How much longer can what last, you ask? The offensive slump that the entire Los Angeles Kings team is in, with the exception of Mike Richards, and before tonight, Dustin Brown, who had had a couple of good games.
Don’t get me wrong. The Sharks are a great team that plays great defense. But it doesn’t matter who the Kings are playing, they can’t score. And once again, the Kings actually played alright in this one. They had their chances, and I thought they came out looking pretty good in this one. But at the end of the day, the results similar to what they usually are, as the Kings managed just a single, lonely goal, and a point, thanks to the brilliance of Jonathan Quick.
Simon Gagne is in a huge slump. Anze Kopitar is in a huge slump. Dustin Penner played quite well tonight, but at the end of the day, the results weren’t there, and the results haven’t been there for most of the season. Jack Johnson is in a huge slump. Drew Doughty has looked better lately, but at the end of the day, he hasn’t scored a goal since November 10th. Justin Williams is having an awful season. Jarret Stoll is having an awful season. Kyle Clifford is having an awful season. Slava Voynov has really cooled off. Secondary scoring? Non-existent. And now you can make it 14 straight games without scoring more than two regulation/overtime goals, as the Kings continue to build on a franchise record that they are not happy to have, but aren’t doing anything about stopping.
Let me ask you something. If I had come to you before the season and shown you the Kings roster, a roster featuring Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Dustin Brown, Simon Gagne, Justin Williams, Dustin Penner, Jarret Stoll, Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, would you have looked at it and said “Yup, I see it. Worst offensive team in hockey.”? Probably not, no. This team should be one of the better offensive teams in hockey, instead, they’re far and away the worst. It’s really pretty puzzling.
Dean Lombardi made a coaching change, and he brought in another old-school, defensive-minded coach who plays a very similar if not the same system. Clearly, he doesn’t think the message was the problem, he thinks it was the messenger. To be fair, again, the Kings were playing a great team tonight, a team that plays very tight defense, and this group of players does need some time to see if they can get the offense going under their new coach. However, unfortunately for the Kings, the other teams aren’t going to sit around and wait for them to get their act together. While the Kings take time to try and figure out their game under Sutter, if they aren’t gathering a bunch of points while they’re doing so, they’re going to fall off the pace in the Western Conference and dig themselves into a huge hole. They can’t afford to do that, so how much time will Lombardi give this current group to figure things out under Sutter before he turns to trade to try and solve the Kings’ offensive woes?
The saddest part of the night was how well Jonathan Quick played. There’s no way this team gets a point without him playing the way he did. It became pretty apparent tonight that all Quick wanted for Christmas was a win. Well, his team let him down, so they better get him one hell of a makeup present. There was speculation that Jonathan Bernier would start tonight, but no, it was Quick, and it turned out to be an excellent choice by Darryl Sutter. Quick flashed his early-season form and was nothing short of magnificent, bailing his team out early and often and making plenty of huge saves. However, he’s human, and he gave up a goal. You just can’t do that when you’re the goaltender for the LA Kings.
The Kings were able to get that goal back, but no more. The Kings went to a shootout for a third straight game, and after winning the first two, couldn’t make it 3-for-3. Once again, Jonathan Quick was brilliant, stopping all of the first three Sharks shooters. The Kings needed just one goal in those first three rounds and the extra point was theirs, but they couldn’t get it. Then the Sharks scored in the fourth round, the Kings didn’t, nobody was surprised, and the Kings go home for the holidays with one point and a very understandably upset Jonathan Quick.
On the other hand, the Kings got five out of a possible six points in their last three games. Shootouts are basically a crapshoot, so two out of three isn’t horrible. It’s funny, isn’t it? Games that result in shootouts are essentially a tie, with an extra point up for grabs to the team that wins a practice drill. If the Kings had won said practice drill, I may very well have seen this game differently.
However, one thing’s for certain, the Kings better hope they’re not in a tiebreaker at the end of the season. The Kings have 37 points, which ties them for 11th in the Western Conference, while they have just 13 regulation/overtime wins, the 12th most in the West. If teams are tied at the end of the season, the first tiebreaker is regulation/overtime wins, and right now, not only do all of the teams ahead of the Kings of course have more points, but most have quite a few more regulation/overtime wins. Eight of the Kings’ 37 points this season have come from either shootout wins or overtime/shootout losses. The Kings have just 13 reguation/overtime wins in 35 games and just 11 regulation wins.
The Kings being tied with a team at the end of the season certainly isn’t a guarantee, but in the very tight, competitive Western Conference, it’s certainly a possibility. For obvious reasons, the Kings would be well-served to get as many points as they can throughout the remainder of the season, and they’d also be well-served to get as many points as they can by winning games in regulation or overtime. Preferably regulation when they’re facing a Western Conference team that they’ll be fighting for positioning with. The Kings have just two regulation/overtime wins this month, so unless they stop relying on shootout wins and overtime/shootout losses for almost a quarter of their points, like they’re doing so far, they better hope they’re not in a tiebreaker situation at the end of the season. On the other hand, if they’re relying on shootout wins and overtime/shootout losses for almost a quarter of their points for the remainder of the season, they likely won’t be in position to make the playoffs anyways so a tiebreaker won’t matter.
The Kings came into the night three points back of the Sharks, with a chance to make it one point, or fall back as far as five points. At the end of the day, they’re four points back, and not to be overlooked, the Sharks have three games in hand (thanks to the brilliance of NHL scheduling). Yes, the season is not even half over yet and there’s tons of time left, but the Kings can’t wait much longer to start gelling. The Kings head into the holiday break before hosting the Phoenix Coyotes for the first time this season in a Boxing Day showdown on Monday, but before we get set for that, let’s recap this shootout loss in San Jose…
1st period: The Kings came out and looked pretty good in the opening frame, keeping pace with a very good San Jose team in a tough building to play in. Both goalies were fantastic, as was the case all night, and as is the case for every goalie the Kings play. The Kings outshot the Sharks 7-5 in the first period and went 0-for-1 on an awful-looking power-play, while the Sharks went 0-for-2 as the Kings’ penalty woes continue. Where would this team be if their penalty kill wasn’t so good?
2nd period: Logan Couture opened the scoring at the 7:53 mark. From behind the net, Ryane Clowe fed it out to Couture at the left circle who one-timed it by Quick’s glove, for his 15th goal of the season. Patrick Marleau also got an assist. The Kings tied it up at the 18:52 mark. On a power-play, to the right of Niemi, Anze Kopitar fed it up across to Mike Richards at the right circle who stopped it with his skate before firing the puck off the far post by Niemi’s blocker and in, for his team-leading 13th goal of the season, and his second goal in as many games since missing eight games with a concussion. You know, he’d have a lot more than nine assists if anyone else on this team could score. Drew Doughty also got an assist. Yes, a power-play goal! Forget the fact that it was against the 29th-ranked penalty killing team in the league… San Jose outshot LA 15-10 in the frame, while the Sharks went 0-for-1 on a power-play that ended after 1:07 thanks to a Ryane Clowe interference penalty and the Kings went 1-for-2, and their power-play that they failed on started after the teams played at 4-on-4 for 53 seconds and with only 1:07 left in it because Jarret Stoll was still in the penalty box when Clowe took the penalty. Colin Fraser and Andrew Desjardins both took unsportsmanlike minors at the 13:58 mark that led to two minutes of 4-on-4 play, after the 53 seconds of it shortly before.
3rd period: San Jose outshot Los Angeles 14-9 in a scoreless third period, going 0-for-2 on the power-play while the Kings didn’t have one. Justin Williams took a hooking penalty at 11:51 and he was so mad at the call you could hear him screaming “HE FELL!” and, uh, other stuff, at the ref. He knew if the Sharks scored there it was likely over with the remaining time and his team’s lack of offense. But, they killed it off. The Sharks outshot the Kings 34-26 in regulation and went 0-for-5 on the power-play in regulation while the Kings went 1-for-3.
Overtime: The Kings outshot the Sharks 3-1 in a penalty-free overtime, meaning the Sharks outshot the Kings 35-29 on the night and the Kings finished 1-for-3 on the power-play while the Sharks finished 0-for-5. The Kings missed opportunities by consistently losing offensive-zone faceoffs in overtime and the third period, and usually it was the usually-reliable Jarret Stoll losing them.
Shootout: Being the home team, the Sharks elected when to shoot, and chose to shoot first.
1st round: Joe Pavelski came in and shot it over the net. He is now 2-for-4 in shootouts on the season.
Jarret Stoll came in, and switched it up (sort of), trying to wire his laser snap shot low blocker, but he couldn’t get it by Niemi. He is now 2-for-5 on the season.
2nd round: Michal Handzus came in and had his wrist shot hit Quick’s glove and stay out. He is now 2-for-4 on the season.
Anze Kopitar came in, made a move to his backhand, got it through Niemi’s five-hole, but he sent it through the crease and wide. He is uncharacteristically awful at shootouts this season, now just 1-for-6. What’s really frustrating is that, had that backhand not trickled just wide, the Kings would have won (if the third round still went the same way).
3rd round: Dan Boyle came in and hit the post. He is now 0-for-3 on the season. Andrew Murray had stepped onto the ice as Boyle was lining up to shoot, so clearly there was some confusion there.
Dustin Brown came in with a chance for a third straight shootout goal and shootout-winner, but he made a slight forehand deke and Niemi stayed with him and stopped him. He is now 2-for-5 on the season.
4th round: Ryane Clowe came in and beat Quick with a forehand deke. Of all people, did it really have to be him to get the shootout winner? I’m not a fan… He is now 3-for-5 on the season.
Mike Richards is amazing, the team MVP, and maybe the only skater on this team who shows up every night. But he stinks in shootouts and should never be used unless it’s a very late round and there’s almost no one else left. He got in too deep, ran out of room to make his move and Niemi stopped him to give San Jose the extra point. He is now 0-for-2 on the season. The Sharks are now 4-1 in shootouts while the Kings are 3-3 and have their streak of three straight shootout wins snapped. The Kings only lost two shootouts all last season, going 10-2. The Kings fall to 1-1-1 against the Sharks this season, and 0-1-1 in San Jose.
Well, it’s not the way the Kings wanted to head into the holiday break, but they’ll have to be satisfied with a point, as they are now 1-0-1 in the Darryl Sutter era, with both games ending in a shootout. Will Dean Lombardi make a trade once the roster freeze lifts on December 27th? Hopefully the Kings find some “goal” in their stockings over the holiday (that was brutal…). As mentioned earler, their next game will be at home against the Phoenix Coyotes on Monday. Stay tuned for a game preview coming sometime before the puck drops at 10:00 PM ET/7:00 PM PT at Staples Center. And, of course, happy holidays to all of you, and thanks for reading! Especially to those of you who made it all the way to the bottom of this excruciatingly long post/rant.