After winning their first three games of their most recent five-game homestand, the Los Angeles Kings didn’t just lose their final two, they got shut out in both outings. Before getting blanked by Dallas on Thursday, the last time the Kings were shut out at Staples Center was Game 4 of the last May’s Western Final against the Phoenix Coyotes. After Saturday, the Kings had been shut out in consecutive games on home ice in over a year. I guess it’s true that old habits do in fact die hard.
Overall, there’s no reason to push the panic button. After all, this time last season, Los Angeles wasn’t exactly setting the league on fire with their offensive prowess. Last year, the Kings were alternating between the 29th and 30th spots overall in goals scored. As of Sunday morning, the Kings are 12th overall in said category. Better numbers obviously but it still doesn’t get rid of that bitter taste of knowing that as of late, the silver-and-black can’t seem to buy a goal.
Heading into Thursday night’s matchup against Dallas, it was announced that Kari Lehtonen would get the nod for the Stars – surprising considered he had just played (and lost) the previous night in Denver). Nevertheless, it was Lehtonen who got the start and to his tremendous credit, he stopped everything fired at him, which was 40 shots (to Los Angeles’ credit) but alas, the Kings just could not find a way to light the lamp. Some may have called the effort lazy on Los Angeles’ part while others can safely reside on the fact that despite playing 24 hours earlier, Lehtonen was on a hot streak and the Kings just ran into him at the wrong time. It’s also important to point out that the Kings didn’t allow a goal until the third period so while their offense wasn’t clicking, at least their defense and goaltending was. Granted, a loss is a loss but you have to discover the positives when they’re there.
As far as Saturday’s matinee with the Vancouver Canucks went, the Kings’ offense just didn’t show up which is especially disappointing considering, like Thursday night, their defense and goaltending did show up (at least for the most part).
On the lone goal of the game, Canucks rookie Jordan Shroeder fed a cross-ice pass to Mason Raymond who broke in on the partial breakaway to beat Jonathan Quick right through the legs. Many have argued that had it not been for a mental lapse by defenseman Jake Muzzin, the pass would not have been completed and, of course, Vancouver would not have scored. It can also be argued that if Quick had just closed his pads instead of trying for the poke check, the game would have still been scoreless.
Had Quick made that poke check, we’d be singing a much different tune but give Raymond credit as he outmaneuvered the Conn Smythe winner for the goal. As for Muzzin, he made a mistake and it cost the Kings a goal which ultimately proved to be the game-winner. The more rational fans were quick to give the rookie defenseman the benefit of the doubt and understandably so. This is Muzzin’s first full season with the big club and he’s still growing and unfortunately, that means experiencing some setbacks along the way. That doesn’t even solely apply hockey – that applies to anything. Even the best defensemen in the game have made similar mistakes (more than they’d care to mention, I’m sure). Does anyone remember in the early-90’s when Mario Lemieux tucked the puck right between the legs of Ray Bourque to score making the Hall-of-Fame defenseman look foolish? While I’m certainly not comparing Muzzin to Bourque or Mason Raymond to Lemieux, that example just goes to show that costly mistakes are made by everyone and not just those who should be benched or shipped out of town like some fans suggested should happen to Muzzin following Saturday’s loss. After all, to Muzzin’s credit, he worked hard to get his team on the board for the remainder of the game.
But on Saturday, the Kings did not lose because of Jake Muzzin. They lost because of a lack of offense. While they could be given the benefit of the doubt for running into a hot netminder on Thursday, no such thing could be given on Saturday as they were limited to just 20 shots and few (if any) were quality scoring chances. Vancouver’s Cory Schneider picked up the shutout and while that looks good in the stats column, the vast majority of shots he stopped were softies if you will. The Kings just didn’t give Schneider (or the Vancouver defense) much competition. Naturally, you’d think a team down by a single goal for most of the game would come out firing. Yes, it was a matinee game and for some reason, the Kings have a hard time getting anything going when the sun’s out but even so, their weary effort was inexcusable and considering all the pieces the Canucks were missing especially suspended defenseman Alex Edler, they should have lit the lamp at least a couple of times. Even if they fired 40 hard shots against Schneider, a shutout would be a little easier to stomach but that wasn’t the case.
The Los Angeles Kings now embark on a five-game road trip beginning in Chicago where they will take on the league-leading Blackhawks on Monday night. With the goaltending duo of Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, Los Angeles’ offensive futility won’t be given a break. They need to find the back of the net and they need to find it in a hurry.
That means Brown, Kopitar and Williams all have to step it up, that means Carter and Richards need to reignite their chemistry and that means getting the grinders in front of the net to screen the netminders while the D-men blast point shots towards traffic. This is what Los Angeles needs to do to get a goal much less a win.
Personally, I don’t care how they do it just as long as they do it. After all, to use a slogan from a year ago, the time is now.