So the Kings finally made a lineup switch. Two, in fact, with Winnipeg coming in for a Saturday night contest which started, due to TV obligations, at 7pm rather than the familiar 7:30.
The switches? First, Jamie McBain was out on defense, and Brayden McNabb was in. The net result? No real difference. In fact, the Kings’ defense was horrible in the early going of the game, but it wasn’t McBain. Matt Greene got beat clean to a puck in the end of the zone and saw Jeff Schultz miss it too, while the Jets pounced and put it in the net. Shortly after, the Jets scored again, a two-on-one where Doughty and Muzzin got beat by Wheeler and Little, and Jonathan Quick was down by two.
He was down by three on the Manitoba team’s third shot, leading to a vigorous twitter discussion as to whether he would make a save before he was pulled. This morphed into what kind of average someone has if he lets in goals on every shot. Is that zero point zero zero? And is that even a number? Nobody who knew any math theory weighed in on the matter.
The problem was obviated slightly later when he had a fourth shot, making his save percentage .250. He then made other saves, and the tweets stopped. But the damage was done, temporarily. It was 3-0 for the visitors with just 6:39 gone. And lots of Jets fans in attendance, by the sounds of the cheering. It reminded me of a story a Winnipeg transplant friend told me (which I retold in my book My Country Is Hockey) about being at Kings games way back at the Forum and seeing all kinds of other Winnipeggers in the hallways walking around between periods. (In fact, seeing them and not much of anybody else, but that’s not the point now.)
The other lineup change was Jordan Nolan finding himself in the game and Tyler Toffoli sitting out. Now, don’t jump to conclusions on this one. Toffoli wasn’t being sat in favor of the other man. Rather, he was out with mono, and Toffoli has become the utility forward on this Kings team. It was not an even exchange in terms of what lines these guys play on. Rather, the absence of Toffoli required a few switches in the forward lines. The trio that started the game was Carter, Pearson, and Trevor Lewis.
Now, it would be nice to give you further line combinations, but hard because as that first period wore on, penalties on either side (there were ten altogether, some offsetting) shuffled the combos considerably. One observed combination had Lewis where you might more reasonably expect him, that being playing with Dwight King and Jarrett Stoll. That would roughly be the third line.
Those penalties also allowed the Kings to get back into the game, which was 3-2 by the end of period one on the strength of two power play markers by the LA club. Their PP, incidentally, started the evening eleventh in the league, but sixth in the league at home, where they were clipping along at a 25% rate. They are just 12.9% on the road.
Period two did nothing but allow the goalies some relief in the form of shots taken, saves made, and thus horrible GAA numbers eased somewhat. But it also allowed some glimpses into some new line combos by LA. Thus the first line reverted to what it has often been, Kopitar, Gaborik, and Brown. The third line became Williams, Stoll, and Dwight King, though Nolan also found himself on the ice with Stoll and King.
Carter, meanwhile, was playing with Pearson and Williams. However, an ankle injury to Tanner Pearson late in the frame allowed for more line shifting in period three, which saw, for instance, Richards, Brown, and Carter, and also Richards, King, and Carter. Then there was Kopitar and Gaborik together with Williams, a trio which produced the goal which tied the game at three, but also Kopitar with Willams and Lewis.
In other words, there may have been rhyme and reason behind what Sutter was doing, but there was nothing like consistency. For instance, how about Lewis, Stoll, and Kyle Clifford near the midway point of period three? Don’t scoff. The group produced the Kings’ fourth goal. It was taken off the wall by Lewis, who did a remarkable job holding the puck. He fed it to the front, where Clifford got a close-in shot away. The goalie made a save, gave up a rebound, and saw it trickle past him off his equipment and in. That made the game 4-3.
Meanwhile, the play on the night was full of scrambles and bounces. Twice in period two, Kings players hit pipes—Stoll from the left side on a far-side wrister that clanged the post, and Carter on a breakaway that he rang off the crossbar. But it wasn’t over at 4-3. The Jets tied it after getting the Kings running around in their zone late, and the clock would down to OT.
The shootout saw an unusual cast of LA characters. First off, background: Drew Doughty had been asked in the media this week about why he wasn’t used in the shootout. He said if he was, he’d show something, and voila! He turned up as the first LA shooter. He wheeled in and took a slapshot that was saved. Note to Drew: that technique works up to about Pee Wee, when goalies no longer flinch when the windup comes. To beat an NHL goalie, you have to rely on more than creating a fearful surprise.
The next shot was by Lewis. Then Carter. Neither scored, and none of the Jets did. But one more round and Bryan Little got a goal that gave the Jets two points.
After the game, Sutter wasn’t saying much, but he’s obviously not happy with the goaltending. He started with, “We got a point; I thought we deserved better,” which he must have known is patently inaccurate. “We got unfortunate bounces . . . but we hung in there and battled back.” OK, but he repeated, “It’s more the point we got than the point we didn’t. They got some fortunate goals in the first period.” Define fortunate, coach because they didn’t. They got goals on defensive breakdowns by a weak Kings’ blueline.
So why do I think he was talking about the netminding? Someone asked a question that said, “They scored on the first three shots,” and Sutter began his answer with, “They scored on the first three shots, so, let’s just say that they’re unfortunate goals.” The implication seemed to be that the goals were someone’s fault. Like the goalie’s.
As far as the Jets go, despite the crying out in Canada at the beginning of the season which had just one team—Montreal—making the playoffs (with some people holding out hope for Ottawa and others saying that maybe, if things worked in goal, Vancouver—which we now know is exactly what’s happening), the Jets entered the night in a points tie with the Kings, and having played the same number of games. They were only shown in eighth place rather than seventh in the standings based on having one regulation win less than the LA team. Now, they are the first wildcard team, seventh in the Conference, and up on LA by one and Calgary by a pair of points.
They are facing the Ducks Sunday evening in a game where Teemu Selanne’s sweater number will be retired. Hope there’s not too much snow for people to make the game. Oh wait, it’s SoCal. Maybe I’ll drive my Ferrari. (No, I don’t have a Ferrari, but thanks for reading this far.)
Anyway, the Jets had all the incentive in the world to play well against the Kings and secure some points, because vs. the Ducks, just one night later, they’re not exactly taking the easy road of it. They did, and they got the two points they probably deserved.
The Kings are in the midst of seven games at home. The next one is Monday versus the Leafs. Then it’s the Devils, Ducks, and Flames. Looking ahead, they have just 14 of their last 35 at home after this homestand concludes.
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