Every once in a while, an NHL defenseman throws a puck right into the front of his own net, and watchers say to themselves, “Wow. They teach you not to do that in Pee Wee.” Well, there’s an excuse for you! But what if your team’s D looks so inexperienced as to appear that they should still be in the rec leagues? Funny enough, the LA Kings are suffering through so many injuries right now that you could almost say that about them.
Here was the defensive corps on Tuesday evening, along with their experience: Jordan Spence, 3 games; Jacob Moverare, 6 games; Austin Strand, 18 games; Christian Wolanin, 29 games; Sean Durzi, 43 games (so we’re up to 99 games); and Olli Maatta, who kind of busts the curve with 514 games. Five of the six total to a full season plus a playoff run, before Maata. And these guys were taking on the mighty Colorado Avalanche, who are suddenly getting goaltending worthy of their Stanley Cup aspirations.
On the other side, the D featured one notable addition—Josh Manson had come over from the Ducks and was making his Colorado debut. In the game, he had ten hits, leading the team and forcing Kurtis MacDermid up to a forward position, where he got just 6:27 of playing time. (But wow, is that two tough bodies in the Avalanche lineup!) Big Mac probably didn’t help his future case with a holding the stick penalty and another for interference, though no harm done since the Kings didn’t score on those chances, or at all. Both penalties were committed against LA defensemen, interestingly.
Manson’s stats line looked like this: 18:41 time on ice, one shot, an attempt blocked and one missed. The ten hits mentioned. No Kings’ shots blocked.
Cale Makar, by the way, led the visiting team in minutes on the blueline. Manson, as you might guess, led the team in hits. Darren Helm trailed him with six.
On the other side, Jordan Spence was the (perhaps) surprise leader in ice time, with 25:46. That’s Drew Doughty territory for a guy who made his debut—what, a week ago? Least experience/most minutes is not often going to beat a team that, as the Kings’ coach said after the game, “comes at you in waves,” and indeed, it did not.
The Kings, despite the lack of experience in the lineup overall due to injury, played a credible game even while not being able to generate any goals. The numbers tell the tale, with goals coming early—6:36 of the first—then late in the first and one more just past five minutes in the third period. The shots were relatively light on either side, 23 for the Kings and 27 for Colorado. Two of the goals, the first two in fact, were power play tallies by Colorado. These were scored on the only two infractions doled out to the Kings in the game. Colorado took four minors in total including MacDermid’s two.
For Darcy Kuemper, this was his second consecutive shutout. The Avalanche are now 43-13-5 and clear of their nearest rival in the Central, St. Louis, by 15 points. Calgary, leading the Pacific, is slightly closer to Colorado, with 79 points to the Avs’ 91. The Colorado team is 6-3-1 in their last ten games. They have won two straight, on Kuemper’s strong performance.
The Kings are 5-4-1 in their last ten, and second in the Pacific, clear of Edmonton by five points while having played 62 games to the Oilers’ 60.
Colorado plays in San Jose next, on Friday. The Kings take on those same Sharks, but on Thursday at home. The game will feature the 700-game celebration for Jonathan Quick, who played the milestone game on Sunday in a win at home versus Florida. Tuesday, he took the loss versus the Avs.
After the game, Coach McLellan was predictably not thrilled, but he maintained his even temper. He said his first PP unit, with Byfield and Danault on it, was good, but “the other one wasn’t real good at all, and that hurt us. As short-staffed as we are, that’s what we have to take advantage of, some of those situations, and get at least one. We failed to do that here and in San Jose, in a game that we did win . . . really short-staffed, we were able to score, six-on-four, six-on-five situations, so when we took advantage of it, it helped us.”
When asked about the defense, he said, “We believe in the group that’s here. As they keep falling out, it gets tougher. You get deeper in the batting order, and guys end up playing significantly more minutes against opponents that they normally wouldn’t play against, and that catches up with you after a while. It does put more pressure on the power play and penalty kill to get it done, and we haven’t been good all year in those situations.”
He did reference a game last year when the team gave up over 50 shots to the Avs and noted that “tonight we checked again; we did what we could. It wasn’t enough, and they capitalized on some mistakes. I still believe the group is further ahead now than it was last year against that team, so there are some positives to take out of it.”
“If the guys can put it all together, and we’ll help them with that, it should provide us some confidence.” He cited the need to get going against their next opponent, San Jose, which the Kings have not been good against.
Brian Kennedy is a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association