Look at the LA Kings’ record over the past six games, and things are pretty ho-hum. Three wins, three losses, including a 4-3 OT victory on Saturday mid-day versus Minnesota.
But stretch it back a little further, say a dozen contests, and you’ve got a different picture: six wins, two OT games, and four losses. Decent, but not yet good enough. Perhaps that’s why they’re sitting in the wildcard spot at the point where mid-season is coming up in one game—on Monday, they play their forty-first game, a home affair versus Dallas.
The team’s so-so performance can be put down to one simple thing: as usual, they can’t score goals. This is such a common refrain that it’s almost maddening to repeat, but here you are: in the West, only two teams have fewer goals than LA. They are the final two in the Conference, Arizona and Colorado.
The LA team has scored but 98 times after Saturday’s results are taken into account. However, note that San Jose has scored just 99 times. So why aren’t the Sharks further back than they are? Because scoring isn’t the only measure of effectiveness (which is why Tampa Bay, with 114 goals, is out of the playoffs. They’ve given up 117). The Sharks have given up only 87, for a plus-12 rating. The Kings are minus-one.
So why can’t the Kings win with the pace of the better teams in the West? Because it’s the combination of these numbers which tells the story. The Kings’ minus number is trumped by the Wild’s plus-38 entering Saturday (plus-37 leaving it), which is why Minnesota has 53 points to LA’s 44, even after the OT loss by the Wild.
So what gives? Gaborik has played 17 games and scored once (entering the day—wait a moment for an update on that). Kopitar has 34 games in the books with three goals. Only one King is holding up his end of the offensive bargain: Jeff Carter has 22 goals. Closest to him is Tanner Pearson with 11.
Look at the opposite side of Saturday’s ledger, and you see that the Wild have four guys with double-digit goals totals. And two more with nine goals. “Scoring up and down the lineup” is the phrase which comes to mind. The Kings have no such thing.
A while ago, I talked with a media person who is also a Kings’ fan, and my question to him was, “Aren’t you sick of this defensive, grinding, no-scoring, boring style of hockey?”
His answer? “I don’t like it, but I don’t care. They’re winning.”
Well, when they’re not, then what?
Saturday the team was so bad early on that the coach called his timeout with less than eight minutes gone in the first. Unconventional, but then again, the team was down its second goal by that point.
The first had been a bad one, dribbling through Budaj’s legs. The second was better. But Sutter was unhappy. The defense—and this team, as we’ve seen above, is all about that—was faltering. It looked to be a repeat of Thursday night’s 4-0 loss to the Red Wings. That one at least had 32 shots for. But the 22 against were more than backup Jeff Zatkoff could handle, so what might not look in the stats like a game the team could lose, did turn out to be a loss.
Fortunately for LA on Saturday, the Minnesota team shut up as far as offense went through the rest of the first period, registering only six total shots, to LA’s nine. After the game, an eventual loss by his team, Zach Parise was clear in his assessment of how they’d done. “After the first goal, you noticed a difference [in the Kings]. They came at us. They made it really hard for us. They’re a big, physical team, and just, they had the puck a lot on the wall. They wear you down after a while.
He also had significant complaints about the ice. “The puck was bouncing a lot,” he said, and later followed up with, “It was bad. It was slow. But they’re playing on it too. It was very slow, and it was tough to keep the puck flat. You felt like you took three strides, and there was, no glide. But again, they’re playing on the same sheet.”
But if the first was boring, the second period was all different, and way more fun to watch. By midway, it was tied. The Kings had many more interesting chances than the ones they scored on, in addition. Just to cite a couple of examples: Carter did a pull-and-drag move across the slot and fired a point-blank wrister that Kuemper made a good body save on. The Kings also had two dangerous chances when the were with the extra man on a delayed penalty call. And after having scored the goals, as the period wound down, Brown dipped a shoulder and drove hard to the net for a shot.
The goals? Well, they were both flukey. The first had Carter coming down the right wing. When he got to the hashmarks, he fired a “might as well” wrister. It went past Kuemper between the goalie’s body and the post. Kuemper looked to the ceiling. This was not the kind of puck that should get by an NHL goalie, despite the expertise of Carter with the wrist shot.
The second LA goal came when Gaborik drove to the net with a deke, and threw a backhand back against the grain towards the blocker side. It was saved with the glove, then bounced up in the air, hit a defenseman, and went in. Gaborik had his second goal of the season, but by fluke. Unless you give him credit for the willingness to launch the puck towards the net, which I suppose you should do.
And there was some mediocre shot selection as well. Doughty received a puck on a one-timer and shot it wide—what else? And though he chased the puck down and took it in on goal once more, this time he fired a lazy wrister. The Kings were on the power play, and he didn’t bother to register that or use his teammates at all, despite have a couple with him on the rush.
But does this matter when what looked like a sure disaster in period one was shaping up to be one that the Kings could win as two frames expired? I’m pretty sure you already have an answer for that. To account for the difference, Parise said, “The puck was . . . on the wall a lot. That’s probably where they’re one of the better teams in the league. If you’re not getting those pucks against these guys, you’re in for a long night.” In other words, this way typical Kings hockey. Only it wasn’t boring to watch. There was flow. The team is quicker than they were a season ago. They take (some) more chances.
Period three began with the Kings having registered 25 shots to the Wild’s 16. This is actually somewhat in keeping with what the LA team has done of late. The last ten games, just to take a sample, have seen them outshot just four times. If you go back 12, it’s still four. So on that measure, they’re outdoing their opponents on a more than statistically even basis.
The Wild didn’t help their own cause by taking a penalty with seven seconds gone in the third frame. And then another at six minutes. The Kings scored on the first to pull ahead in the game, 3-2. It would stand up until there was less than a minute to play.
Between the second Minnesota penalty—too many mean at 6:23—and the last minute of play, LA took three penalties of their own. There was no scoring until the third one. Doughty was called for tripping at 18:43. The Wild evened the game at 19:17. It was a play that was bad luck for LA. The puck came out from behind the net from Staal, and it was partially blocked by LA’s Martinez. This actually allowed it to camp in the crease, and Parise knocked it in.
OT was even in shots at two, but the Kings got the goal that won it off a diagonal pass that was deflected backhand into the net by Pearson.
Coach Boudreau was disappointed after the game. “You know, we fought back, but I just don’t like the trends that are happening in the last six games.” He added, “We stopped playing after they called the timeout. We got a little better, but we said, ‘Hey, let’s defend the lead.’ And for the next 32 minutes, we were in our zone. It only seemed like when they tied it up, and . . . when it was a desperate time, we went after them again.”
He said they need “one really good game where we’re back to checking everybody, and not giving up a lot of good scoring chances.
He’ll get his chance in Anaheim on Sunday at 5pm.
The Kings and Ducks play quite a few games this week at home. Watch IH for my reports.
Please read my books. Start with Growing Up Hockey, and let me know what you think of it.