ALSO: Post-game audio interviews with Drew Doughty, Dwight King, Anze Kopitar and head coach Darryl Sutter following the Los Angeles Kings’ 7-4 victory over the Phoenix Coyotes on October 24.
LOS ANGELES — Anyone who has followed the Los Angeles Kings for at least a couple of seasons knows that they have a penchant for letting teams back into games after establishing a big lead.
The most notorious example in recent years was their loss in Game 3 of the 2011 Western Conference Quarterfinals, when they had a 4-0 lead, and then led 5-1, before losing in overtime, 6-5, an absolutely embarrassing defeat.
Earlier this season, the Kings had a 3-0 lead after the first period against the Ottawa Senators on October 9, at Staples Center, but then allowed three straight goals, one in the second period, and two in the third. Fortunately for the Kings, Jeff Carter saved the day with a goal in overtime to secure a 4-3 victory.
The latest example came on October 24, with the Phoenix Coyotes in town. This time, the Kings played what might be their best period of the season. They established a heavy forecheck, forced turnovers, got bodies and pucks to the front of the net—they did everything they had to do to generate high-quality scoring chances, and the result was a big, 4-0 lead after one period.
But then came the letdown.
The Kings allowed two goals in the second period, and two more in the third, letting the Coyotes come all the way back to tie the game, 4-4. But a shorthanded goal by forward Mike Richards, and goals by right wing Matt Frattin and left wing Dwight King pulled a 7-4 victory from the jaws of, as defenseman Drew Doughty put it, a likely defeat.
“We had that 4-0 lead,” said Doughty. “We came out hot, we came out good. But then, we let that team back in the game. If they got the next goal, there’s no way we’re coming back to win that game. But thanks to Mike getting that goal, he lifted our spirits back up. From there on out, we knew we were going to win that game.”
“We’re not happy that we did that,” added Doughty. “Obviously, we’ve got to review some things. Maybe we sat back a little too much. That’s something you can’t do when you have the lead. You have to keep your foot on the gas pedal and keep trying to get more and more goals.”
“We were sitting back,” said King. “They had a couple of really good offensive shifts themselves. They threw some pucks on net, and got rewarded. Other than that, we just have to move our feet, and make hard plays.”
Center Anze Kopitar acknowledged his team’s long-term problem of letting opponents back into games.
“That’s the challenge for us,” said Kopitar. “It always has been. We’ve always had good spurts, and tonight, the first [period] was a really good one. But we’ve got to maintain that. That’s human [nature], but we can’t let it happen, definitely not with a four-goal lead, letting it turn into a 4-4 game.”
Head coach Darryl Sutter said that despite blowing a big lead, his team was actually the better team in the second period.
“We actually had a hell of a second period,” Sutter claimed. “We outchanced them and outplayed them in the second period. We just couldn’t finish. It’s one of those deals where you win a period, then you lose a period, then you win a period. That’s the way it goes.”
Indeed, the Kings managed to bounce back and wrest control of the game from the Coyotes when it counted.
“Obviously, we don’t want [to blow a big lead],” said King. “You want to be able to control your emotions, and the pace of play. But with the three goals we got after they tied it, we bounced back. It went up and down, with the big lead, and then giving it up. But from about 15 minutes left in the third, we got back to how we play.”
“You play 82 games,” added King. “Not every shift is going to be your best, but you try to control it. They just threw some pucks on net, and happened to get some breaks.”
Sutter put it in even simpler terms.
“When you score three goals, you should win, and when you give up more than two, you should lose,” he said. “So tonight is…what’s the word you call that? An anomaly?”
When asked he could spell “anomaly,” Sutter replied, “No.”
When he was asked for his thoughts about the final minutes of the game, Sutter replied, “Good thing they didn’t kick a field goal on the last play of the game.”
More laughter. But Sutter was right. The Kings’ winning this game was, as he said, an anomaly, given the circumstances.
If the Kings want to go deep into the playoffs and be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender year after year, they must learn how to stop blowing big leads, at least, not nearly as often as they do.
The Bright Side
Despite blowing a 4-0 lead, there were six, big positives for the Kings in their game against the Coyotes, three of which belonged to King, who recorded his first National Hockey League hat trick.
His first goal was set-up by a gorgeous, no-look, backhand pass by Kopitar from the right wing boards. King turned and fired a low wrist shot, beating Coyotes netminder Mike Smith for a power play goal at 4:17 of the first period.
King’s second goal was scored at 17:56 of the first period, when his nifty deflection beat Smith through the five-hole, giving the Kings their 4-0 lead.
King completed the hat trick with an empty-net goal at 19:38 of the third period.
“It’s great to get rewarded—not just me, but our team put up seven goals,” said King. “That’s the first time since I’ve been here that we’ve put up that big of a number.”
“I’ve had a hat trick in junior, and in the AHL,” added King. “They’ve all kind of been similar, though. They’ve all been into an empty net.”
During the media scrum interview with King, yours truly noted that he seems to have a knack for beating Smith from the right circle (go back to Game 3 of the 2012 Western Conference Final on May 17, 2012), but King just shrugged.
“I have no idea,” said King. “I’m just trying to get there as quickly as I can before he’s set. I’ve been lucky so far. I’ve had some luck against him so far in the games I’ve played against him.”
King’s teammates were quick to praise him, and not just for his hat trick.
“I think a lot of people [don’t recognize] how good Dwight is, defensively, too,” said Doughty. “When you’re playing solid defense like that, you’re going to get goals.”
“Dwight’s been given the opportunity to play with Kopi and Stick (right wing Justin Williams),” added Doughty. “Kopi and Stick have been on fire lately, so he did a great job playing with them tonight.”
Kopitar indicated that King’s strong play was not just in the offensive zone.
“He was solid all over the ice,” Kopitar emphasized. “He was making plays coming out of our zone, and he was good around our net. He was close a couple of times to get [the hat trick] before the empty-netter.”
“He’s getting stick-on-puck around the net, he’s getting some deflections, but it just didn’t click, so it’s great to see him get going again,” Kopitar added.
“It was great,” said center Jarret Stoll. “It was a big game for him. He usually has that smile on his face 24/7, but he wasn’t smiling too much when he came back to the bench, so [I asked], ‘Kinger! Where’s that smile? You just got a hat trick!’ He had a great game.”
Sutter reiterated what he has been saying about King since training camp.
“He’s been pretty good the whole time,” said Sutter. “I said that in training camp about that position. He goes about his business every night.”
“He doesn’t stand out, but as I said, it’s good to see him get rewarded,” added Sutter. “Again, he’s our most solid left winger, night in, and night out.”
About the other three bright spots…
As reported earlier, Richards and Frattin scored their first goals of the season. But so did…(drum roll, please)…
That’s right. Kopitar finally ended a 26-game, regular season goal scoring drought that extended back into last season when he opened the scoring just 42 seconds into the game, with the Kings on the power play.
“Kopi deserved that goal,” said Doughty. “He’s gotten so many chances. He just couldn’t put it in.”
“I’ve been too close, too many times now,” said Kopitar. “I’ve been hitting posts, hitting [winger Dustin Brown], hitting everybody around the net, but it wasn’t going in. It’s definitely nice to get one.”
Kopitar, who appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show on October 23, shooting pucks at plates hung on a goal frame/net to raise money for breast cancer research, and broke all nine plates in 30 seconds, raising $20,000 (see video below), said that maybe his good deed paid dividends.
“I do believe in karma, so I guess if you do something good for something, it pays off, and it did tonight, for sure,” he said. “[But] hitting plates was a little bit easier than shooting on a world-class goaltender.”
Sutter emphasized that it is about much more than goals, when it comes to Kopitar and Richards.
“You don’t want to have to come from behind, and you don’t want to have to score the winning goal after having a four-goal lead, but it’s awesome, and it’s really good to see Kopi get his first, Mike get his first, Frattin get his first, and see King get rewarded for all the work that he doesn’t get [recognition for]—the grunt work,” Sutter noted. “The reason we have twelve points is because Kopi scored a big shootout goal in Nashville. That got us [an extra] point.”
“Those guys both do a lot of stuff,” Sutter added, referring to Kopitar and Richards. “It doesn’t matter about goals.”
Noting that Frattin also scored his first goal of the season, Sutter indicated that trying to move him to left wing was not working.
“We’ve had several forwards who haven’t played much, or are in and out of the lineup, and he’s been one of them,” said Sutter. “You’re pulling for those guys to take the next step.”
“We moved him back to right wing, and I said [two or] three days ago, that we were way out of line, as a team, to think that we can get guys to change positions in the NHL during the year,” added Sutter. “Hopefully, putting him back on right wing will help him.”
Kopitar’s Appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Drew Doughty (1:37)
Dwight King (1:47)
Anze Kopitar (3:47)
Darryl Sutter (5:46)
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