LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings have struggled lately against the Colorado Avalanche and despite the fact that the Avs were without star center Joe Sakic on Saturday night, those struggles continued as the Avs disappointed an announced sell-out crowd of 18,118 fans at Staples Center by handing the Kings a 4-3 shootout defeat.
Milan Hejduk and Wojtek Wolski took advantage of some rather uncharacteristically poor defensive zone play by the Kings to give the Avs a 2-0 lead before Kings winger Alexander Frolov scored on the power play at 14:45 of the second period.
It looked like the Kings had come out of the dressing room for the third period on fire after left wing Patrick O’Sullivan scored just 49 seconds into the period, followed quickly by a goal from right wing Dustin Brown at 2:03, which gave the Kings a 3-2 lead.
But their defensive play came back to haunt them a little more than two minutes later, when Avs center Paul Stastny took a hard pass all alone below the right circle and easily re-directed the puck into the gaping right side of the net before Kings goaltender Erik Ersberg could get across his crease.
The game went into a shootout, where Hejduk and Avs forward Marek Svatos scored, while Kings shooters O’Sullivan and Brown were denied by Colorado goaltender Peter Budaj, who also made good saves on two high-quality chances by the Kings in the third period to keep the game tied, 3-3.
“Peter’s been very sharp,” said Avalanche head coach Tony Granato. ”He has gained confidence, experience and the knowledge of the shooters. The research that he does on the shooters with Jeff Hackett certainly helps. But he has been very solid the past couple of weeks and when you’re confident in your goalie that makes a difference everywhere in the game.”
The Avs stable of skilled forwards confused the Kings in their own zone and kept them off their defensive game.
“They have a lot of skilled forwards and they all shoot the puck,” said Brown. “A lot of their chances were off of scrambles off of shots. Whether getting blocked—Ersberg was making saves—it’s hard for a defensive group to respond to all the shots. They had 29 tonight and they were shooting from everywhere which, for defensive zone coverage, that gets really complicated and really confusing out there if they’re shooting the puck like they were.”
“You look at their lineup—they’ve got a lot of scorers who are going to shoot the puck,” added Brown.
Kings head coach Terry Murray agreed with Brown’s assessment.
“They’re an experienced group of guys,” Murray said of the Avs. “They’ve got some real good players who can handle the puck and make good little plays in tight spaces. With [Avs center T.J.] Hensick and Smyth—I thought he played a strong game here tonight. He skated well, took the puck to the net. They were better in part of the game than we were. That’s experience. We’ll get better at it.”
“I give those guys credit,” Murray elaborated. “That’s the little plays that they were making in our end. They made a lot of stuff happen from behind our net. That’s their game—the same-side passes and quick plays.”
And with such skilled forwards who are able to quickly move the puck deep in your own zone, that opened up chances for the Colorado defensemen as well.
“They’ve got a group of defensemen who are very active,” said Murray. “I didn’t look at the final sheet, but I would think that their defensemen had eight or nine shots alone.”
“When you want to take care of things down low in front of your net because of the plays they make from behind the goal line that opens a lot of stuff up at the blue line and they found them,” added Murray.
The effort in the first and second periods was also not at a level the Kings needed it to be.
“In the early part of the game, we were not the same as what we were,” Murray explained. “What we wanted to be was the energy we showed in the Washington game. Then it became a game of special teams. That takes a lot of the flow out of the game from both sides. But they were stronger on the puck, they were controlling a lot of the small areas of the game in the first two periods. So to come back the way we did in the early part of the third period is a big effort. It’s a good point.”
“The play they made at the end is a smart play, they find a guy off the weak side post,” Murray added. “Maybe if we could’ve stopped and held our ice we would’ve been in that passing lane and taken it away. Again, whenever we play games like this and battle hard at the end to try and get the win, there’s a lot of stuff we can take away and learn from. This was another example of finding a way to get it done and coming in at the start of the game with more intensity.”
“We maybe didn’t have our best two first periods, but I think we kind of stepped it up in the last period and took it to them in the third,” said Kings rookie defenseman Drew Doughty, who led the Kings with 29:04 of ice time. “We dominated that third period so it was too bad we let them score that one late one and didn’t pop one after that.”
“Maybe we had a few letdowns but we just have to learn from that,” added Doughty. “I’m sure we’ll watch video at the next practice and learn from our mistakes and I think we’ll take it from there.”
Brown lamented the fact that his team was unable to capitalize on several opportunities, but said that salvaging a point in the standings was a positive.
“That first shift [of the second period], we drew that penalty,” said Brown. “We had three or four shots on that penalty alone. Obviously, O’Sullivan had a good goal and I had a goal. [Kings center Anze] Kopitar made plays in the corners—O’Sullivan’s goal was the result of Kopitar making a play.”
“It was a pretty good game but at the same time, I think we can be a lot better,” added Brown. “It’s probably a good point. You look at that game, we obviously didn’t play as well as we would like in the second or the first, but we battled back. That’s the key thing.”
“The most important thing is that we got a point. We didn’t play as well as we’d like but right now, it’s about getting points. These are the points that might put us over the top for playoffs. You have to look at every game like that. Whether it’s one point or two, you have to scrape for every point you can get.”
The game also had one ugly moment when Kings right wing John Zeiler threw a hard check in the right corner of the Colorado zone at 6:51 of the second period, crunching Colorado defenseman Adam Foote into the boards.
On the hit, Zeiler pushed Foote, who saw Zeiler coming and turned his back towards him. He went down and remained on the ice for several minutes, with trainers from both teams coming out on the ice to help him. Paramedics also wheeled a stretcher and backboard onto the ice, but Foote was eventually helped to his feet and he skated off the ice with assistance. He was initially diagnosed with a back injury and did not return.
The Avs immediately went after Zeiler and a scrum ensued behind the net, with several penalties resulting from the fracas. Zeiler received a boarding major and an automatic game misconduct, as well as a roughing minor. However, the call was questionable to some degree because the play happened right in front of referee Stephane Auger, but he did not raise his arm to call a penalty. In fact, no call was made until after the fracas behind the net.
Colorado forward Ian Laperriere was one of the Avs who went after Zeiler and on his way to the penalty box, called out the Kings forward.
“I saw Foote on the ground and I kind of knew it wasn’t a clean hit because he was hit from behind,” said Laperriere. ”We all jumped in there to back our teammate up.”
“[Zeiler is] a young player and he wants to make a big impression, but that’s the wrong way to do it,” added Laperriere. “You can be physical without being dirty and it was a dirty hit from behind. Those hits have to stop before someone gets hurt or even killed. Guys have to be smarter and it has to come from the players, the league can only do so much.”
“It’s always hard when you are going hard in on the forecheck you can expect that you might get a hit from behind,” he said. ”Sometimes when you’re going full speed and with the forecheck you might not pay attention to that, but it’s certainly a major penalty.”
NOTES: The Kings allowed 29 shots, well above their season average of 23.9 going into Saturday’s action. The Kings have allowed 29 or more shots in a game three times this season; The Kings have not beaten Colorado since December 29, 2007, a 3-1 win in Denver; Sakic missed his fifth consecutive game (sore back).
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.