Left Wing Evander Kane (#9) of the San Jose Sharks dents the twine with a puck

It Went Better

Here’s a SoCal cliché: You can go skiing in the morning and surfing in the afternoon. This is pure BS. To get to the snow, you’d have to drive up to Arrowhead. That’s an hour and a half minimum. Then you’ve gotta line up and get a lift ticket. Actually do the skiing. Then come back down the mountain, pick up your surfboard, and head to the beach. By that time, it’s gotta be very late in the day. Nobody does that.

Here’s a more reasonable scenario which still has the qualities of bizarro-dreaminess that constitute the contemporary California Dream: You swim in the sea at Bolsa Chica State Beach in the afternoon, and you find yourself watching a Kings game at night, a game that you would actually be in the press box for except, you know, for Covid.

That was my day. So here’s what happened in the waves, and in the hockey game. The swimming, well—I got in the surf; I got knocked over by a few waves; the stingrays didn’t get me as they did a couple of times last fall. It was a good day.

The hockey? LA got out to an early shots advantage but had allowed the first goal by the five-minute mark. They didn’t let that depress them, but evened the scoring when Dustin Brown got one with nearly seven minutes gone. The first ended 1-1.

By the end of two period, it was 2-2, the teams having traded goals in the form of an Evander Kane play across the front of the net, where he stretched out to put the puck behind Quick, and a determined second effort by Trevor Moore to beat Brent Burns, who by this point had left Moore alone and was behind his own net. Mistake, especially with the Kings shorthanded.

For context, you might be wondering what the evening’s events would do for the overall picture in the Honda West. (Please Paypal me, Honda, or someone, for that plug, if you’re really doing “random acts of helpfulness. That Bolsa Chica parking is now $15.)

Well, last night (Friday) started like this: San Jose and Los Angeles were tied at 34 points, in 6thplace. Arizona was ahead of them by a point. Anaheim trailed the division. But by the end of that night, the Coyotes having come from behind on Anaheim more than once, they sat at 39 points. That moved them to fourth in the Division.

Amongst what became the bottom four, then, last night ended like this: St. Louis, newly dropped from fourth, sat fifth. They were followed by San Jose, LA, and Anaheim.

And once again, teams 2-3 in that set, 6-7 overall, were playing Saturday. Would the night end with a Kings win and thus a #6 and #7 tie, with the Kings having a game in hand against the Sharks? Or would San Jose win a second in LA on two consecutive nights, and end up stretching their lead to four points?

Time I got to that, so here goes. Period three saw the Kings hold on early and then give up a penalty around the five-minute mark. They killed it successfully. The Sharks the pressed despite a 29-20 shots disadvantage. The teams went down to the final five minutes still tied at twos, and the Kings ahead in shots 33-20.

The LA team was as good as that shots advantage suggests. Perhaps most notable: Trevor Moore, who pushed the puck north-south and flicked a shot at Jones to force a faceoff, just one small play  in the attempt to gain territorial advantage, but important to show how the LA team was pushing things.

The Kings saw the line of Kopitar, Brown, and Iafallo press, taking a 40-second shift in the attempt to make the game’s tempo high.

But it was all for nothing with 4:37 to go. The Kings blew it on a dump-in when Quick gave it away to John Leonard behind the net. With nobody in the cage, Leonard put it in front for Dylan Gambrell, who naturally put it in the net. On the bench, Kings D-man Austin Strand looked sheepish for what he perhaps read as a blown play on his part. But Quick, if the camera doesn’t lie, was down on himself at the same time. It was his fault, no doubt about it.

The Kings did what you know they did—pulled the goalie in an attempt to tie the game. The shots ended 37-23 LA advantage, but the goals didn’t budge. It was 3-2, Kings on the losing end. They had dropped Friday’s game, as noted, with a score of 3-0.

Kale Clague suggested in his post-game comments that things would be OK, despite the two losses: “I know everyone believes, that there’s a lot of faith in that room to keep pushing for the playoffs. A lot of games left here, so we just have to keep pushing the right direction.” He had been reinserted after not playing with the big club for about  a  month.

Coach McLellan afterwards detailed how things went, including pointing out the things that went right more than they had done Friday night: “If you use the word frustrating, I’m sure everyone feels like that in this moment . . . . Lots of good things in the 60 minutes for us. Aggressive, played hard, checked well. A lot more traffic in and around the net. Made the goaltender work a lot more, shorthanded goal. So there were a lot of positives in that game. But it’s only  a moral victory; the two-point victories are what really count at this time of year and we’ve got to find a way to get a few more.” In short, things went better, but not well enough.

He later said, “We’re just playing. We know where the standings are. We know where we are. We know who’s ahead and who’s behind and how many games are left. . . . To think that we’re banking on everything as far as the next few games, it doesn’t work that way.”

His team will face Arizona Monday  and Wednesday at home, then these same Sharks next Friday  and Saturday night, this time in San Jose.

“There’s lots of hockey left, and we just have to find ways . . . . We’ve got to go out and win a  few hockey games coming up,” he ended with.

 

Notes

The Kings Matt Roy was placed on the Covid list and unavailable for this game. Clague was reinserted after not having played with the big club since early February.

Jonathan Quick started in goal for LA. Martin Jones was San Jose’s keeper. Jones had played on Friday night.

The Kings expect fans in Staples Center in mid-April. At that point, they will have perhaps eight games to go before the playoffs start.

Brian Kennedy is an NHL media member and member of the Professional Hockey  Writers Association. He is reporting from his SoCal home using team- and NHL-provided media materials and access.