LOS ANGELES — One game into a stretch in which they will have to do without the services of center Mike Richards and defenseman Willie Mitchell, already, the Los Angeles Kings have shown that there are big reasons for concern after struggling mightily in a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens during a matinee affair at Staples Center on December 3.
Tomas Plekanec gave the Canadiens a 1-0 lead with a power play goal at 18:39 of the first period.
Andrei Kostitsyn finished off an odd-man rush at 10:48 of the second period, giving the Habs a 2-1 lead, taking advantage of Kings defenseman Matt Greene losing an edge and falling at the Montreal blue line, just inside right point.
The Kings cut the Canadiens’ lead in half at the 13:46 mark of the third period. But before you read on, be advised that California has not fallen into the Pacific Ocean, and you do not need to make sure that your affairs are in order.
Left wing Dustin Penner was the responsible party, scoring his first goal of the season, prompting concerns that some cataclysmic event was upon us.
But that was as close as the struggling Kings could get.
“I thought we had a good first twenty minutes,” said left wing Simon Gagne. “We had a lot of pucks on the net, a lot of shots. The second period, I thought, was not very good. We took a lot of bad penalties, and gave them chances to go on the power play. From that point, we found ourselves, down, 2-0.”
“We got a goal late in the second, but after that, they shut us down, lining up five guys on their blue line,” added Gagne. “It was really hard to get [into their zone], and they played really well defensively. We were OK in the last twenty minutes, but not good enough to win the game or tie it.”
Head coach Terry Murray pointed to missed opportunities, and a lack of intensity.
“There were a lot of opportunities in the first period with the power plays we had, a five-on-three,” Murray lamented. “Those are missed opportunities. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t score on it. We didn’t get enough traffic at the net. [Montreal goaltender Carey] Price saw a lot of those pucks. We need to be more diligent to get screens on the goalie.”
“I thought we backed off in the second period,” Murray added. “The intensity wasn’t quite the same as it was in the first period, and then, you get into the third, and it’s a 2-1 game. You’re trying to get things turned around, but end up with [just] six shots in the period. On top of that, we took a bad penalty when we were on a power play, late in the third. It’s a formula for losing games.”
A prime example of the intensity issue Murray noted came on that late third period power play Murray spoke of, a golden opportunity wasted by the Kings.
“I thought our intensity with the puck, and on the puck, was not good enough,” he said. “Some of the pucks we were putting into the offensive zone on that power play, [the Canadiens] were recovering. The goalie was getting the puck. He cleared one himself.”
“I felt that, for pucks along the boards, we were leaving [one of our] players by himself,” he added. “You’ve got to have two or three on the puck to recover, and then you go to positions. We backed off on that kind of intensity, and it had to get picked up.”
Center Jarret Stoll indicated that without Richards in the lineup, everyone needed to dig deeper.
“It’s a disappointing loss,” said Stoll “We feel we had a better game to put out there today than what we had and what we brought. It just wasn’t enough.”
“We have to give more, and push more, and be a lot harder,” added Stoll. “Our scoring chances are few and far between, so when you get them you have to get it to the back of the net and we just didn’t do that.”
With the lack of intensity came the all-too-familiar overpassing, turnovers, and outright failure to shoot the puck, as evidenced by the Kings getting just seven shots on net in the second period, and only six in the third.
Two key culprits in this area were defensemen Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, who combined for just three shots on goal, and were largely ineffective, even though Doughty had the first assist on Penner’s goal.
“I think your back end has to be a big contributor in the offensive part of the game,” Murray emphasized. “You saw Florida the other night. They have 62 points from their back end group. That’s a lot of points. That’s what we rely on, both [Johnson] and Doughty. They need to start shooting the puck, and I think, right at the end of the game, you see that we won the face-off. [The puck went] to Drew at the middle of the blue line. He had an opportunity to shoot the puck, but he held onto it, and dragged it down to the left side, and time ran out.”
“You’ve got to pound the puck away,” Murray added. “You’ve got to get a lot more to the net, and that’s the reason, part of the time, whenever we end up with [just] six shots in a period—the low-to-high, is what’s open. Most of the time, in the game today, everybody’s protecting with that home plate attitude, so your [defensemen] are the ones who have to start [shooting] the puck more consistently.”
What is preventing Doughty and Johnson from shooting the puck from the blue line more often?
“It’s what they’re seeing, I suppose,” said Murray. “There’s something there that’s restraining them from getting pucks through to the net. Maybe that’s just inexperience, in some situations, but the bottom line is that I’d rather see them err on the other side, rather than hold onto pucks and be too cautious with it.”
Murray was visibly frustrated with his team’s continuing to pass up good chances to shoot the puck.
“It’s harder to [talk about] it in [the dressing room] than it is [to talk about it with the media],” Murray said. “I’m looking at these players, and we’re talking about it every day in practice. Every game, it’s a message that’s been consistent from the first day.”
“This is where it needs to get better,” Murray added. “At the end of the day, again, we ended up with [just] six shots on goal in the third period, a critical time in a 2-1 game. That’s where you’ve got to have a mentality of really loading up in front of the net. You’ve got to get a dozen-to-15 shots [in the third period] in a game like [today’s].”
Right wing Justin Williams continued to struggle, extending his goal scoring drought to 17 games.
“Sometimes I think [Williams] tries to do too much, but other times, I’d like to see him hold onto the puck and do a little bit more, and I think that goes on in his own mind, too,” Murray noted. “His game is shooting pucks. His game is a give-and-go game in the offensive zone, and he’s got those first couple of steps where he can separate himself from defending players.”
“Just moving the puck, jumping by, getting it back, and putting pucks to the net is where he needs to get to on a consistent basis,” Murray added.
The Bright Side
Although he did not get on the scoresheet, Gagne, whose goal scoring slump was extended to seven games, is starting to get quality scoring chances again, after being mostly a perimeter player over the last couple of weeks.
Nevertheless, he is struggling mightily, as the crossbar he hit on a glorious scoring opportunity illustrates.
“You’re trying to find ways to score,” said Gagne. “You can [only] shoot the puck at the net. It’s just the way things are going right now.”
“He hit the crossbar in the third period,” Murray noted. “That would’ve been a huge goal to tie this thing up. He’s a guy who can give us some good numbers. He’s a very skilled player, he plays a top-end game, and can make the big play at the right time. I saw that here today with some real good scoring opportunities, and he just hit the crossbar.”
“He’s getting his looks,” Murray added. “That’s the most important thing.”
But the brightest bulb in the box, on this day, was Penner.
“I liked Dustin Penner today,” Murray beamed. “He played well. He dug in, he was skating in a real athletic position. He knees were bent, he’s carrying the puck, he had some authority, he was strong around the net, he scored a goal.”
Penner was, arguably, the best Kings skater in this game, and was one of the best players for either team. Indeed, he got the job done on the forecheck, in loose puck battles along the boards and in the corners, in front of the Montreal net, and even in the defensive zone, and on the backcheck through the neutral zone.
“That’s the best I’ve felt,” said Penner. “That’s kind of the start I wanted before the season started. Then I got caught up with different lower body injuries. There’s no problem with my lower body now, It’s just a broken knuckle, but that didn’t affect me.”
Penner does not have full flexibility of the affected knuckle on his left hand.
“It’s more strength,” he said. “I don’t have 100 percent strength. I probably wouldn’t want to get into a fight. But, other than that, it’s pretty good.”
As reported earlier, Penner scored the only goal for the Kings in this game, his first since March 13, 2011, at Dallas. When asked how it felt to get that monkey off his back, Penner replied, “There’s probably 29 more monkeys.”
“It was a really good shot by Doughty,” Penner noted. “That’s what guys like him and Jack Johnson can do on the power play—not necessarily shoot to score, but shoot for a tip, and he placed that perfectly.”
Penner’s teammates offered their congratulations and encouragement, all happy to see him get back on the scoresheet.
“They were pretty pumped for me,” said Penner. “I have to give credit to my teammates, and our trainers, for believing in me. Those guys were happier than I was when I scored.”
Penner went on to say that he has been aware of the deep, often brutal criticism of him and his play. But that is not what motivates him.
“It’s probably a mindset, where [he’s thinking], ‘enough is enough,’” Penner explained. “As an athlete, you hear the things that are being said. It’s not that you need to hear them, but, as a professional, you know when you’re not playing your best.”
“You know, it wasn’t even so much the conditioning,” Penner elaborated. “It was just feeling healthy, and for a guy my size, who weighs 245 [pounds], you can’t be inhibited by lower body injuries and play the way you’re supposed to and the way you’re capable of.”
Penner also knows that he cannot let up now.
“There’s still lots of room for improvement,” he noted. “But [this game was] a good building block.”
Murray echoed those sentiments.
“I liked the way he played here for [his] first time in three weeks [after returning from injury],” said Murray. “He just needs to build on it now.”
- The Kings have killed 28 of their last 29 penalties, dating back to November 19 vs. Detroit.
- The Kings have allowed ten goals in their last six games (1.67/game).
- The Kings are now 10-2-1 when allowing two or fewer goals in a game.
- Through 26 games last season, the Kings had 32 points (16-10-0).
- Dustin Brown played in his 539th game with the Kings, and is now tied with Bob Berry and Wayne Gretzky for 14th all-time in club history.
- Brown also played in his 212th straight game, dating back to February 27, 2009.
- Stoll was 17-for-22 in face-offs today.
- Doughty is now one assist away from 100 his career.
Raw Audio Interviews From Montreal Canadiens vs. Los Angeles Kings, December 3, 2011
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Simon Gagne (2:41)
Dustin Penner (2:36)
Terry Murray (6:16)
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