LOS ANGELES — Prior to Monday night’s game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Los Angeles Kings, news out of the Kings’ practice facility was that goaltender Dan Cloutier would get the start in goal.
Once that news came out, if you listened carefully enough, you could probably hear a collective groan from Kings fans across the region.
Seriously speaking, Cloutier has been anything but good for the Kings since his arrival in Los Angeles last season. In fact, the term “sieve,” would probably be considered too positive a description by some.
But you wouldn’t know it on Monday night, when Cloutier made 38 saves and almost single-handedly kept his team in the game. But in the end, the Canucks escaped Staples Center with a 2-1 overtime victory in front of an announced crowd of 14,653 fans.
Ryan Kesler scored with less than three minutes left in regulation to tie the game, and then deflected the game-winner past Cloutier just 46 seconds into the overtime period.
Patrick O’Sullivan scored the lone goal for the Kings earlier in the third period.
The Canucks had the ice tilted in their favor for most of the game, generating considerably more sustained pressure in the Kings’ zone than the Kings could manage in the Canucks’ zone.
But Cloutier had his teammates’ backs, stoning the Canucks time after time.
“I thought Cloutier played a remarkably strong game,” said Kings head coach Marc Crawford. “I was happy for him. I would’ve been happier, obviously, if he’d have gotten the victory.”
“He made some real good saves,” added Crawford. “In the first period, they had a few more chances than us. In the second period, the chances were equal and I thought the more dangerous chances were the ones on our side.”
In the third period, the game continued as before, with the Canucks able to sustain pressure in the offensive zone while the Kings had considerably more difficulty generating offensive pressure.
But near the midway point of the period, the Kings got a chance off the rush. Kings right wing Dustin Brown carried the puck down right wing and wristed the puck across to O’Sullivan on the left side of the slot. He waited out Canucks superstar goalie Roberto Luongo before wristing the puck top shelf, knocking the water bottle off the top of the net from the bottom of the left circle at the 8:27 mark.
The Kings also caught a break on the play as Canucks defenseman Willie Mitchell broke his stick on this shift. Brown was able to exploit this and threw the puck past him to O’Sullivan.
“I thought we pretty much dominated the game the whole way,” said Luongo. “Unfortunately they got the lead on a bad break when Willie’s stick broke, but we stuck with it.”
Buoyed by their one-goal lead, the Kings stepped up their game and were playing the Canucks on even terms. But then, their Achilles Heel, the blatant defensive breakdown, came back to haunt them once again.
At the 17:19 mark, Kesler was standing in front of the Kings’ net with defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky covering him when Canucks left wing Alexandre Burrows threw the puck in front. Visnovsky appeared to be focused on the puck—he appeared to get caught between taking away the pass or tying up Kesler’s stick, and ended up doing neither. That gave Kesler an easy re-direction into the wide open right side of the net.
“[There was] a little miscommunication between me and Visnovsky,” Cloutier explained. “It’s disappointing not to get the win there.
Kesler scored from almost the identical spot in the overtime period, deflecting a point shot by Mitchell past Cloutier to win the game.
Crawford said that the Kings made two late mistakes that cost his team the win.
“We made a young mistake at the end of the game,” he explained. “We had full possession of the puck twice in our zone. We threw the puck away—it didn’t get past the neutral zone. And on the reverse, we had total possession of the puck, too, and we rushed a play.”
“That’s what happens when you have youth in your lineup,” he elaborated. “You’re going to make youthful mistakes. It’s a concern for us when experienced players make mistakes, but you’re going to make youthful mistakes at times. That’s part of the growing pains we go through. It was a game tonight that was there for us. We made a mistake late in the third period when we had full possession of the puck. Those are things we’re going to have to learn and grow through.”
But overall, Crawford was not displeased with his team.
“I thought we played a heck of a game,” said Crawford. “[The Canucks are] a team that’s absolutely desperate for points. We’ve had to manufacture our desperation and our guys did a terrific job of it tonight. We did a great job killing penalties, we kept their top scorers, the Sedins, off the scoresheet. We played a game where we knew they would tighten up at the end.”
“I liked our effort tonight,” added Crawford. “I’d like to eliminate the mistake we made. But we didn’t make too many in the third period. We calculated that they only had two chances to that point in the third period. We did a good job of playing a game that we wanted to play, where we figured we’d have to stifle them and get some good saves.”
“Give them credit. They battled hard and got the puck to the net to tie the game up. The overtime goal—there was nothing wrong with it. Everybody was in position and they got a shot through and a deflection. That’s usually what happens when a goal gets scored on the bad ice in overtime. Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way.”
As for the Kings’ veteran goaltender, the Canucks certainly stood up and took notice.
“Cloutier was playing really well, but we just kept saying, ‘get traffic and pucks to the net and something’s going to go in,’” said Kesler. “And that’s what happened. They played us hard, but we knew we were playing a solid game and we found a way to win.”
“Cloutier is a good goaltender,” said Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. “He played a real solid game. Give him credit. He kept his team in. All we could do was keep playing well, they way we were. Keep getting pucks to the net and traffic. That’s what we did and we found a way to get it done.”
“The difference in the game was Cloutier,” added Vigneault. “He was the difference.”
The Kings said they thought they were deserving of a better outcome.
“We played very well and deserved a better fate tonight,” Crawford lamented. “But our job as a team is to find ways to win those types of games. The game was there for us. [Cloutier] did his job. As a team, we’ve got to make strong plays right though the 57th, 58th, and 59th minute. It looked like we had done most things right. But we had a couple of giveaways late, late in the game, and those are things we’ve got to eliminate.”
“I thought we had some real good opportunities,” Crawford elaborated. “We didn’t get as many power plays tonight. We took a few too many penalties, which is something that usually doesn’t happen to our club, and we’ll have to rectify that.”
“We were so close to it,” said Cloutier. “That’s what’s so disappointing. That’s a very good team that’s fighting for their lives over there. We gave them a big scare, but it would have definitely been nice to steal those two points from them.”
“I felt pretty good coming into the game,” added Cloutier. “We played well for 58 minutes, I guess again tonight. We’re getting closer to playing well for sixty. But little mistakes cost us again. We keep repeating it, but it’s been almost two years with the same bunch of guys. We just have to clean it up a bit.”
NOTES: The Kings ended the season 3-0-1 against the Canucks this season; O’Sullivan has scored five goals with six assists for eleven points in the last nine games, and has a four-game point streak (two goals and two assists); Anze Kopitar also has a four-game point streak (goal, four assists for five points). He also has four goals and ten assists for fourteen points in his last nine games. He also has assists in each of his last four games.
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