The Kings and Ducks are in playoff races, with the latter being much more assured that all will end well than the former. Sunday night, they played each other. Several stories competed for attention while the teams competed for the win. I’ll give them to you here; you decide which compels you the most.
First, it’s all about goalies getting rest out here in California as one week ends and another begins. At least, that’s true of SoCal. Peter Budaj, like any Sutter goalie, is getting his tuckus played off. This is not news. That he’s playing relatively poorly is, and some people put that down to fatigue.
On the other end of the ice Sunday night was John Gibson. He’s played a lot this year as well, 46 games coming into the evening, and he was tired at the end of last week. So much so that he was given a day off of practice on Saturday after appearing a bit off on Friday, according to media reports.
The Kings, as everyone knows, play a tight style of team defense. As such, over the past 11 games, Budaj has had to face more than 30 shots just twice, and in five of six recent games, he had 22 or less. The bad news there is that, team defense being what it is, when a shot gets through, it’s probably a good one.
The Ducks worry less about defense, being happy to trade chances with almost any team. Their shots-against logs look like this: over Gibson’s last five starts, two games with 26 and 20 shots. But then bombings of 39, 37, and 31 shots, respectively. Perhaps the good news there: the trend line is descending. Prior to recent days, however, they had a number of games with shots against in the 20s. Maybe there is a correlation between a high Corsi and a low points total after all?
What other stories were featured in this third matchup of the teams this year? The Ducks’ captain, Getzlaf, had a yelling match with Trent Yawney, the coach in charge of defense, at practice the other day. The captain put it down to the tensions that happen at this time of the season. Others said maybe it’s something to do with the 2-4-1 slide the Ducks were on coming into Sunday. As you likely know, the Ducks ended up winning the game with a single goal, because the Kings got none.
After the game, Getzlaf was much more smiley, commenting that, “I thought tonight we played 60 minutes against a good hockey team over there. We played from our net out. . . . Especially this time of year, we want to play that brand of hockey.” So I guess defense matters some, after all.
Another story: who’s thinking ahead, and with what degree of assurance? Witness Getzlaf: “We want to be into that playoff mentality when we go into the playoffs. It’s a matter of getting as many points as we can before our break, and then playing the same brand [of hockey] after.” Not a lot of doubt there.
On the other side of the building, Drew Doughty was nowhere near as confident about his team’s chances. “There’s lots of concern. We’re still fully confident that we can turn it on now and get back into that playoff spot that we wanna be in, but the longer we wait, the harder it’s going to be, and right now, we’re losing a lot of points. Other teams are winning games that aren’t playing against us. We need to get on track immediately. That was the focus before tonight’s game, and we failed. It’s on to the next game, and we must win.”
Talking strategy, Doughty said he thinks the Kings throw too many pucks at the net that get covered up by the goalie. “I know it’s a good play sometimes, but I do think a lot of the time, there are better plays to be made.”
Next story: lineups on both sides. Adrian Kempe of the Kings spent Thursday, the day of his NHL call-up, feeling like it was all a dream. He played 15:18 against Arizona that night, and then 13:10 versus the Panthers on Saturday. The book on him is super speed but that he hasn’t shown quite the brilliance they hope to see from him—yet. He played just 8:30 on Sunday night, on the fourth line with Nic Dowd and Kyle Clifford. Funny about the minutes totals—the other two played about the same (Dowd just over ten minutes), but Clifford was quite noticeable all over the ice. He also had a scrap with Jared Boll in period two.
The Kings’ answer to Kempe’s lack of, to go with a made-up word, “spectacularity,” according to a report in the Ducks’ press pack on Sunday night—exactly what I’ve always said is what Kopitar doesn’t need (please do catch that double neg), but that the Kings force him to do—play a heavy game. Finish checks.
Finish checks? How about concentrating on stealing the puck and blinding the other side with how fast you get it to, and put it in, their net?
Finish checks. Phooey. (Bet you didn’t know that was spelled with a “ph,” did you?) Live and learn, kids. Hopefully Kempe isn’t ruined by this mentality. But the Kings are trying.
The other thing to note is from the Ducks’ side. Vermette is out, and that means that their key faceoff man is gone. In need of a center, they have put Rakell there. Carlyle after the game said that this is where they project him long-term anyway. But that means that other shift-arounds have had to be made. This means that Ritchie and Kase move up the lineup—in fact, looking at their depth chart, to the first line, with Getzlaf. The trio accounted for 11 of the team’s 29 shots, and 17 of 60 shot attempts.
Further intrigue comes from looking at the teams’ power plays. The Ducks were hoping that their power play would wake up, being 1-for-21 in recent days. Against LA, they got their chance, twice.
They were not effective. Here’s how things went: In period one, with LaDue off, the Ducks saw Vatanen put a one-timer off the post. They did register a shot on a separate attempt, but there was very little setup or good zone time. The same thing happened in the second, with the Ducks not gaining the zone securely and thus wasting their PP chance with Muzzin sitting for delay of game, knocking the net off as the Ducks crashed towards it.
The Kings have some power play struggles of their own going right now. They rank 21st in the league. On one chance that straddled the end of P1 and start of P2, they got just one attempt—a shot high and wide from the right side over to the left by Kopitar.
And that, friends, is what’s intriguing Kings and Ducks fans this week. Now, a little about the game.
The Ducks scored a goal in period two. It came at 1:19, at even strength, just after they’d killed a penalty. Getzlaf got a puck in the corner and skated it out across the slot. He saw Manson coming late, pinching, and put the puck to him on a tee. He whacked it into the open side of the net. The scorers credited an additional assist to Nick Ritchie after the game had ended. Budaj had absolutely no hope on this one.
Sutter was vocal after the game Saturday night that his team’s defense was not at fault for several recent goals, including a couple against Florida. On this one, they were at fault. But you could say that the coach got what he wanted. Budaj let in just the one as he faced 29 shots. He had a couple of pucks hit the post, including one on a try by the Silfverberg line from the slot.
Budaj also made some good saves, including two in period three when Perry rushed down the left side after serving a too many men penalty, and he flipped a shot that was saved, only to see a rebound to Getzlaf in front of the net that was similarly saved.
But the Kings failed the poor guy altogether, scoring exactly none of their own. In truth, they didn’t even have a sterling chance, though two shots midway through the game pasted Gibson in the shoulder and facemask, consecutively, and could have been considered as possible goals.
So for now, Budaj’s holding and it’s the team that’s letting him down. However, should things return to their downward spiral, the Kings would have no choice, for netkeeping duties, but to call up their AHL netminder, Jack Campbell. He has 23 wins in 37 games, and certainly would have more of Sutter’s confidence that current backup, Jeff Zatkoff, who has none of said confidence.
But that’s only going to be necessary if they win some games and get solidly back into the think of the Wildcard in the West. Right now, they’re in fourth, though tied for Calgary for second if you give LA credit for winning the game they have in hand. On the other hand, if they can’t score, then they’re not going to be very likely to close that gap.
In summation after the game, “We were a much sharper group tonight than we have been in the last little while,” Carlyle said. The Kings bring out their best, was the idea. But he then added that they need to be even better tomorrow, Monday, when the team plays away, in Arizona.
The Kings, too. They go to Colorado Tuesday before facing Boston at home. Anaheim will have taken the first date versus the Bruins, though, the night before, so maybe the Kings can capitalize on the Ducks’ tiring out the team from Beantown.
I sat beside Andy Andreoff in the press box. Our conversation will remain private, but I just want you to know—nice guy. Friendly and happy to chat with a person who knows his old hometown—he played his Junior in Oshawa, where my family now lives.
I’m on twitter @growinguphockey.
You can read my books, starting with Growing up Hockey. The newest one is Facing Wayne Gretzky.