Efficiency. Expending only the amount of effort one needs to to get the job done. That’s great if you’re talking about your home AC unit or (if you’re not a car guy) your chariot. But if you’re a hockey team, and what you do is observed by some number of tens of thousands of spectators on a daily basis, then doing just barely enough is bound to make for some nervousness.
But that’s what the LA Kings have been doing of late, and we should have known that was the strategy when back in November the Coach said, “The goal is to make the playoffs.” By January, that was looking more and more like, “The goal is to barely squeak over the line into eighth place.” Then for a while, even that seemed impossible, or at least unlikely. The team just couldn’t win. They had stopped doing even just enough.
But things may have turned around. Witness this: Coming into Thursday night with the Flames in town, the Kings had won two games in a row, scoring four goals in each. But prior to that, they had notched just two wins in 11 games. And they scored four or more goals just twice, once in a loss and once in a win. They scored only 24 goals in that span, also, and were shutout one time. Twice they scored one goal in losing efforts.
This is perhaps what had them fourth in the wildcard race, and they were playing a team ahead of them, the Flames, holding the second (thus final) wildcard spot in the West.
And the Flames, by contrast with LA, came into the game having won 9 of their last 12. In six of those, they scored four or more goals. Of those games, all were wins. They also had the good fortune of winning a 1-0 and a 2-1 game during that span. The Kings, to go back briefly to them, lost a 2-1 game and won one 2-0 in that 11-game span discussed.
Why, then, was the LA team facing the unlikely prospect of barely making it into the playoffs, if at all, coming in? In fact, what events precipitated their being in fourth place in the wildcard race while Calgary sat two ahead of them? That would be a matter of two things—better scoring and better goaltending. What? The Kings had exactly 144 goals for and the same number against. The Flames had 156 for, so plus-12 on the Kings. And they had 137 against, so minus-7 on the Kings, with a minus being desirable. The statistical fact that they had played one fewer game is probably not significant.
And what also doesn’t make sense is how the Kings came out, or how Calgary did not, to play hard in P1. The shots total was 11-6 for LA, and the goal total 1-0, but much more than that, the play was carried by the Kings. They held the puck, made it into the offensive zone and held it some more, fired away on Hiller in his unadorned black mask.
The goal was a thing of mastery, with the centerman (Carter, who else?) dropping the puck to the right wing for Toffoli. He cruised laterally across the slot and did a toe drag, then whizzed a wrister past the netminder. Does he have one of the best shots in the league? If not so, then close.
The LA lineup was pretty much what it’s been, but the combinations were almost bizarre at times. How about the starting trio of Kopitar and Carter with Kyle Clifford? Later in the period, with Clifford having served a five-minute major for fighting, it was Carter with King and Williams.
The second shift of the game for the LA side saw Kopitar with Gaborik and Trevor Lewis. Again, two guys that go together and one that typically doesn’t. But later in the period, the first two had Jordan Nolan on their wing. Nolan also played wing for Brown and Stoll, though.
One steady combo was the new Seventies Line, which in the absence of Pearson was and is Toffoli and Carter with Dwight King. But once, I spied King and Carter with Williams. Also typically together—Brown with Stoll and Williams.
In other words, nothing was steady in the least. But what did it matter? LA was leading. Not for long.
In period two, with five minutes gone, the Flames had opened up a 2-1 lead. With five minutes left, the game was still 2-1 for the visiting team, and the shots were 26 for LA and 10 for the Flames. In fact, they had their two goals when they had registered just nine shots, and the Kings had 24. But the Kings evened the score with 15.2 seconds to go in period two. They then pulled away.
The Calgary collapse continued into P3. Before the one-minute mark, the Flames broke down in their zone and stood around reaching and watching while the puck went to Dwight King in the slot. He put a wrister beneath the arm of Hiller. That goalie did his old Anaheim trick and threw his head back in horror. The puck trickled down and in. The Kings scored two more within two minutes of each other, between the six and eight minute marks, and it was Hiller out and Karri Ramo in.
The final of those goals was by Tyler Toffoli, the first LA hattrick of the year. No Kings’ player has scored four in over 20 years, and fans were expectant that that might happen. It didn’t, and while Calgary got one goal back in the middle going, they could bring it to no closer than 5-3.
The explanation was simple. Jeff Carter said that the Kings played simple hockey. “We controlled the play a lot. Hung onto it in their end. We capitalized on our chances.” He added, “We tried to work from our end out,” and said that this has been coming together since the end of their recent road trip. Now, things are working, and this was complemented by Toffoli having a big game. But the emphasis—starting in their own end to be effective. “Working from our end out is something we’ve been working on for the past couple of weeks. We’re working from below the puck, not cheating for offense, and making plays. It’s simple hockey, really.”
He said that the team knows what they’re up against, having been in a lot of good games in the past couple of years, and that nothing much needs to be said to get the team to play well.
Coach Sutter added a few comments that indicated the team strategy also. “We were probably the better team right through. We had a lot of opportunities.” He said that his team had dominated Calgary in shots in the earlier meetings of the year as well. On this night, the Kings ended with 45 shots, the Flames 18. Sutter named every aspect of the game, forecheck and on and on, as keys. He said that the Kings had played well in Florida despite losing, additionally.
His goal, “You can only get points in the next game. I’ve said it how many times that it’s going to be tough to make the playoffs.” He refused to speculate how many points it would take to do that.
The Kings now have Washington and then Tampa Bay coming in, Saturday and Monday, and they thus have a tough go ahead of them.
Happy Birthday, Sandra Reimer. She’s my sister, and I did squeak in a call to Ontario before I headed to Staples for the game.
The Kings had a Legends Night, featuring Barry Melrose as guest. He was introduced before the game and given a watch. Fans will remember that he coached the Kings to the Stanley Cup Final in 1993, a loss to Montreal.