Anze Kopitar has scored a point in the last nine games (prior to Thursday), the longest such streak of his career. The Kings have lost four of those games, won one, and gained an OT point. The last three, though, they’ve lost, including a stinker to Vancouver on Tuesday night. In that game, the Kings were up 2-0, then, as the cliché goes, they “stopped playing,” and they allowed the Canucks to score three times, unanswered, and lost 3-2.
Well, as the doofus who used to coach them used to say, “It’s a 3-2 league.” Only it shouldn’t have been on that night. It should have been a walkaway victory versus a team which has scored just 46 times (coming into Thursday evening) but let in 48. A team that has a winning record, but nowhere near the record of the Kings, which now stands at 11-6-2.
Partly in response to that, and partly because it’s just the plan that the team has been following this year, they have a raft of new faces in the lineup.
Michael Cammalleri, you likely know, is gone to Edmonton. Jussi Jokinen came back. But get this: Cammalleri had played 15 games. He had three goals with four assists. Jokinen played 14. He had one assist. What’s he doing in LA? Getting warm. It was 64 degrees Fahrenheit in LA at gametime on Thursday night with the Bruins in town. It was -10 in Edmonton. Let’s assume that’s not Celsius.
So what’s Jokinen doing here? Well, two things. Providing faceoff coverage, such as on a power play in the first period against the Bruins. Didn’t matter, though, because the Kings did zip with the man advantage, getting no shots.
But in the second, things changed, thanks to his other contribution. The Kings were down 1-0 when Jokinen set Doughty up for the Kings’ first goal, at 4:33. One of the few times the Kings controlled the rush, they scored. It was on the power play after a big hit and some retaliation by the Bruins put the Kings up a man.
Kopitar took the puck into the zone, and it went to Jokinen. He spotted Doughty cruising into the zone, and put a pass back to him, Doughty floated further into the slot and teed up a wrist shot that went into the top right corner of the net. Beautiful.
What else was Jokinen doing? Providing some defensive help as he played on the third line alongside Andrew Crescenzi and Jonny Brodzinski. Look at those names. Makes me wonder what happens when an Italian, a Pole, and a Finn walk into a bar. I’ll leave up to you to say. Twitter me @growinguphockey.
So that brings us to other strangers. Brodzinski? Drafted by the Kings, fifth round, 2013. Big. 217 pounds. Played six games prior to this season, and was in his fourth one this year versus Boston. Has never scored a goal.
He opened the season with the Kings, played a game, then sat two. Played two more. Back to AHL Ontario. Now he’s recalled. He played under seven minutes.
And that other guy? Don’t make me type it again. Crescenzi. Did it. Well, he was undrafted. Been sitting around in the minors for years. He’s big, too. 6’5” and 207 lbs. Played one game prior to this one. AHL career looks something like this: played about 230 games, scored 26 goals.
Does this seem to make sense? The Kings started out the year having been victimized by their former coaching staff into playing a defense-first style that stopped working the second the busses pulled back into the Staples Center parking lot to end their second Stanley Cup parade. So they bring in a guy who’s scoring at the level of about a goal every ten games. In the minors. What can he possibly offer? Time will tell, and who am I to squelch his dream. He’s in the NHL. And maybe part of the idea was to size-up to play the Bruins.
But how does this approach favor a team that’s getting essentially zero offense from the bottom six?
So maybe the Crescenzi (gets easier after a few tries to type that) replacement is a matter of just size, or a new scene. But speed? Not his game. He saw 8:37 of action. No offensive stats.
Sitting to make room, by the way, was Brooks Laich. Or Nic Dowd. Take your pick; both were scratched. But between the two of them, they had accumulated one assist in 22 games this year.
One other switcheroo—Oscar Fantenberg was replaced for the night by Kurtis MacDermid. That’s 210 pounds of six-footer replaced by 233 pounds of 6’5”-inch giant. But when Chara’s on the other blueline, maybe the need to get bigger makes some sense.
The Kings were facing a Boston team on the back end of two games in two nights. That meant that Rask was on the shelf for the night.
Let’s add that up: tired team. Team that had lost. Team with secondary goaltender. And, by midway through the game, team that had slowed down, stopped controlling the puck, and looked to be leg-weary. And what happens? The Kings get a dumb penalty, Kopitar holding a guy, flagrantly, twice, coming around the corner from behind the net, right in front of the referee. No good reason for that. So LA is shorthanded at halfway through the second period.
Now, they’ve been alright at that this year. In fact, best in the league, with a kill rate of nearly 90%. And in fact, they killed this one.
But Nick Shore gives a puck away just outside his blueline a few seconds before the penalty expires, and the Bruins take it back in and play around with it, then get it to Chara at the point. He fires a shot, low, and Trevor Lewis redirects it off his stick blade and past a blind Jonathan Quick, with Jordan Szwarz standing directly in front of him. Quick was so blind on the shot that he wasn’t even in a crouch.
After that, the Kings took the momentum of the game on their side. They mostly skated the puck; the Bruins did not. They mostly controlled the play in the Bruins’ end. They had been outpaced in shots in period one by a factor of 8-5. They got 18 shots in the second period. Many good ones. And the shots totaled 23 for the Kings and 19 for the Bruins by the end of two periods. But the score was 2-1 for Boston.
The third period saw more Jokinen news. Namely, that the promotion he’d received in period two, putting him on a line with Toffoli and Kempe, continued.
After the game, he commented on both the team and his fit. “I think it’s a hard place to win. Third in a row one-goal loss, if I’m right. We have to find a way to be a little bit more desperate.”
About himself, he said, “I felt good. Some good plays there on the power play. We got one goal on the power play. Myself, there were some plays where I need to execute it better. I feel I can help the team. Just a great group of guys.” He added, “Every game is so close in this league. Every play matters. We have to find a way to earn those bounces, go our way.”
What he’s not saying: he doesn’t understand which of the defensemen have speed, so he isn’t sure where to be when the Kings break out. Example in the third period: he stopped at center, so Muzzin stopped at his own blueline, with the puck. The whole offense stalled.
Late in the third, Jokinen took a tripping penalty on a puck he said he overhandled. He fell, and then dragged a Boston defender down. Not clearly a penalty, but called. The Kings thus had a man disadvantage to finish out the game, and that finished them off.
Coach Stevens said of Jokinen’s play, “It’s tough for him coming in, new team, new setting. A lot of information the first day, but he looked comfortable out there. He’s a veteran guy with a lot of smarts. He can help us.”
Tanner Pearson, normally on the Kempe line (which, you’ll recall if you’ve followed this team, is actually the Carter line), was demoted to play with Lewis and Shore.
None of that mattered, because they Kings barely got close to backup goalie Anton Khudobin during period three, despite firing 28 shots at him in total. The number for the third: five. For a team that’s desperate to win to avoid going 0-4 in the last week or so.
Boston didn’t appear to be concentrating on keeping the Kings to the outside, but the LA team just didn’t penetrate. Partly this can be attributed to Kopitar starting to slip back to his old ways—pass, don’t shoot. Your number one superstar offensive center can’t go a whole game with no shots. He didn’t quite do that, but he got just one. He also recorded a point in his tenth consecutive game.
After the game, he said, “We have to have a better effort from everybody, for the full game.” He repeated some clichés about game plan, system, etc. But more than anything, the voice, the downcast look—he seems like he did last spring, when the team was in the dumps and nothing was working. This can’t be happening this early.
Stevens said he didn’t like the start the Kings had. “The first period, a team playing a back-to-back, and we weren’t winning enough battles. Pucks that were getting into our zone were getting below our goal line, and pucks that were getting into their zone were not.”
He should have criticized their finish, too. Five shots. That’s just not going to do. The answer seems simple. Shoot the puck. They had 14 blocked and missed 15. What’s that say? That it’s all coming from the outside, and guys are too big in the NHL–especially Boston–to get pucks through them. You’ve got to go around them. Then you’ve got to put the puck into the top corner. Easy to say, sure. But it was working in the first ten games of the year. Why not now?
Carter is months from being ready. He and his spouse had a new baby last week.
The Kings face Florida at 1pm on Saturday.
Please read my new book, Mixing Memory and Desire: Why Literature Can’t Forget the Great War. Not hockey. But you might learn something.