A Whole New World for the Kings
Friday night the Colorado Avalanche served the Chicago Blackhawks their first regulation loss of the season. It took 25 games, more than halfway through the shortened season, for the Blackhawks to not earn a point in a game.
So anything is possible in this post-streak world, right? The two presumed favorites in the San Felipe Stakes lost at Santa Anita. The UCLA men's basketball team won at least a share of the Pac-12 title. The Lakers are now a winning team. That meant the Kings would rebound from their subpar performance against Dallas on Thursday and play 60 minutes of crisp consistent hockey, right?
Well the Kings did rebound with a 6-2 win over the Calgary Flames, but it wasn't entirely flawless.
"We're still trying to play a complete game," head coach Darryl Sutter commented.
There were glaring defensive lapses, especially when Alex Tanguay and Mark Giordano managed to get behind the defense at the end of the first period that cut the Kings lead to 3-2 on Tanguay's goal. Also notable was Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick's slower movement in the crease after offseason back surgery which probably would have stopped that second Flames goal.
From Quick's surgery to the loss of Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene on the blue line, the Kings have had to focus on being more dangerous on offense. In four games this week the Kings have scored 19 goals, a jaw-dropping blitzkrieg when compared to their ineptitude last season when they won the Cup. After a slow start the Kings are now 13th in the league in goals scored.
The Kings got things started early in the first period on the power play, a shot from the right circle by Slava Voynov hitting Dustin Brown to the left of the crease who passed it cleanly to Jeff Carter. Carter easily tipped in the puck past Flames goaltender Miika Kiprusoff for the goal.
Carter now has goals in four straight games and 13 goals in the last 13 games. With 17 goals only Steven Stamkos with 19 goals for the Tampa Bay Lightning has more goals in the NHL. It's getting to the point where even Sutter expects Carter to score in every game. "Why not? He's money."
The Kings then started taking untimely penalties having to defend two separate five-on-three power plays for two minutes. Unfortunately they didn't completely stonewall the Flames, former King Mike Cammalleri scoring on the first two-man advantage to tie the game.
The fear was that after spending energy trying to kill the penalties, there would be nothing left for the Kings. Jake Muzzin fortunately helped dispel that hitting a blister of a shot from the left point that hit the post and went past Kiprusoff.
Then it was Trevor Lewis. Then Justin Williams. Then Anze Kopitar. Then Colin Fraser. Just on and on and on.
"We never had any sustained pressure against that team," Flames defenseman Chris Butler said. "When you allow them to have the puck all night, they make a lot of plays."
With the size disparity, puck possession was a point of emphasis for the Kings.
"Our focus was playing in the offensive zone as much as we can," Williams said. "We're a big strong team — that's our identity. We're a heck of a forecheck team when we put our minds to it.
"We obviously wanted to focus on hanging on to pucks in the offensive zone."
After Fraser's goal, Kiprusoff left the game to the delight of the 18,248 standing-room only crowd armed with blue headbands used to honor former goalie Kelly Hrudy, the reason the Kings were wearing those horrendous "Forum Blue" uniforms.
So there was a lot of good. But there is still a lot to work on.
"As a team, individually we have lots of work to do," Sutter said. "If you break it down by position, by who plays with whom, they've got lots of work to do."
The Kings will have another go of the Flames on Monday after a day off tomorrow, presumably to adjust to the lost hour as Sutter reminded all of us in the postgame press conference. Hopefully what was lost in the hour will be found in a better defensive performance.