LOS ANGELES — In the 1992 movie, A League Of Their Own, about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that played during World War II when Major League Baseball was shut down temporarily, there is a scene where Geena Davis, who played Rockford Peaches star catcher Dottie Hinson, leaves the team to return home to Oregon with her husband, who had just returned from duty in Europe.
In that scene, Tom Hanks, who played former Major League star and Peaches manager Jimmy Dugan, tells Davis that she will miss playing for the team. When Davis denies it and tells Hanks that her situation became too hard to deal with, Hanks replied, in part, “…the hard is what makes it great.”
Fast forward to 2008 and that phrase is being applied to the Los Angeles Kings, who dropped a 2-1 decision to the white-hot San Jose Sharks in front of an announced crowd of 16,784 fans at Staples Center on Tuesday night.
Although the Kings did not play a bad game, they certainly did not dig deep and pick up their effort until it was too late.
Indeed, the Kings did not play poorly. But throughout most of the game, they made it too easy for the Sharks to control the front of their own net and take away the middle of the ice from the Kings. That made it a fairly easy night for the San Jose defense and for backup goalie Brian Boucher, who made 29 saves.
The two teams were scoreless until Kings winger Matt Ellis went off for hooking at 16:28 of the first period. Sharks center Joe Thornton was in the right place at the time when he was positioned at right crease. After a scrum in front of the Kings’ net, the puck trickled to him. All alone, he had the entire right side of the net to slip the puck into.
“Empty net…usually you hit those,” said Thornton, who now has twenty goals on the season. “Our power play has been struggling a little bit lately, so it was nice to get one in the first period.”
In the second period, third-line center Patrick Rissmiller got around Kings defenseman Tom Preissing and then got two backhand chances off the rush from below the right circle, the second chance coming off a bad rebound, beating Kings netminder Dan Cloutier for his eighth goal of the season which gave the Sharks a 2-0 lead.
“It’s just kind of the nature of our team,” said Rissmiller. “You can’t rely on the top two lines all the time, so it’s nice when you get a couple of other guys chipping in. That’s what makes team’s successful, and I think that’s helped us in our run here.”
The third period began the way the first and second periods went, with the Kings working hard, but still not getting to the front of the net much.
It was not until there were about five minutes left in the game that the Kings seemed to realize that they were not out of this one and could pull out a win if they raised the level of their play and once they did, they turned on the jets and put the Sharks back on their heels.
Kings defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky capped what was, to that point in the game, the Kings’ best shift of the game, with his seventh goal of the season off a slap shot from the top of the left circle at the 16:13 mark.
The Kings would continue their flurry in the San Jose zone and got a great chance when Kings winger Michael Cammalleri got the puck all alone in the low slot, but missed the top corner of the net with wrist shot, dashing the Kings’ hopes for a comeback.
In the end, as it has too many times before, the Kings’ stepped-up effort late in the game was too little, too late.
“They play a tight game,” said Kings right wing Dustin Brown. “It’s hard to get chances against them. They have some skilled offensive players and they did their job tonight. They got one power play goal and one even strength goal and they shut us down.”
“They played a good defensive game,” added Brown. “We had chances, just not great chances. When we did get a puck in front of the net, they were good a tying sticks up. Our only chances—scrambles in front of the net—were at the very end of the game. We had some good power play chances, jamming away. We didn’t get a lot of traffic to the net tonight.”
“I think we played hard tonight. I don’t think you can question our effort. We just couldn’t manage to get enough goals tonight and they played well defensively and just got the two goals. That’s all they needed.”
Kings head coach Marc Crawford said that his team worked hard, but pointed out that it was not enough.
“Our effort was a decent effort,” he explained. “I wish you didn’t have to push guys to get the effort out of them. You wish it was a much more natural, free-flowing effort and that’s where we’re going to need to be to be at the level of San Jose.”
“I thought we got a fairly decent level of work in the third period when we pushed and pushed,” he elaborated. “But that’s got to be there all the time. If we can consistently get more players here who give that type of blood and guts effort and don’t have to be pushed to do it, that’s when we’ll start having success in these types of games.”
Crawford pointed to his top forwards, especially the younger players, as the ones who still need to learn this lesson.
“Our skilled guys have to find a way to do that on all nights,” said Crawford. “That’s when you become a very good player, that’s when you become a very good team. I’m not disappointed with our effort, but we have to get to a different level.”
“The individual guys have to get themselves to that different level, and it’s the skilled players who have to do that,” added Crawford. “You saw [Alexander] Frolov get there in the third period. You saw [Patrick] O’Sullivan get there in the third period. Brown’s usually there all the time. He’s the benchmark for our team. [Anze] Kopitar, as good as he is, [Michael] Cammalleri, as good as he is, and [Derek] Armstrong, as talented as he is, those guys all have to push themselves to be right at the absolute highest level because that’s when you win games at this time of the year.”
Indeed, it is all about the Stanley Cup Playoffs, something the Kings will not be a part of for the fifth straight season.
“We have to ask ourselves, ‘If this is a playoff game, are we satisfied with our effort?’ From a coaching standpoint, we’re not, because we had to push to get to that level,” Crawford lamented. “We didn’t do enough to win the game. That’s what we have to learn right now. We’re not going to have the playoffs to learn these lessons, so we’ve got to push ourselves as hard as we possibly can in these games that are very playoff-like.”
“I was pleased when we got there, I just wish we were there more often,” Crawford added.
In the visitor’s dressing room, the Sharks were in a light, upbeat mood after winning their twelfth game in their last thirteen contests, and they did it with their backup goaltender minding the store.
“These back-to-back games, with the travel that we’ve had, it’s huge to have the confidence that we have in Boucher,” said Sharks head coach Ron Wilson. “He did a great job, especially at the end.”
“Boucher made the big saves when he needed to and we scored when we needed to,” said Thornton. “Another good game.”
Boucher has played well in two games for the Sharks after being signed as a free agent on February 26.
“You just take it day-by-day, work hard in practice and try your best to stay sharp so that when you get the call, you know you put the work in and left nothing to chance,” said Boucher. “If you don’t put your work in between starts, then you have something to worry about. Fortunately for me, the first two have gone just as good as you could expect.”
Back to the Kings…Crawford had more praise for his grinders than the rest of his team.
“I thought that throughout the game tonight, the guys who were given the assignment of checking one of the top lines—the Thornton line—they battled real hard for us,” he said. “Whether that was Ellis or [Raitis] Ivanans, [Michal] Handzus, [Jeff] Giuliano—they did a great job.” They kept that line off the scoresheet. They battled them, they frustrated them and just worked their tails off.”
Still, more is obviously needed.
“You love players you don’t have to put the golf spikes into their backs to get them going,” Crawford stressed. “You want them to be very, very self-motivated. For the most part, the guys are very self-motivated. But it’s a different level in the playoffs and we keep preaching that to them that it’s a different level they have to get to and we’re learning that level is high and it takes a lot of hard work.”
And then there was the movie quote…
“It’s like that line they say in a lot of movies, ‘The hard is what makes it great,’” said Crawford. “To prove to yourself that you can get there, that’s what’s going to be great for our guys right now. That’s all we have to play for. It is a lot to play for and they can learn some hugely valuable lessons in doing it.”
NOTES: Late in the first period, Kings rookie defenseman Jack Johnson took a shot off his right foot/ankle. He tried to skate on it early in the second period, but left the game after that and did not return.
“He took a shot in the foot,” said Crawford. “He tried to go in the second period and couldn’t go. We’ll re-evaluate him tomorrow. I think they X-rayed him and everything was clear so far, but I think they’ll look at it tomorrow.”
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