I’m going to steal a joke from my friend Dennis Bernstein, writer for www.thefourthperiod.com, who said on twitter that the way the Kings are going, signing defensemen, their next one will be McFlurry. That’s because they’ve recently added McNabb and McBain, the latter this week. He came as a free agent after signing with the Kings on Remembrance Day.
Why? Because the Kings can’t keep their cupboard stocked with blueliners, for various reasons, from suspension (you know who) to injury (Regehr a week ago and Martinez blocking a shot against Dallas Thursday night).
They’ve used as few as five defensemen in a game, a not uncommon thing, especially when one of the guys who plays this position is a minutes-muncher. That for LA is Drew Doughty, who is averaging nearly 30 minutes a game. In fact, he’s played a half an hour or more in seven of the LA team’s 18 games thus far this season, including four of the last five.
It’s an outcome that his coach, Darryl Sutter, is not fond of. He said as much after Thursday’s 2-0 loss to the Stars at the Kings’ home arena. “He’s been playing a lot of minutes, that’s the way; do we like that? No. But it’s just, that’s where we’re at. You know what? That’s a question I look at all the time too. It’s too many minutes. He’s going to tell you he’s fine with it, but over the long haul, it’s too many.”
Like most teams, the Kings go with six defensemen most nights, and those are not the familiar corps they have been. They include Greene, Muzzin, and Doughty. Then there’s Martinez. The last are the two previously mentioned “Mc’s”.
But on Thursday, Martinez left in the second period after blocking a shot, and that left five D, of which Sutter said, “It’s gotta get backed up somewhere,” in the sense that somewhere, those minutes have to be taken. “He’s [Doughty] getting three or four more there, and everybody else is getting three or four more too. But I told them, you’ve got to play a little bit more and a little bit better. It’s not easy.”
When asked for a report on missing man Martinez, Sutter was his deadpan self. “Left the game in the second period and did not return,” Sutter said. “We’ll wait until the doctor gives us some more information, and then, that’s about all I can tell you.”
Notice that he didn’t say, “That’s all I know,” because it doesn’t take two hours to assess an injury, which is close to what had transpired by the time he said this.
When asked to assess McBain’s play, Sutter said, “Didn’t play much tonight.” But in fact, Sutter had done some pairing shifts, putting McBain with Jake Muzzin where on Wednesday in a shootout loss to the Ducks, he’d been with McNabb. The final sheet shows McBain getting 10:04, lowest by far of any of the five defensemen who played the whole game. Doughty was almost 32 minutes. Brayden McNabb played 21. Muzzin had nearly 27. When he’s getting that much time, you know things are not per usual. Not that he’s not solid. But he’s not a Rob Blake type of first-tier player, at least not yet.
So far, despite not contributing much on the scoresheet, the group has done a decent job keeping the puck out of the LA net. On the scoring, to this point, the Kings have four goals from the blueline, but they’ve allowed the fewest in their Division (coming into Thursday). Conference-wide in the West, they had allowed fewer than all but four. And if they were in the east, they would be third, with only Florida and Pittsburgh ahead of them. Of course, you’re not going to win many games when you score no goals, as they did versus Dallas. Sadly for starter Martin Jones, it’s the second time in a row that he’s had no goal support at all, the prior one being in his last start, a few weeks back, versus Pittsburgh.
Thursday night, it didn’t much matter who was defending against the Stars, though. Things happened so fast that almost nobody could have prevented the outcome. The Kings first got scored on on a triple sequence where the puck was passed to Dallas’s Klingberg, who shot a one-timer that hit the outside of the post. It went down to the Dallas end and LA’s Dwight King got a break and deked Lehtonen left to right, but was stopped by a leg. The play then turned around, and five seconds later, Dallas scored on a shot by Garbutt on which he got his own rebound. It was all just that fast.
The Kings eventually fired 27 shots on first star Lehtonen, but he held firm, never more than when Kyle Clifford put the puck to the front, it went from Lewis to Stoll, and he shot it toward an open side. The netminder’s glove came out of nowhere to snag the puck.
Lehtonen was happy with his play, but downplayed the save. “It was one of those things. Maybe one out of fifty times you’re able to get it. It sure felt good, and I’m happy about it, but it’s not much to do with the goaltending when you’re just scrambling and he ends up hitting the glove. But I have to be happy with it.”
The Kings roll toward a 1pm Saturday shootout with the Ducks at home now. They’re quite likely down a defenseman. And who might be their next candidate should they go fishing for a new guy? Someone with a “Mc” surname. I tried to figure out who that might be by consulting www.hockeydb.com, but there are more than 1500 names on their list that begin that way, and that exceeds the number of hits they can return, so it’s up to you. Who’s out there that might replace any future Kings’ casualty on the D-line?
If you don’t love my new book, Coming Down the Mountain: Rethinking the 1972 Summit Series, then I just don’t know what to tell you. It’s amazing. No, I’m serious.
Follow me on twitter @growinguphockey. You might find that it’s worth your while. And if not, well, twitter’s free, so who cares?