LOS ANGELES — The faces were long and the air was thick with disappointment in the Los Angeles Kings’ dressing room following their 3-2 defeat at the hands of the streaking Calgary Flames in front of an announced crowd of 16,279 fans at Staples Center on Saturday night.
The reason for the slumped shoulders and dejection came just 1:18 after Kings forward Oscar Moller scored his second goal of the game at 14:04 of the third period to tie the game, 2-2.
At the 16:23 mark, Flames center Daymond Langkow took advantage of a defensive lapse by the Kings to score an easy goal that gave the Flames their final margin of victory.
Perhaps the longest face and the most dejected player in the Kings dressing room was center Anze Kopitar, whose poor defensive effort was a major contributor to Langkow’s goal.
On the play, Kings rookie defenseman Drew Doughty had fallen down along the right wing boards, allowing Langkow to make an uncontested beeline to the front of the net. Meanwhile, Kopitar did very little to check Flames winger Todd Bertuzzi in the right corner. That allowed Bertuzzi plenty of time and space to backhand a pass to Langkow, who scored from just outside right crease.
“It’s one of those tough plays where they kept going back door,” said Kings goaltender Jason LaBarbera. “They hit the short side guy. I didn’t read it right and it hit the post, then it hit me and went in. It’s one of those breaks. Obviously, you’d like to make the save there. That’s the frustrating part.”
Kings head coach Terry Murray was not happy with Kopitar’s effort on that play.
“There has to be more dig-in there,” Murray lamented. “That’s the stuff that the good teams do. They don’t give up goals late in the game. They’re able to protect in their defensive zone. Whether you’re looking at a tie game there or a one-goal lead, you have to get the job done.”
“There has be a greater dig-in, a more competitive situation—stick on the puck, two hands on the stick and really playing aggressive in the one-on-one situation,” Murray stressed.
But there was another play that Murray felt was a bigger issue.
“The play that I come away with and think about more than any other is their second goal,” he explained. “We have the puck, we ice it and it comes back into our end. We can’t change because of the icing. They draw a penalty and they score on the ensuing power play. That’s a play that we need to address tomorrow.”
“There wasn’t really a breakdown,” Murray elaborated. “There was a rotation by them. We might have been able to put more pressure up ice in their zone. We had [winger Alexander] Frolov in there. He was battling along the boards in the end zone. I thought maybe we could’ve jumped in with our second forward to keep the pressure on and stop them from breaking out as quickly and easily as they did.”
“But when it got into our end, they just moved the puck well. They jumped off the boards and beat us to the middle of the ice. I think it ended up going off one of our players’ arm or stick. I think it was one of our defensemen.”
Despite the glaring breakdown and the problems on the penalty-killing shift he pinpointed, Murray was pleased with his team’s effort.
“That was a good hockey game tonight, we played very well,” he said. “We played, maybe, from the dots to the boards, as good as we’ve played this year with competitive play, coming up with pucks.”
“We’re starting to figure out and understand the importance of that kind of an effort,” he added. “The way to be competitive every night are these little things you have to do along the boards.”
His players saw things much the same way.
“I think we played a pretty good game tonight,” said Kings right wing Dustin Brown. “There was one funny goal for them, one on the power play and then we miss one check and it’s three goals on less than twenty shots and Barbs played pretty good at the same time.”
“It’s one of those games I felt like we should’ve won,” added Brown. “I felt like we dominated the play. It’s a tough loss.”
“We deserved to win that game,” said LaBarbera. [Calgary goaltender Miikka] Kiprusoff stood on his head tonight. It was one of those games where we just couldn’t buy a break and they got one at the end and we just didn’t pull it out.”
After a poor effort against the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night, the Kings came back in this game with a lot more jump and they outworked the Flames for the majority of the game.
“There’s a lot of young energy in here,” said LaBarbera. “We had a bad game last game. Guys had to come out here and be a little bit more greedy tonight and we did a good job of that.”
“You just have to be tenacious when you’re out there,” said Moller. “We have to make sure to win the small battles. That completes the whole game—along the boards, in the corners and in front of the net. That’ll win you the game.”
“I think there’s a lot of skill on this team and a lot of talent,” added Moller. “We just have to make sure we push ourselves to the next level. We have to play like this every night and come out with this attacking mindset with lots of shots.”
Despite the obvious disappointment in the dressing room, the attitude was, nevertheless, positive.
“We’re gaining confidence,” said Murray. “We’re growing. When you end up with an effort like that there’s a feeling that starts to grow in your locker room with the young players, that they have a lot of confidence that they can play with teams in this league.”
“It’s just taking the positives from this game,” Brown explained. “If we put forth that effort in most games, we’re going to end up on top in those games. It was just one of those nights where we had the effort. Everything went right but the score.”
“It’s frustrating when you lose,” said LaBarbera. “It’s probably the hardest thing to deal with. But at the same time, you have to look at all the positives and there were a lot of positives tonight. There was a lot of really good things out there. Everyone should be excited for the future of this team.”
The player who provided the most excitement for Kings fans in this game was Moller, who showed why the Kings decided on Friday not to send him back to his junior team, the Chilliwack Bruins of the Western Hockey League.
“It’s probably a good thing they kept him,” said LaBarbera with a laugh. “He’s a scorer. He’s done it his whole life. He’s been given an opportunity now. He’s excited to be here and it shows.”
“I was asked about Oscar Moller quite a few times here in the last week,” said Murray. “I said he’d have to have two clunkers in order to be sent back to juniors. On the other side of it, he had a great effort tonight. [He was] very involved in the game in the real hot spots of the ice. [He had] no hesitancy whatsoever to go into [those spots]. He played a great game.”
For Moller, playing in his tenth National Hockey League game was a relief after the uncertainty about his status that followed him over the past week.
“It was a little bit of relief, but I can’t get too comfortable here,” he said. “I can’t slack off because I want to make sure I stick around all year and play on the second line here.”
“I’m obviously happy to score two goals,” he added. “I just have to keep going and play consistent. I have to bring this game every night.”
Kings rookie center Brian Boyle returned to the lineup in this game after sitting out the last five games as a healthy scratch and showed improvement.
“He was pretty good,” Murray said about Boyle. “He played in a fourth-line situation. He’s not up against the top players or anything like that, but he took advantage of his minutes. He was determined.”
“I was a bit nervous at first, a bit jittery with the puck,” said Boyle. “I just tried to do what coach said—battle as hard as I could.”
NOTES: Langkow is a “Kings Killer.” Last season, he scored eight goals and contributed two assists against the Kings. Three of those goals came on the power play and he scored the game-winner in three of the four games between the two teams. In 39 regular season games against the Kings, Langkow has scored 18 goals with 20 assists for 38 points; the Kings have allowed 31 goals through the first ten games. Last season they allowed 36 goals through the first ten games; Brown tallied eight hits in the game and leads the team with 42; Frolov now has four goals and 14 assists for 18 points in 19 games against the Flames.
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