Putting it mildly, there wasn’t a ton of juice in the Kings’ attack Tuesday night. (Mind you, that’s “juice,” not “Juice.”) Some of that was based on about as fast and in-control of a performance from Arizona as has been seen in the rivalry over recent years. The Coyotes, having turned the corner from having dropped out of the playoff race a month into the season, improved to 11-3-2 in their most recent 16 games, and their performance for the better part of 50 minutes on Tuesday was representative of a team ready to turn the corner and start making hay with a growing assortment of intriguing young pieces. But over that span, how many five-on-five scoring chances did the Kings generate? There was a quality Adrian Kempe look in an early shift of the game, but other than that, there was a cold and barren steppe of offensive opportunity through the first two periods, save for Dustin Brown’s point-blank power play look that Adin Hill kept out late in the second period.
And yet, the Kings gained a point. Placed without much context, that’s a valuable point. You take any point gained from a game in which you trailed by three goals in the second period, and you run. You run with escalating cartoonish footsteps, followed by a car door slamming, tires screeching and a plane taking off. One-point losses, in a vacuum, are unsatisfying. But the occasional one-point game, in a wider scope of overall linear process, is helpful. Los Angeles would have been in a better place in the standings if they had gained more singular points and had not lost so many tight games in regulation. Their .428 winning percentage in one-goal games is the lowest out of any team currently in a playoff position, and last night’s shootout loss was the first time they gained a point in a defeat since December 28. (On the other hand, the Kings are sitting pretty with 36 regulation and overtime wins, which gives them a clear tiebreaker over San Jose, Anaheim, Calgary and Dallas.) If Los Angeles is able to rebound with wins in important upcoming games before a difficult road trip that lies ahead, the importance of the point gained from Tuesday’s game will be more pronounced.
There are a number of times the beat writers who regularly cover the Kings can recall having conversations with Darryl Sutter about how making goaltender interference reviewable would not necessarily be a good development for the game. He spoke about needing better clarity for the existing rules “so that it’s not a discretionary,” and how “the intent of the two referees system” and giving “a little bit more power to the linesmen” helped to provide broader assessment without having to rely on video. In the end, while there are guidelines, it does seem as though the verdicts are entirely judgmental. Goalies, skaters and coaches see little precedence or standards towards interference jurisprudence in such non cut-and-dry decisions. “It’s a guessing game for me, but that’s the call they made,” John Stevens said after the game, which summed it up well. As soon as the play occurred, it became evident that whether or not the Kings would win Tuesday night would essentially come down to a decision from Toronto. Those in the war room are doing the best they can, and are trying to objectively view all facets of nebulous moving parts, but as the teams sat and waited for the decision to be made, we essentially shrugged our shoulders and expected what would amount to being a coin flip. There did appear to be some contact from Oliver Ekman-Larsson that channeled Drew Doughty towards Adin Hill’s pad. Was the goaltender “interfered” with? It’s a gray area, and for the second time in three weeks, Los Angeles lost at least a point because of it. On the other hand, the Kings, who have playoff aspirations, put themselves in a position in which they were banking on a league ruling in overtime, and any argument on behalf of the team has to also take into account the inability to win an important late-season game against a team that has admittedly been playing very well but still ranked 31st in league standings entering the night and started a goaltender who prior to Tuesday had not won an NHL game.
-Lead photo via Norm Hall/NHLI