Waking up with the Kings: March 15
-Of the Sharks’ four tallies last night, three had much to say about the momentum of the game: Brent Burns’ first period goal that negated a heavy Kings scoring chance discrepancy, Matt Irwin’s power play goal that made it 2-0, and the two-on-zero finish by Logan Couture 27 seconds into the third period, which put the Sharks back up by three and stunted L.A.’s comeback attempt. On the other end of the ice, Antti Niemi was outstanding in denying Los Angeles early life by stopping all 16 shots during a first period in which some NHL goalies would have let one or two in. Opportunism would have served the Kings well on the road against a divisional rival in a building they have traditionally found little success in, and Niemi’s spotless first period (including dual saves on an excellent Dustin Brown, on a Jarret Stoll one-timer and on Anze Kopitar from close range) allowed Brent Burns to cash in on a loose puck in the slot during a 20-minute stretch in which San Jose was out-chanced and didn’t see an overwhelming amount of zone time.
-A pivotal play in this game was Jake Muzzin’s engagement of Andrew Desjardins after the latter’s clean, shoulder-to-shoulder hit on Colin Fraser behind the Kings net. Fraser supported his teammate sticking up for him – as would any other player in that locker room when speaking to the media – but I’d have been interested to hear the post-game reactions by the coaching staff. That’s likely a discussion that will wait for today’s practice. Regardless of one’s stance in a situation where a player accrues an instigator (or, in this case, an additional instigating with a visor minor), the team is still tasked with killing off the ensuing power play(s), an undertaking Los Angeles was unsuccessful at on both ends of Muzzin’s minors. While the team’s power play has been a revelation recently – maybe the best power play rhythm since the LA-Vancouver series in 2010? – the penalty killing has allowed six goals in the last 17 shorthanded situations. The Kings are 2-3 over that five-game stretch.
-Los Angeles road success, where have you gone? After a 10-1 playoff record away from Staples Center last spring, the Kings have come back down to earth with a 5-8-1 road record in 2012-13. The two away records obviously contain vastly different sets of circumstances and are hardly comparable, but a general recipe towards road success is receiving quality goaltending, winning special teams battles, keeping things “simple” and getting the game’s first goal, and L.A. hasn’t graded consistently well in those areas over its three-game road losing streak. I spoke with Drew Doughty about this at yesterday’s morning skate. “Going into other teams’ rinks, we want to be a team that no one looks forward to playing when we come into town,” Doughty said. “We want to be hard on the forecheck. We want to take the crowd out of the game. We want to try and get up a few goals in that first period, because when the crowd’s not behind you, and you even get booed by your own crowd, that just takes all the energy and momentum away from you.” The Kings’ forechecking was awfully good on in the first period, and until Burns scored on one of six San Jose shots (against L.A.’s 16), that road method was being demonstrated. Momentum wore teal last night.
-The defensive statistics that were all so kind to the Kings a year ago are now falling out of favor. Goals per game have risen from 2.07 (ranking: 2nd) to 2.62 (13th). Penalty killing has fallen from 87.0 (4th) to 80.2 (18th). Save percentage has seen a sharp drop, falling from .924 (4th) to .893 (24th). More on these topics from practice, which begins at noon at the Toyota Sports Center.