ANAHEIM, CA — Don’t look now, but just four days into their 2007 training camp, the pre-season schedule has already begun for the Los Angeles Kings, and on Thursday night, they eked out a 5-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks in front of an announced crowd of 16,973 fans at Honda Center in Anaheim.
Right wing Kyle Calder led the way for the Kings with two goals, his first falling into the “spectacular” category as he flicked a backhand over the shoulder of Ducks goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov as he was being knocked down.
Calder was airborne and parallel to the ice when he got the shot off, beating a surprised and quite rusty Bryzgalov, who did not look sharp while allowing four goals on 18 shots in 30:19 of ice time.
Jean-Philippe Levassuer played the final 27:53 for the Ducks, allowing one goal—a soft one to Brian Willsie for the game-winner—on fifteen shots.
Forward prospects Gabe Gauthier and Matt Moulson also scored for the Kings, while Maxim Kondratiev, Mike Hoffman, Jason King and Dan LaCouture scored for the Ducks.
Thursday’s contest was a rather sloppy, choppy game between two teams that were just a few days into their 2007 training camps…and they certainly looked like it.
Ducks star defenseman Chris Pronger was a step slow all night long, and wound up taking four minor penalties, three being the type of penalties one takes when they are beaten on a play.
The two teams combined for twenty penalties and 48 penalty minutes, with the Ducks taking twelve penalties for 32 penalty minutes.
That lack of discipline by the Ducks proved costly, as the Kings converted twice on twelve power play opportunities.
The Ducks scored once on six power play chances.
But in the pre-season, wins and losses generally take a back seat to evaluation of a team’s players, and that was first and foremost on the mind of Kings head coach Marc Crawford.
“I thought for a first game, and on such short notice for a first game, it was a pretty good outing,” said Crawford. “We were really pleased with our young defensemen. [Jack] Johnson was very good tonight and [Brian] Boyle showed that he can play on defense in this league. It’s going to take him some time, he’s going to need some seasoning, but we’re pleased with where he is. I think that he’s close.”
Boyle may be close, but being converted to defenseman after playing at center all his life is not going to be easy, and it is certainly unlikely that it will happen in a few weeks of pre-season games. And although Boyle did not look out of place, on several shifts, he displayed the indecisiveness and hesitation one might expect from a player learning a new position, especially as a defenseman.
Indeed, there were a few instances in the game where he hesitated when he had the puck, or when the Ducks were on the rush. And at the National Hockey League level, if you hesitate for a moment, the opposition will blow right past you.
“I was just trying to be as calm as I could with the puck,” said Boyle. “It was tough with a little pressure—it’s the first time I suited up in a Kings jersey.”
“As the game progressed, I was thinking a lot less and just reacting,” added Boyle. “I just kind of took it all in and I was trying to keep everything simple.”
Boyle may have made some mistakes in the game, but he knew he would, given his acute lack of experience, and that he must learn from them.
“I was bound to make some mistakes out there, but I had to reset my mind—clear my head for each shift,” he explained. I try not to second-guess myself. I just try to do what I know now. I have a lot more to learn. I just tried to do what I’ve heard that I’ve been able to do well. I didn’t try to do too much that I haven’t felt comfortable doing. I just tried to go out and react.”
Boyle was tested by Crawford in all situations—even strength, power play and penalty-kill. He was even sent out on the ice when the Ducks had a two-man advantage in the second period, even though the Kings have not yet practiced their five-on-three penalty-killing in camp.
Boyle managed to hold his own, and even blocked a shot.
“Rob Blake was just kind of telling me where to go,” said Boyle. “I didn’t know exactly how to play it—we didn’t practice it. It was good. I was glad [the shot] hit me. He didn’t get all of it.”
As the forwards go, Crawford also saw some things that he liked.
“Up front, it was a game where a couple of the top players really played great,” said Crawford. “Their power play was dangerous because of top players like Pronger and [Ryan] Getzlaf who are premier power play guys. [Alexander] Frolov, [Lubomir] Visnovsky and Blake are premier guys for us.”
“When you get into a lot of power plays in a game and had the ice been good tonight, there would’ve been a lot more goals,” added Crawford. “It was a real solid effort. I liked the way we got to see a lot of our players. The idea of seeing players play in the positions they’ll take if they get here, with the exception of [forward prospect Wayne] Simmonds, who I thought was really good tonight, everybody played in their position, and they played in the manner in which they’d be used when and if they get here.”
Crawford even liked his goaltenders, Dan Cloutier and Jean-Sebastien Aubin.
“I thought that our goaltenders made some good saves,” said Crawford. “I didn’t like the way Cloutier handled the puck behind the net, and I didn’t like the carelessness by our defense with the puck behind the net a few times. We gave up a couple of chances in that crucial area. Anaheim’s a great forechecking team and you have to prepare yourself for that happening in the game.”
“On our 5-on-3 kill, Aubin made two or three really crucial saves and may have been the difference in the game. So it was a very positive night for our goaltending.”
But the story in goal for the Kings was how Cloutier would perform after a horrendous 2006-07 season and coming off of major hip surgery.
Cloutier wound up allowing three goals on ten shots, which would be considered a poor showing under normal circumstances. But Cloutier looked considerably quicker and more mobile than at any time last season when he would have been unable to stop a beach ball.
“I just wanted to get back out there,” said Cloutier, who started the game and played for the first 31:25. “It felt better than I thought, it’s been such a long time. In training camp, we haven’t seen a whole lot of practice or a whole lot of shots.”
Much to the surprise of many, Cloutier made a good save early in the first period, moving across his crease to stop a point-blank chance at the left goal post—something he could not have done last season because of injury.
In fact, Cloutier revealed earlier in the week that he was never healthy last season.
“Just from my movement I feel a lot better physically,” he said. “I don’t have my hip locking up on me when I’m going across.
Cloutier also stopped two breakaways in the game, and on the goals he allowed, he was screened on Kondratiev’s goal at 14:44 of the first period, he was beaten on a wrap-around by Hoffman just seven seconds into the second period, and then he had no chance on a one-timer from the left face-off dot by LaCouture at 9:02 of the second period.
Cloutier acknowledged that he had trouble with two of the goals, explaining that because he has played in so few games over the last few years, he knew he would have trouble finding the puck through traffic and with plays from behind the net.
But his performance gave him reason to be optimistic.
“Obviously, those are not great numbers—play half a game and let in three goals, but at the same time, I’m very happy that I had a chance to play,” said Cloutier. “Everything will start to improve. Hopefully, I’ll get full games next couple of times so I can work on things and get comfortable. But it was really nice to be out there tonight.”
As for Aubin, he looked solid in his 28:33 of ice time, allowing one goal off a deflection on 18 shots.
NOTES: Although it was a foregone conclusion as soon as defenseman and then-team captain Mattias Norstrom was dealt to the Dallas Stars at the trade deadline last season, Frozen Royalty learned on Thursday that Rob Blake will be named as the Kings captain.
There has been no official confirmation from the Kings, but this is as official as you can get without an official announcement.
There has been no word regarding who will be named as assistant captains for the 2007-08 season.
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