The Kings Are Rounding Into Playoff Form
Last night it over three hours to see the Dodgers lose to the Giants. Today it took just over three minutes for the Kings to effectively knock the new-look Minnesota Wild out of the game the Kings ultimately won 3-0.
The Wild came into the game bolstered with their big trade deadline pickup: Buffalo Sabres captain Jason Pominville, one of the few big scorers out there on the market. The Kings showed they really didn't care.
After Mikko Koivu's shot hit wide of the net and squibbled out to the blue line, Justin Williams took it down the right boards as the Wild defense tried to chase him. They didn't and he went top shelf Niklas Backstrom just 89 seconds into the game.
"I didn't really beat anybody," Williams admitted when asked if he was channeling Bobby Orr. "He used to beat a lot of guys then go around the net then beat the goalie again. I just skated up the wall and put one in."
96 seconds later Mike Richards drove the puck up the middle and stopped on the Wild blue line. The defense collapsed around Richards allowing Jeff Carter to leak behind the play. Richards passed between two defenders to Carter who only had Backstrom to beat five hole for the 2-0 lead.
Two shots, two goals and Backstrom left the ice for Darcy Kuemper.
"We have two goals in the first three minutes — that's a good start," Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said.
Of course the Kings were bolstered by their own new acquistion. The 6-foot-3, 225 pound defenseman Robyn Regehr added experience and size to the Kings blue line, much needed with the injuries of Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell.
And for the first 10 minutes of the first period, it seemed like Regehr allowed the players to revert to their normal roles. Of course the ice was tilted to their offensive end for much of those 10 minutes, so of course they looked Stanley Cup ready.
"I think he’s exactly what we expected," Williams said. "He's a hard-nosed player who's tough to play against, and we're all happy as forwards that he's with us now."
Williams should have been particularly happy. Early in the second period Regehr stood up on the Kings blue line stripping the puck from Pominville as the Wild were ready to charge into the Kings zone.
Regehr got the puck to Anze Kopitar who doubled back into the Kings zone as the Wild were making a line change. Kopitar took advantage of the chaos and passed the puck to Williams behind the Wild defense just outside the Wild blue line. Once again for Williams it was just between him and the goaltender, this time Kuemper. Williams beat Kuemper short side for the 3-0 lead.
"I'm feeling a bit more confident that pucks are going to continue to go in," Williams said. Williams now has goal in five straight game, the best in his career.
For Regehr after all the movement and preparation and homework, he was happy just to get on the ice and play. "It was just nice to go out and execute some of that so you don't have to think about it, you can just go out and play and do it."
Regehr, not normally known for his offense, recorded his third point of the season on Williams' second goal going +2 with a shot on goal, six hits and two blocked shots in 18 minutes of ice time. "I'll do whatever they want me to," Regehr said.
This wasn't the best game the Kings have played: they had a season low of 14 shots. There were times when they were backchecking for their lives.
"I thought we got sloppy in the second period and a little bit towards the end of the first," Williams said. "I thought we finished the game well."
But there were instances you saw that team that went 16-4 in the Stanley Cup playoffs. There was the instinctual knowledge of where line mates were on the ice. There were the crisp passes, the hitting, the speed.
With Matt Greene possibly on the horizon, the Kings have 11 games left in the regular season to make their charge into the playoffs and prove me wrong. I was wary about this group before the season. I even had doubts that they could make the playoffs much less repeat as champions.
They have proven me wrong. It would take a pretty big collapse for the Kings to not make the playoffs. But every now and then I see glimpses of May and June of last year, and it really the blood rolling.
Sutter will continue juggling the goaltenders. "We're still in the heavy lift schedule part of it, and we need them both," he said. That is probably the best luxury a coach can have really. Jonathan Bernier made 23 saves in his first shutout of the season as Jonathan Quick had the night off as he has been getting back into form.
"I think it's shown that when one is fresh it doesn't matter which one it is," Sutter continued. "They're both capable guys."
The Kings are now 21-13-3 with 45 points, fourth in the conference. It would take a miracle for them to make up the 10 points to catch the Anaheim Ducks for the Pacific Division title and second place in the conference.
But we all saw what happened last year, and it's hard for even this cynical fuck to write off the possibilities.