Who Needs the Points More?

by | Feb 25, 2024

Who Needs the Points More?

by | Feb 25, 2024

Los Angeles, CA—Two nights prior to this one, more than two dozen scouts showed up to watch the LA Kings take on, and lose to, the Nashville Predators. Now here it was, Saturday, and everybody seemed to have better things to do. Just three pro scouts were in the usual front-row seats in the Kings’ arena’s press box.

Was there nothing to see? The Ducks were in town, and they would seem to be sellers at the upcoming trade deadline. If anyone wants their offerings (Adam Henrique, John Gibson), that is. The Kings, for their part, are in a spot they didn’t think they’d be as this season heads towards the playoffs, which is a  kind of version of the mushy middle. They came in holding the first wildcard in the West, with some games in hand on some of the teams around them. But they were being pursued, hard, by the two teams below them, Nashville and St. Louis.

The Kings have the advantage of having played two fewer games than either of those clubs, and they sported a four-point lead, with 66, over the other aforementioned teams’ 62. Would scouts be looking for what they’d be willing to let go? What would they want in exchange, and are their players worthy of what might be asked?

The Kings could have been further out front in the wildcard race but for a 4-1 loss Thursday, as was mentioned earlier. But surely they wouldn’t lose again, knowing the stakes? And against the Ducks?

Early on, their resolve was not there, except in bits. Phillip Danault rushed a puck up ice after the Ducks had had a chance on their opponents’ net. But most of the play was firmly in the LA end with the Ducks on offense. Mason McTavish stole a puck low, spun, and shot. Save.

Isac Lundestrom got a pass angling in on net, took a backhand, low, and saw it saved. Anaheim shortly got a power play, and scored nine seconds in. That didn’t stop their push. A shot from the point was tipped by Leo Carlsson. Enough examples—it’s the reason you want to know about. Simple answer: The Ducks were quicker to pucks than were the Kings. The Kings did tie the game late in the period on the power play, Fiala firing a wrister from the left dot with Kopitar making a perfect screen in front of the net.

The Kings pressed harder and better in the second period’s early minutes, a point shot tipped and going just wide, a Kempe spin-around coming just off a faceoff. John Gibson shucked off these attempts, and others, with a quick flick of his wrist twisting the paddle of his goalie stick to put the puck(s) harmlessly into the corner.

The teams next traded power plays, with the Ducks really failing in the second half of theirs and then surprising everyone in the building by scoring a shortie. Sam Carrick and Adam Henrique rushed two-on-one, the last pass going to Carrick for the redirect and in. This made the game 2-1 for the visitors. It didn’t stay that way long. The Kings had another power play, passing the puck all over the zone. Pretty nice movement, but to no great effect until Doughty launched a wrister from the point. It looked harmless enough, but it got past Gibson.

How was the Anaheim keeper playing? But for him, the Kings would have been up by a couple of goals, most likely. But the two he let in were a bit unlikely, especially the second one. Maybe the screen was too good, as it had been on goal number one.

The second period thus ended 2-2, with the shots 36 to 19 in favor of the Kings.

To whom did the points matter more? The obvious answer is “the Kings,” and they played like it in the third period, with some very dangerous moments, like when Arthur Kaliyev spun off the boards at the blue line and somehow got a clear path to the net. He shot the puck wide.

There was also some trading of chances, as when Gibson robbed the Kings in tight and, shortly,  McTavish fired a dangerous one from the right goal line. Danault, visible all night, almost ended things with two minutes left after he uncorked a slap-shot one-timer off a cross-ice pass. Nobody scored, and OT loomed.

Nobody got a goal then, either, not the least because the Ducks didn’t get off a shot and the Kings spent the whole OT passing the puck around, with two shots the result.

The game went to a shootout, and two low wrist shots taken straight off a rush beat Gibson to be the margin. One funny moment was when Carlsson came in on his chance, adjusted his helmet with a free hand, and then blasted in on net with a series of stickhandles and tucked the puck into the open side. That made the shootout 2-1 for the Kings, who won the game despite not scoring at regular strength for two games in a row.

They were questioned about that after the game. First, Adrian Kempe said, “The last two games maybe haven’t had as many chances as previous games, but hopefully it’s just a fluke, and something that we can get out of next game. Sometimes you’ve got to rely on special teams, and those were big for us tonight.”

Later Matt Roy would comment on the same thing: “I think it’s important that we bear down here getting closer to playoffs. I think five-on-five play is going to be huge. If we can keep that to a minimum and get some of our own five-on-five and let the special teams do their work I think it’s going to help us a lot.”

And finally, the Kings’ coach, Jim Hiller, had a go at the point: “In the Nashville game we didn’t generate a lot and we didn’t get inside. Tonight, you have that many times you throw the puck there, you were inside, yeah, we faced a really hot goaltender. We’ll take that offensively.”

Hiller also said that the Ducks got the better of the Kings on the rush, a point that nods towards the good old Kings’ defensive focus. He’s right—the Ducks have a way of stretching the ice, a contrast to the Kings’ tight, short game. On this night, neither approach prevailed. Rather, the skills contest took over. Hiller said after that the shootout is unpredictable, but his smile said he was glad that any uncertainty of outcome fell to his team.


Helene Elliott, who has covered the Kings and NHL hockey for 34 years, was recently bought out and hence retired by the LA Times, which has seen drastic cuts in personnel over the past few years and even more so the past few months.  Her last game was against the Ducks. She was recognized between periods two and three and received a warm ovation. All the best, Helene!

The Ducks now ride back down the 5 Freeway for an encounter with Nashville on Sunday. The Kings play away next week, beginning with a game in Edmonton on Monday night.

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