Here you are in the ninth with two men out, three men on. Nowhere to look but inside
Where we all respond to pressure. Pressure By: Billy Joel, The Nylon Curtain (1982)
I have purposely left out the mention of magic and numbers in this story but I will be rooting for the Anaheim Ducks tomorrow and you all know why.
Pressure. Some work well under pressure. Some do not. Often, the Los Angeles Kings do not. Yesterday’s win over the Dallas Stars became that much more important because of how they won the game. They responded to two severe pressure points: giving up goals to opponents directly after the Kings score and winning a game in the third period.
Traditionally, in arenas across the NHL, fans celebrate when the lamp is lit for the home team. At Staples? Fans cringe and watch with one eye open for a solid two minutes. There is less tension when the Kings are killing a penalty then the two minutes following a Kings goal. The Kingdom is waiting for the inevitable: the opponent to score. Odd, you say? Well then you don’t watch the Kings very much. I would just about bet the house that the Kings have given up more goals within two minutes of scoring then they have within two minutes of taking a penalty.
Wouldn’t you know it? At 4:15 of the second period Wayne Simmonds scored the first goal of the game. Fans didn’t even have time to utter, “please don’t…” before Brad Richards tied the game at one, at 5:28.
“Those that do not know history are doomed to repeat it,”I had quipped at the time. In between the second and third period, it seems the Kings took a history lesson. When Matt Greene put the team up 2-1 in the third period they didn’t repeat this game’s second period, and season-long, flaw. Instead they responded to the pressure and fixed their previous error.
Second pressure point: the third period. Let’s be honest. Until Kyle Clifford woke things up, both teams didn’t realize the game had started. It was like hot potato as far as who really wanted to win the game. Once the final twenty minutes started ticking, it came down to who showed up. Spade a spade; this does not normally bode well for the Kings. It is unusual for them to wake-up from game long doldrums to show-up in the third. This was different.
Offensively they moved and passed quickly to create extended pressure and space. There were more high-percentage shots from various points of the offensive zone that caused rebounds. This kept the Stars defense guessing. Physically, the Kings hit consistently and aggressively, but without being reckless. Simmonds and Greene really personified this by simultaneously bringing the necessary offense and force to the third period without losing focus. Alexei Ponikarovsky , who, with his size and skill, could be invaluable to the Kings , really showed up in the third. He has the ability to create space in the zone, crash the net and make opponents think twice when carrying the puck in. Today he did that. As a unit, the Kings played like a team with intention and purpose: win the game in regulation, get two points and keep the opponent to zero.
I’d be remiss if this ended without mentioning a line to love: Clifford, Simmonds, and Brad Richardson. Later today, this line is going to be the reason I beat my head against the 405 from Huntington Beach to El Segundo. Friday, when line changes were made, I watched them practice together at the Toyota Center and restrained myself from cheering. They became one of very few bright spots during that night’s tilt versus the Vancouver Canucks. Clifford scored the only Kings goal of the night from Drew Doughty and Richardson. Yesterday, they were on the ice for all but Dustin Brown’s empty netter.
Total for Thursday and Saturday: Clifford +2 (1 goal, 1 assist) Richardson +2 (1 assist) and Simmonds +3 (1 goal, 1 assist)