The LA Kings should have been energized entering their Saturday evening game against New Jersey. The Devils aren’t playing all that well, sitting seventh in their conference and fifth in the East’s wildcard race and being losers of five of their last seven games and eight of their last 11. The Kings won an exciting 4-3 OT game versus potential Stanley Cup Final opponent Washington. And down the road, the Ducks are entering a bit of a funk, losing in Colorado midweek and 5-2 to St. Louis last night (Friday).
And they were energized. For about the first sixty seconds. They charged down to the visitors’ end and pinned the puck there. But just as quickly, they let the Devils skate it down the home team way. Jake Muzzin turned it over, and Smith-Pelly shot it towards the front. It went off the goalie and was banged in by Tyler Kennedy, his third goal of the year. Exactly 1:12 had elapsed.
Things got no better. The LA team ended the period with four shots to New Jersey’s eight; this despite having the advantage of three power plays. On the last one, they didn’t even bother throwing out a specially constructed second unit, merely tossing the line of Lecavalier, Pearson, and Toffoli to take the second minute. What’s odd about that aside from the lack of ingenuity is that the line had been sitting, or at least, the wingers had, as Lecavalier disappeared from the bench for a stretch and Sutter did not use the youngsters in his absence.
Here’s proof of their hiatus: Toffoli and Pearson had 3:23 each in period one. Lecavalier had 3:12.
They didn’t do any more than anyone else on the PP, though a thoughtful toss of the puck back to Martinez on the point rendered a shot. Not dangerous, it went straight into the gut of goalie Keith Kinkaid.
Even saying that suggests an oddity: this is clearly the backup netminder (16 games as compared to Cory Schneider’s 55 coming in), but he was in. Was that the result of a back-to-back? Not even. The Devils played Thursday night in San Jose, not Friday.
Reverting to discussion of the Kings, and still on the goalie question, one wonders why Sutter plays Quick so much. This was his 55th game. And sure, if it’s a dangerous opponent, but see above: the Devils ain’t gonna hurt you too bad. They have scored fewer goals than anyone in the East by eight, and are last in the league in goals for. If you discount the pathetic effort by Toronto at 159 goals, most teams are at least 20 goals for ahead of New Jersey.
Hey guys—Lou’s gone. You can lighten up and play some hockey.
Only they were. They kept the Kings at bay for much of the second period, though as that frame wore on, their strategy was a version of collapse to the net and hope the tangle of bodies stops the shots before they get to the goalie. (I should have hyphenated that whole thing, right, but you get the idea.)
It did. The tangle. Stop the puck. Until it didn’t. That was with about five minutes to go in the period. It unfolded like this: Kopitar deked to his forehand and took a shot into the wide open side, but for Seth Helgeson, who scooped it out. Later in the same sequence, Martinez fired one off the end boards. Kinkaid sat on his duff as the puck rolled off the end boards. In came Kopitar to pick it up, and he scored.
This was only the second decent sequence in the period for LA. They had earlier found themselves on a four-minute power play (that’s ten total unanswered power play minutes for the Kings, if you’re calculating) during which two good chances eventuated. One was a drop pass from Lecavalier to Toffoli, who got a wrister off. The second was when Brown put the puck to King, who was down low and quite close to the goalie. He deked to his forehand and got off a close shot, low. Kinkaid dove out towards him to make the save
So as the period wound down, the Kings had erased their massive first-period shots deficit to lead in that department by 14-12. The score, as you’ve surmised, was tied. And the LA team had finally drawn its first penalty.
Martinez put on a hook and got the ref’s arm raised. The delay went on for at least 30 seconds. Finally NJ fired the puck into the corner and lost it (duh), and the call was made. 44 seconds remained of the period. The Devils were ineffective on the first part of their man advantage, registering no shots.
Context? They’re not as bad on the power play as their meager goal total on the year would perhaps suggest. They sat ninth coming into the evening, 20.9%. Their penalty kill, to cite a stat that you were likely wondering about earlier, is also 9th in the league, at 82.2%. That went up by a bunch after they killed five minors (three and a double) in a row, of course.
So the first two ended like this: with LA having played a raggedy first, New Jersey playing an uninspired second, and both teams notched at one.
That power play? Didn’t do anything for New Jersey, and they would neither get nor give another.
As the second period went on and into the third, the lines themselves became a bit of a scramble. Here’s the look: Brown, King, and Lewis became Brown, King, and Lecavalier. Kopitar, Carter, and Lucic became the first two with Versteeg. Clifford, Shore, and Versteeg became the first two with Lewis, and Carter, Toffoli, and Lecavalier became the first two with Carter.
Didn’t do much. The Kings, it was said after the game on the radio, didn’t attempt a lot of shots because they know that New Jersey is going to get in the lanes and block them anyway. So they would end the evening with just 23. The Devils would have 24.
There was no scoring in P3, but Dustin Brown could have put LA ahead when he had the goalie down. Reid Boucher got to the LA captain and perhaps forced the shot, which went up, up, clank! Off the crossbar, and out.
In the last few minutes, Kinkaid was peppered with several dangerous shots, including one that hit his mask and then rolled down his right arm. He forced the arm out away from him to propel the puck away as well.
The OT was close to over (16 seconds to go) when John Moore took the puck to the LA net after grabbing it at his own blueline. He wheeled around the LA net from left to right and scored.
His comment after the game: “I’m just fortunate I’m getting the chance [in OT]. I think as a team we’ve had a lot of success, winning in overtime. Fortunately the coaches are showing a lot of trust in me.” He said that he was thinking wraparound all the way, but that, “[Quick] got over so quickly, then I looked over in the slot, saw him cheating a little and tried to throw it short side. He’s a great goalie. He had a great game. Their whole team. That was a big test for us.”
Coach John Hynes said of the goal, “He’s a strong skater, so I think the three-on-three works well for him. Sometimes when guys get opportunities where they score they feel comfortable in those roles, and I think John does it, and it was nice to see him come up big for us tonight.”
The New Jersey coach also commented that he wants his team to “have a strong culture and play a certain way.” Consistency is the key, it seems, from what he says. “It’s the pride in how you play, and winning helps that, no question.” Even, he added, when a team doesn’t win. “We like the environment we have right now, and we need to continue it.”
They’ll get that chance Monday in Anaheim.
Best fan yell of the year heard from the LA pressbox: “Let’s go you lazy f*&^ing millionaires.” Thanks to whoever in the cheap seats authored that one.
The Kings now go back-to-back on the road against Chicago and Dallas. What’s the name of their backup goalie again? Oh yeah, Enroth. Maybe he’ll actually ear a paycheck in regular play.
You do read, right? Oh yeah. OK, so read my books. Growing Up Hockey to start, Facing Wayne Gretzky to end.