For the first week of the season in LA, it looked, in the immortal words of Ernest Thayer, like “there was no joy in Mudville.” Nothing was going right, and the hockey team wasn’t winning. People were starting to ask if the Sutter era was over. How silly that was is now apparent, but hey, it was what it was.
Up until Saturday, things actually still were not going all that well, but the Kings have figured out how to win anyway. Does that make sense to you?
Turns out that “not that well,” for a team which is sitting just off the lead in the Pacific and came into Saturday afternoon with a streak of six wins, is of course a relative term, but here’s how things have played out: the Kings had won six in a row but scored just 18 goals in that span. They allowed six. Actually, if the NHL is a 3-2 league, as Sutter so famously once said, then the math works out even more in their favor than that. 3-1.
They’re winning, in other words, on the back of their goalie. What else is new? Jonathan Quick entered Saturday having played 9 of the team’s 10 games. His numbers were 2.0 GAA and .928 save percentage. He left the day with one more game, one more win, and slightly worse numbers than that, because the game, versus Nashville, went to 4-3, LA’s favor.
Pencil that out, and it says that he’ll play 73 games with an additional 48 minutes thrown in. We all know that that’s just not going to happen. He’s pretty steady in terms of games played—his personal highs, 72 contests, done twice, including last year. But let’s just say he can’t do that again. And that might eventually spell trouble.
But he has been spectacular so far. Saturday against Nashville, he faced 34 shots. One save in particular stood out. Colin Wilson snuck behind everyone and came in on Quick alone. He took the puck across the crease right to left and got off a low shot. By that time, Quick was over with the leg, splayed out full splits style. The puck hit the pad, which was flat to the ice. It’s become common to see such acrobatics, and though he let in a slightly suspect goal to let Nashville tie the game at 3-3 in the late third period, he was quite solid otherwise.
So if the goaltending is good, how are the Kings winning? Tyler Toffoli outscores their opponents many nights. The problem is, he’s pretty much the only guy on the team putting the puck in the net as it stands right now, and that’s why I say that things aren’t going precisely well.
Witness this: Toffoli has played in all the games, and he’d scored seven goals prior to puck drop Saturday. The team had 20.
And then he did it again. It was early in P2, with the Kings on a power play and 11 shots registered to that point. Lucic went into the corner and dug out a puck. Ehrhoff cruised in from the point and took a pass, and he dished it to Toffoli, back to the goalie in the slot. The kid wheeled around and shot, more with a feel for where the net was than seeing it, and the puck got by Rinne. It wasn’t the kind of wicked backhand you’ve seen this fall from Max Domi, but an adequate shot nonetheless. It just points out that anything this guy touches right now is turning to goals.
Good thing, because that’s more than one-third of the team’s production from one guy. And that’s not all. His current line, Kopitar-Toffoli-Pearson, currently shows 13 goals (three for Kopitar, and you do the math on the rest), and that’s trouble. Nobody else is scoring.
Oh, but if you did that math, you realized that the Kings got yet another goal from Toffoli. That one came to tie the game at 2-2, with assists from Lewis and Muzzin, at even strength. What that means is that nine of the team’s 22 goals at that moment were from this youngster. By the end of the game, the team had notched two more, making the equation nine of 24. That’s still past one-third.
So the Kings are winning, but they’re doing it on the back of their goalie, perhaps not the worst thing in the world, and due to the golden touch of one 23 year-old who is in his third NHL season and whose goal production high was 23 last year.
Maybe he’s on a breakout year, and he’ll double last season’s total. Maybe the streak will end. The Kings hope the former, obviously. But any way you cut it, such production doesn’t take away from the responsibility of the rest of the team, and right now, nobody’s shouldering much burden.
Two other guys scored for the Kings, as I said. Those were Andy Andreoff, his first of the year, and Jeff Carter, in OT, to win it.
Here’s how it played out. The Preds erased the early LA lead shortly after the Kings took a penalty in P2. It was a bang-bang-bang set of passes from Forsberg and Fisher and finally to James Neal. He shot it and saw Quick make a save. Two defensemen were stationed in front. They turned around as the puck bounced back out to Neal. He roofed it. The teams were essentially even in shots, with 16 for LA and 17 for Nashville following the goal.
The Predators scored again, a slapshot from Weber, to go up 2-1. Toffoli tied it, then Andreoff faded wide right in front of the net and shot, as he said after the game, “just to get it away as fast as I could.” He said it went through the armhole of Pekka Rinne.
The Preds tied it at 3-3 as said, then the OT saw Carter eventually take the puck, hold it a long, long time across the crease, and roof it. LA had its 4-3 win.
By the end of the game, the numbers looked like this: Nashville 34 shots, Kings 29. The stats—a one-goal game, essentially even shots—tell you something. This game, a good test for LA given the skill of the Nashville team, reveals that the Kings can match up with the elite of the West. They’ll need that information as they go on the road for Chicago and St. Louis. But if they get through those teams, they’ve got a bit of an easier road at home, with Columbus, Florida, and Arizona coming in starting on Thursday evening.
Add that up, though, and you’ve got five games in eight days, with the final one not even an evening contest. The Kings play at 1pm again next Saturday, as they did this week. Someone, it would seem, is going to have to step up and do some scoring to balance out Toffoli,
While we’re on stats, one more thing. The hits numbers in this game tell you something. The Kings normally outhit their opponents on the order of 2-1, especially at home, where the counting might be a little generous in their favor at times. On this afternoon, they had 25 hits and Nashville 28. Why? Simple. Nashville’s fast and skilled, and you can’t hit what you can’t catch up to.
One of the hits Nashville recorded was Ribeiro on Ehrhoff, a hit from behind behind the net that left Ehrhoff lying on the ice and woozy. In other words, suffering from some type of head trauma. He left and did not return. After, Sutter wasn’t talking. He said something like, “I’m not into talking about that right now, and I’m not talking about that.” That’s halfway paraphrased, because he was, as has become familiar, speaking quite softly.