Sigh… There goes the dream of an 82-0 season… Now the best they can do is 162 points…
The Los Angeles Kings played their first two regular season games of the 2011-2012 season in Europe, and are leaving with as many points, after leaving two more points on the table today in a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in Berlin following their 3-2 overtime victory over the New York Rangers in Stockholm yesterday. There is no reason to be upset about losing today though. The Kings seemed reasonably satisfied with the European split, as the fans should also be. Of course you want to win every game, and you expect to win every time you step on the ice, but the Kings aren’t going to win every game, so when they lose, it might as well be to an Eastern Conference team, especially when it’s a team as good as Buffalo, and especially when it’s just the second game of the season… Plus factor in that it was the second game in as many days for the Kings, after playing in a whole different country yesterday, and the fact that the Kings have done so much travelling lately, it’s not a surprise that it took a toll on the Kings today. The Kings have not been in Southern California since a September 30th preseason game in Anaheim. That game was after trips to Denver and Kansas City, and since then, they’ve been to Las Vegas, Hamburg, Stockholm, and then back to Germany to play in Berlin, and that was one day after their game in Stockholm. Yes, the Sabres also played yesterday and they played in Finland, and their last preseason home game was September 24th, but I believe they’ve been in Buffalo since then, and the fact of the matter is that they have not done nearly as much travelling as the Kings have in recent weeks. The fact is, the Kings coming out of Europe with a 2-0 record would have been incredible. Jonathan Bernier (I’ll get to him later) was put in a bad spot today, and Terry Murray should realize that and not make anything of today’s game. Even leaving with one point from today’s game would have been nice. That’s why I thought it was so crucial to get two points against the Rangers yesterday, because I wasn’t sure if we were going to get any today, and I didn’t want us to leave Europe empty-handed. The fact is, the Buffalo Sabres are a heck of a hockey team. Just put this one behind and move on. But first, let’s recap how the game went down today:
1st period: The 1st period was actually pretty even, in fact, the Kings outshot the Sabres 12-9, but the period was scoreless. Jonathan Bernier looked very sharp. The Sabres were 0-for-1 on the power play and the Kings got a power play with 53 seconds remaining but didn’t capitalize on it.
2nd period: The 2nd period, for the most part, was a nightmare for the Kings. Luke Adam opened the scoring for Buffalo at the 2:40 mark, as he took a pass in the slot and rifled a one-time wrist shot through Bernier’s five-hole that he just got a piece of with his pads but couldn’t squeeze them in time to keep the puck out. Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville had the assists. Then at the 5:00 mark, Adam was at it again, as he knocked in a loose puck in a scramble in front of the net. Vanek got another assist on the play, his 5th point in just two games, as he currently leads the NHL in scoring. Then at the 13:19 mark, Paul Gaustad made it a daunting 3-0 deficit for Los Angeles, as he tipped a Nathan Gerbe shot past Bernier. Marc-Andre Gragnani also got an assist. LA finally got on the board at the 19:21 mark on a power play goal from Anze Kopitar who scored from the top of the circles after a nice pass from Jack Johnson. Drew Doughty also got an assist, his first point of the year. The Sabres were once again 0-for-1 on the power play, while the Kings went 1-for-2 in the period, and just to clarify, the power play that started in the 1st period but ended in the 2nd is counted as the one that they failed on, so overall the Kings were 1-for-2 on the night with the man-advantage at this point. Buffalo outshot the Kings 13-10 in the frame.
3rd period: The Kings kept the momentum from the Kopitar goal going into the 3rd, and were putting pressure on the Sabres and looking to cut the deficit to one, before Kevin Westgarth, who had way too much ice time today, took a dumb offensive-zone cross-checking penalty, and Drew Stafford capitalized for Buffalo at the 3:58 mark, making it 4-1, and pretty much putting the nail in the Kings’ coffin. The diminutive Nathan Gerbe picked up his 2nd assist on the day, and Derek Roy also got an assist. Shortly after, the Sabres appeared to make it 5-1, but the goal was called back after they went to review and it was determined that Cody McCormick tipped it in with a high-stick. At the 15:46 mark, the Kings got some late life as they pulled within two, thanks to Anze Kopitar’s 2nd goal of the game as he took a great pass from Justin Williams who found him streaking to the net and then Kopitar made a nice backhand move to slide it by Ryan Miller. Jack Johnson started the play, but didn’t pick up an assist, as he made a nice outlet pass to Simon Gagne who then gave it off to Williams who found Kopitar for the goal. It was Gagne’s 1st point as a King. The Kings pulled their goalie late, but couldn’t pull any closer, as the Sabres held on for the 4-2 win. The Kings outshot the Sabres 11-4 in the frame, and 33-26 on the game. The Kings didn’t have a power play in the period, the Sabres were 1-for-2. The Kings were 1-for-2 on the day and the Sabres were 1-for-4.
Some other thoughts from the game, how awesome is Anze Kopitar? Through two games, he currently leads the Rocket Richard race with three goals, throw in an assist and he’s been in on all but one of the Kings’ goals this season. I think his ankle’s better. Also, how awesome is Mike Richards? After getting the game-tying goal with five minutes remaining yesterday and then assisting on the overtime goal, he didn’t get a point today, and was a -2, but he’s just so awesome… He still looked great out there today, logging a ton of minutes in all situations, and with the Kings trailing 4-1 in the 3rd, in his 2nd game as a King, was standing up on the bench and yelling at his team mates. Also, I love watching his reaction when he’s on the ice for a goal against. Just look at his body language or the look on his face. You can tell how mad he gets. Or he’ll do what he did today on Buffalo’s 1st goal and take the puck out of the net and fire it down the ice along the boards. You think this guy likes losing? Nope. He can’t stand it. Don’t expect the Kings to go into those long losing funks they had last year where they don’t look like they’re getting their feet moving on the ice; Mike Richards isn’t going to let that happen. He brings the kind of leadership, competitiveness and fiery nature that the Kings lacked last season. Also, don’t blame Jonathan Bernier for the loss today. Yes, he allowed 4 goals and only made 22 saves, but none of the goals were his fault, they were the direct result of a tired team making a ton of defensive breakdowns in front of him. I hope Terry Murray takes note and doesn’t lose his confidence in him and still gives him regular playing time. Not his fault at all tonight. I actually thought he played well. Also, Drew Doughty played an incredible 28:45 today, by far leading the team, after by far leading the team in ice-time yesterday at 26:54. Not bad for a guy who missed almost all of training camp. It helps that Doughty has shown up in much better shape this season though, although he was still logging huge minutes last year. It will take him a while to be at the top of his game though, but pretty incredible to already being able to handle those kind of minutes. Oh, and Kevin Westgarth played far too much today. I don’t get when people say he looks fine. By his standards, maybe. He still can’t play a regular shift in the NHL, and he cost the Kings with a dumb penalty today. And, as I mentioned in earlier posts, both of these games counted as home games for the Kings, which is incredibly stupid, especially when the Rangers didn’t lose any home games. It just doesn’t make any sense, and both games were mostly pro-Rangers or pro-Sabres crowds, since native players were on each team. Hopefully losing a couple of home games doesn’t end up hurting the Kings.
Also, the offense and power play finally started to show some life in this game, despite just scoring one power play goal and just twice overall. Hopefully they can build on that. Getting Dustin Penner back should help, but there’s no word yet on whether he’ll be ready for the Kings’ next game, which isn’t until Thursday when they’re in New Jersey to take on Ilya Kovalchuk, Patrik Elias, Zach Parise, Adam Larsson, Martin Brodeur, and the rest of the New Jersey Devils. The Kings take 2 points and a 1-1 record after a European split into New Jersey for their 3rd game of the year, and first played in North America, as the Kings are heading back across the pond as I write this. Stay tuned for a game preview for that game later in the week.