realizing that the long nightmare of having practically anyone of any note in the lineup end up out of the lineup was coming to an end. If they beat the Kings in regulation the two teams would be tied in points. The Kings would still have the edge because of games won, but they’d be notched at 53, though the Kings would have a game in hand.
Coach Carlyle explained the why’s of it after the game. “The intensity is always there. The building has a lot of Kings fans in it. There wasn’t as much of the after the whistle pushing and shoving. It was more of a speed game, more of a skating game, played tonight, and that’s two hockey clubs that can get up and down the ice. We ground it out and found a way to get one more than they did.”
The second period saw the Kings put on a better offensive effort, much helped by the Ducks’ looseness with the puck. No plan, that was the offense of Anaheim, except more or less a pond hockey approach that saw them making ad hoc plays mostly involving the lack of use of teammates. This resulted in the puck being coughed up onto LA sticks, and resulting offense.
Eight shots for the Ducks, ten for the Kings, but no goals for either. Not that the posts didn’t have a say. One puck each side hit one or the other of them. More in a moment.
Notable player: Rickard Rakell. He and Perry almost had a two-man breakaway, except that Rakell spun around and couldn’t pick up the puck. Another notable play—he burst in on the left-hand side and took a shot, then a rebound, that went past Quick and glanced off each post, right then left, skidding straight along the goal line in between. The horn went, and the red light lit. Play had gone up ice. It stopped. A review showed that there was no goal.
Shortly after, Rakell again. He took a shot and got the rebound, then took another, a squibber. Quick stuck up a glove and got it.
The final exciting moment of the period, a broken play which put the puck on the stick of Iafallo. He shot, and it went past Gibson—really through him—but off the far-side post.
No scoring. Two minors to the Kings and one to the Ducks, so no fighting. What else was there to find out? Who would win. If anyone would actually score a goal.
The Ducks got the lead at 2:05 of the third period, Henrique’s 11th of the year. It came off a broken play where Kase took a shot. It went to Henrique, and he somehow kinda, sorta, managed to propel it with perhaps a skate or perhaps his body towards and over the goal line. He was falling across the line himself when the puck went in.
The Kings took just over two minutes to come back and tie. They got their goal from Iafallo, who was on the edge of the crease then Muzzin took a wrist shot. The puck was redirected by Kopitar, and saved. Iafallo swept it in on his backhand. It was his third goal of the season.
The game went on with the Kings mostly controlling the puck and the play, but not taking much in the way of shots on net. They ended with 24 to the Ducks’ 31. Perhaps that’s why Kopitar summed up his notion of why they’re losing—oops, gave away what’s to come here—or why they’ve lost, a streak which now stretches to six games.
“I think we’re definitely not playing the game that we want to, but we’re inching closer. But inching closer is not going to be good enough. It’s usually good to lose by one, but I think we’re not playing with enough urgency. We’re waiting around for things to kinda just unwind, but as opposed to just going and take it, dictate the tempo, and kinda, you know, dictate the pace.”
So how’d they lose? Kesler scored the go-ahead and eventual winning goal with about seven minutes remaining. Beauchemin took a slapshot from the point. It was directed downwards, hitting the ice between Quick’s legs. Quick was slow to react, but he had no chance to see the puck. This was Kesler’s third goal.
Coach Carlyle commented on him after the game. “We didn’t expect him to come back and be the player he was at the end of the season. . . . But when you play every second day, practice isn’t as important as playing the games, and that’s where we’ve got to expend the proper energy, in making sure we manage that properly.”
But back to the matter of the Kings. They’re not playing any offense, and their captain knows it. “We’re on the outside looking in now. We’ve got to get back playing. The sense of urgency and desperation level has to be higher on our part. Scoring a goal a game is not going to get it done. It’s no different. Quickie gave us a chance. We just couldn’t deliver up front.”
Carlyle again: “I didn’t think we particularly played that well. I think we were sloppy with the puck. But that has something to do with them forcing us, and they plugged up the neutral ice differently tonight than they had in the past against us. We’ve got some work to do . . . but we’ll take the points and move on.”
From a bird’s-eye view, Kopitar was invisible. He recorded two shots. Gaborik was invisible. No shots. Brown was invisible. No shots. The only players who did show themselves interested were Toffoli, with four shots, Pearson, with three, Iafallo, with three, and Kempe, with one. The youngsters, in other words, are showing the veterans on this team the definition of desire.
What happened to the “veterans with no letter on their chest” crew that the coach said a couple of games ago needed to show up? They’re sitting back. At least one player was frank about what’s missing. Muzzin.
He commented, “I think that [not finishing] is part of it. You hate to say bad luck, but we’ve had opportunities to score, and not bearing down on opportunities. The goal we scored tonight. Getting pucks to the net and getting ugly goals. We’ve got to start with those, and we’ll carry on from there.”
They face New York at home on Sunday. The Ducks take on the Sharks. Sooner or later the Kings have to win. The Ducks will have more urgency yet given that they understand the importance of these so-called “four point games.” San Jose will be on the back end of a back-to-back, as they play the Penguins in NorCal on Saturday early in the evening.
Carlyle was plain that the Cogliano hit was unfairly punished by the suspension the player received.