Though they both logged plus-four ratings in the win over Dallas, neither Alec Martinez nor Jake Muzzin put excess stock in plus-minus.
“I’m not entirely sure I believe in that stat, but I think a lot of it was just we happened to be on the ice when other guys made plays,” Martinez said. “You look at the play like Kopitar’s, Muzzy and I had nothing to do with that, we just happened to be out there, so that’s why I think plus-minus is kind of a funny thing. Sometimes you’re in the minus column a lot, sometimes you’re in the plus column, so it’s not always, I would say, indicative of your play.”
Is that applicable to last night’s 4-0 win in Nashville? Perhaps it was, maybe it wasn’t. Either way, both players were on the ice for all four goals, which were all scored at even strength. For Martinez, it was his first plus-four game of his career. For Muzzin, it was a rewarding perk after having entered the night a minus-10.
“I mean, I don’t really focus on that number or that stat but at the end of the day it is nice to grab a couple,” Muzzin said. “You know, get some bounces, be on for some goals.”
While Muzzin’s consistency hasn’t been a hallmark of his play this season, there’s still a lot to be impressed by team-wide ever since Jeff Carter’s observation following the team’s 6-3 loss at the outset of the trip that the Kings were a ”fragile” team. Such a comment perks up the ears of anyone listening, and it certainly may have had an impact on the Kings, who have allowed four non-shootout goals in the five games that followed. Peter Budaj has two shutouts on the trip and has lifted his numbers towards the upper-end of NHL starters, while Derek Forbort has handled his top-pairing minutes quite well on the road trip despite some improvements that he’s looking to make down low in the zone. He’s among those giving the team a variety of options on the back end as Brayden McNabb is on the brink of a return to the lineup.
Of course, many of these positives will be muted if the Kings aren’t able to come away with a win in the final game of their stretch of seven road games in 12 days and have again contended with injuries to important players.
“Yeah, it’d be a great road trip if we capped this off with a win, and going to the Christmas break with a W is huge,” Muzzin said. “We kind of, obviously, […] the bed in Buffalo in the second period and then since then we’ve played hard hockey and the guys are battling harder and playing harder and it’s noticeable and we’re getting chances and Buds has been unreal since then. You know, we’ve given ourselves a chance to win every night.”
The Dallas Stars, who are coming off a 3-2 overtime loss to St. Louis on Tuesday, don’t want to hear about any of Los Angeles’ injury woes. They’ll be without Patrick Sharp (concussion-like symptoms), Ales Hemsky (hip), Mattias Janmark (knee), Antoine Roussel (undisclosed) and Stephen Johns (lower-body), while Cody Eakin will serve the third game of a four-game suspension for a hit on New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
Due to the challenges in personnel, Dallas is expected to dress seven defensemen, with Jamie Oleksiak among the defensemen who may be counted upon to take a shift or two as a forward. (Given the four medals won by his sister, Lou Marsh Award recipient Penny Oleksiak, it’s safe to say he has the athletic genes to be able to do so acceptably.)
The Kings won’t be as acutely focused on their opponents as they are on their own game, and while they’re not as concerned with the broader picture as they are on winning a hockey game tonight, they’re cognizant of what heading into the Christmas break with a win would entail: two additional points.
“I think it would be 4-2-1? I think that if you looked at this trip and we get 4 wins out of it, then what would that be, 9 points? That’s pretty good. Obviously you want to win every game but I think that’ll make a good trip for us if we get the win tonight,” Martinez said.
“…You approach every game, you want to win every game. That said, you know obviously that no one is going to go 82-0 but you approach every game, you want to come up with the 2 points and you look at it right now and you look at your division and the Wild Card race and all that, we have games in hand but those only make a difference as long as you win ‘em. It’s really tight. You just don’t play one night and if you don’t play one night you lose ground. So you’ve got to, especially right now with things being so tight, you’ve got to make sure you keep picking up points and you’ve got to focus on every game and make sure you’re keeping pace and winning, or setting pace.”
Alec Martinez, on remaining sharp at the tail end of a long road trip:
You’ve just got to stick to the fundamentals. I think when you’re, Darryl would probably say this, but when you’re not practicing the fundamentals are usually the first to go. That’s details in your passing, your skating, it’s usually not an X and O’s type thing because the X and O’s is, you’re doing that game in and game out. So I think the mental part of it, you’ve just got to stay with it. Everyone, this is nothing new, this isn’t something that’s unique to the LA Kings, this is something that’s league-wide. Everyone is going through it. I mean, you look at the schedule, I was just looking at it briefly and I think most teams in the league had a back-to-back going into Christmas break, so this is nothing that’s monumental. Everyone’s going through this so that’s part of being an athlete, you’ve got to stay mentally focused and be ready to play each night. The schedule is what it is, and everyone goes through the same thing, so you can’t use it as an excuse or anything.
Jake Muzzin, on what he’s aware of when matching up against Dallas:
Yeah, obviously they have some high-end skill. Spezza, Benn, Seguin, Klingberg on the back are all high-end guys and they’re a good rush team. Can score on the rush, their D are very active in the play so we need good gaps from our back-checking forwards and D in the neutral.
Muzzin, on what the forwards and defense need to do to limit Dallas’ chances on the rush:
It’s kind of communication without speaking. When forwards are back-checking and pushing, angling guys it’s easier for D-men to step up and keep a tighter gap as opposed to a little bit of a separation there between the back-checking forwards and the D. You know, take away the neutral through the middle and if we take away their rush game it’ll frustrate them a little bit.