Waking up with the Kings: February 8
Several notes I took during the Kings’ 3-0 loss to the Predators Thursday evening:
-I’m wary of fights to “get teams going”, staged fights, line brawls, etc., but Rich Clune’s tilt with Kyle Clifford 2:15 into the game showed the importance of the former King to this Predators team and illustrated why Barry Trotz has been pleased with the player who one month ago was playing in Manchester. A natural complacency has the potential to develop in the first game back after a long roadtrip – Nashville was playing its first home game after a seven-game trip that equaled the longest trip in franchise history – and Clune’s fight with Clifford served as a wakeup call, a rallying cry that the Predators weren’t going to fall victim to the first-home-game-in-three-weeks trap. 39 seconds later, Gabriel Bourque scored on a one-timer from David Legwand.
-I came away awfully impressed by Nashville forwards Colin Wilson and Gabriel Bourque. All four of the 22-year old Bourque’s shots came in the first period and set the tone of a period in which Jonathan Quick kept the score close while the Kings were being out-chanced. Wilson’s second goal that put the Predators up 3-0 was a beauty. The 23-year old could have scored two goals on the same play. He had an excellent deflection on Shea Weber’s power play point blast that Quick did a good job of adjusting to, and then buried his own rebound. It was a strong example of Nashville “keeping it simple”: they won a faceoff, shot the puck from the point, got bodies in front and then pounced on the rebound.
-For a team that has such strong depth down the middle, L.A. shouldn’t have been forced to the perimeter as much as it was Thursday. In perhaps the Most Deceiving Statistic Of The Year, the Kings outshot the Preds 32-14 — but how many of those shots were generated by actual scoring chances? Trotz discussed this after yesterday’s morning skate, saying of the team that ranks 30th in the league in shots per game, “I’m not concerned about the shots. I’m more concerned about what we give up. Our shots against are way down. Our chances against are way down…If you don’t get as many shots, that’s the way it goes. They don’t count the shots, they count the scoreboard.” These are two teams that match up well down the center of the ice, and I was surprised with the ease in which Nashville pushed everything towards the perimeter in its defensive zone.
-I’m not consistently seeing a 200-foot game from the Kings at this point. There are spurts of effective forechecking – the King-Stoll-Lewis line has provided some good pressure at times – but I’m not seeing 60 minutes of that rink-wide defensive effort that made the team so difficult to play against down the stretch last season. With the responsible nature inherent in the team’s forwards, I’ve been expecting more goals like Jarret Stoll’s overtime series-winner against Vancouver, which was set up by a terrific Trevor Lewis hustle play as he hounded Dan Hamhuis off the puck. It’s that type of play that has made St. Louis such a difficult team to play against – something that Barry Trotz referenced after yesterday’s morning skate.
-Any opportunity to see a game in “Smashville” should be taken advantage of. From a montage of videoboard hits, set to the tune of John Rich’s Mack Truck, to the Gordonville High School Band’s rendition of Rocky Top, to the in-house band’s between-period performances and game-stoppage cover of Roxanne and organist “Krazy” Kyle Hankins, this was a very unique game-night environment and certainly gave off a Tennessee hockey vibe. It was loud in Bridgestone Arena last night, and the fans saluted the home team with a standing ovation over the game’s final minute.