LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — 48 games into the 2011-12 National Hockey League season, the Los Angeles Kings have a 23-15-10 record, good for 56 points. That puts them in second place in the Pacific Division, one point behind the San Jose Sharks (through games played on January 20), and in seventh place in the Western Conference, four points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche, their next opponent (Saturday, January 21, 7:30 PM PST, Staples Center).
San Jose is third in the conference, and the Chicago Blackhawks, with 64 points, leads the West. As such, the Kings remain in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race, and could still come out on top of the Pacific Division, even though the Sharks have four games in hand.
But the Kings could be in much better position if they could get out of the bad habit of getting themselves into three-point games.
Indeed, the Kings lead the league in games that go beyond regulation time, with 17 contests going into overtime or a shootout, and they are tied with the Minnesota Wild for the league lead in games that go into a shootout with ten.
If the Kings continue on their current pace, they will play in 29 overtime games, which would set a new franchise record (27 in 2003-04), and 17 will end up in a shootout, which would be one game shy of the club record (18 in 2009-10).
The problem for the Kings is that they have a losing record in those games this season, with a 3-4 record in overtime games, and a 4-6 record in shootout contests (Kings had a 10-2 shootout record last season).
With ten overtime/shootout losses, the Kings share the league lead in that department with the Florida Panthers.
If you do the math, that’s ten games in which they failed to earn the extra point in the standings. Even worse for the Kings, that extra point went to a Western Conference rival seven times.
Six of the overtime/shootout losses have come under new head coach Darryl Sutter.
Given how tight the Western Conference playoff race is, and will continue to be right down to the wire—just eight points separate the 12th ranked team from the fourth-ranked team—although no team is going to win every game, the Kings cannot afford to giveaway too many more points.
“[The playoff race in the West] definitely tight, but we’re getting one point out of it, instead of zero,” said forward Trevor Lewis. “It’s better to look at it that way. [But] we’ve played more games than a lot of teams, so we need these points to stay ahead of the teams who are behind us.”
“We just have to keep going,” added Lewis. “The energy is there, the effort is there. We just have to figure out the little ways to win in regulation.”
On January 19, the Kings suffered yet another shootout loss, this time, a 2-1 decision to the Calgary Flames, a team they had defeated rather handily in Calgary just five days earlier.
Flames goalie Miika Kiprusoff, and Kings netminder Jonathan Quick, were both on their games. But Kiprusoff came up with two big saves in the shootout, while Quick could only come up with one.
“The shootout losses come because you didn’t score enough goals in the first 65 minutes, right? So I’m not happy with the shootout losses, but what’s the big deal? Last night, they scored two and we scored one, and [Kings defenseman Jack Johnson] double-clutches one that was probably going to go in, because he made a great move,” said Sutter. “What more can you do? You just try to get the right guys and try and figure out who’s hot and who’s not.”
“I always take the high road and say we got one [point],” added Sutter. “You’ve got to get points, one way or the other.”
“Shootouts are important,” said Sutter. “Everybody’s saying, ‘let’s get the extra point.’ But those were two of the best goalies in the world last night, and on a straight breakaway, they’re going to stop 95 percent of them.”
In reality, what hurt the Kings in that game, was, like so many of their previous contests this season, was their lack of finish.
“I thought we out-chanced them, but we didn’t finish [our] opportunities,” Sutter lamented. “We had three empty nets in overtime, and when you’ve got [such golden] opportunities, it’s about second and third, bear down opportunities. We had the opportunities.”
The Flames did a solid job of clogging up the neutral zone, preventing the Kings from generating speed on attack, and neutralizing their forecheck on many occasions. That fouled up much of the Kings’ offensive attack.
“I don’t know if we got enough bodies around the net, and I don’t know if we had as many chances, but we had some real good, quality chances that [Kiprusoff] made some big saves on, and I had an empty net in overtime, and just missed,” said forward Dustin Brown. “It was one of those games.”
“Maybe we were a bit off, I don’t know,” said left wing Dustin Penner. “I had a chance in overtime, and in the first and second periods. Those have to start going in.”
More Needed From Third Line
Sutter had some fairly high praise for Trevor Lewis after practice on January 20.
“Trevor is, right now, carrying [the Kings’ third] line, he stressed.
But that was followed by a less-than-enthusiastic comment about the play of Lewis’ line mates, Andrei Loktionov and Brad Richardson.
“The other two guys can play better for us,” said Sutter.
Despite that, the trio is beginning to develop some chemistry.
“I think we’re going pretty good,” said Lewis. “We just have to bury one, and hope they keep coming. We get three or four chances a game. We’ve just got to keep going.”
“Our confidence is high,” added Lewis. “We just have to put one in the back of the net.”
Loktionov, who centers the line, has played some solid games, but has also looked overmatched, at times. Despite that, Lewis has confidence in his current center.
“[Loktionov] likes to make plays, [Brad Richardson and I] just have to get open when he has the puck, because we know he’s going to do something good with it,” Lewis noted.
In 27 games with the Kings so far this season, Loktionov has contributed four assists, but has not been able to find the back of the net.
“I think it’s coming,” he said. “I’m working hard, but I don’t know what’s going on. I shoot the puck, two or three times per game…I don’t know. I [just have] to keep going. I feel very good [on the ice].”
Sutter indicated that Loktionov has been an asset for the Kings, but added that more is needed from the 21-year-old native of Voskresensk, Russia, and from the third line.
“[Loktionov had] three or four scoring opportunities [against Calgary on January 19], but [scored] no goals. Our third line has got to start scoring some goals for us.”
“They’re working hard, they’re doing a lot of good things for, giving us energy. We want them to be better on face-offs, and we want them to be better at finishing.”
Raw Audio Interviews: Calgary Flames vs. Los Angeles Kings, January 19, 2012
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Dustin Brown (1:43)
Dustin Penner (1:13)
Darryl Sutter (1:31)
Raw Audio Interviews: Los Angeles Kings Practice, January 20, 2012
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Trevor Lewis (1:40)
Andrei Loktionov (2:12)
Darryl Sutter (9:56)
Tickets for the Kings’ upcoming home games against the Ottawa Senators (January 23, 7:30 PM – Senators vs. Kings), the Columbus Blue Jackets (February 1, 7:30 PM – Blue Jackets vs. Kings),as well as for other games on their schedule, are available from Barry’s Tickets, an official partner of the Los Angeles Kings. Use the code, “Royalty010” to get a 10 percent discount on their “Best Value” tickets.
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