The Kings are now 9-2 in the shootout (and their #1 goalie, Jonathan Quick is 9-0) and 24-0-1 when leading after the 2nd period. They also scored two power play goals tonight (both by team captain, Dustin Brown), though their power play had been struggling lately. They’ve moved back into 5th place in the western conference and have 2 games in hand on the 4th place Coyotes, three points ahead of the Kings. The Kings also have back to back wins at home after playing horribly in their first game back after sweeping the recent four game road trip. Willie Mitchell scored a nice goal. Jarret Stoll scored his 7th straight shootout goal. All of this is very good news for the LA Kings fans.
The bad news is that the Kings gave up two leads against the Sharks (one with only 4.1 seconds to go), ended their penalty kill streak at 35, and lose the first tie breaker (wins not counting shootout wins) with everyone. The Kings are also only four points ahead of the 9th place Dallas Stars and being out of the playoffs. As much as the fans and players want to enjoy the playoffs at Staples Center again this year, only one team in the western conference has a guaranteed spot – the Vancouver Canucks have clinched the head of their division and are currently leading the NHL and the race for the President’s Trophy.
In spite of scoring both the Kings’ power play goals and the winning goal in the shootout, Captain Dustin Brown was clearly concerned about the team blowing two leads at the end of regulation tonight, saying it was “definitely not the way we want to do it… blowing two leads really with less than three minutes left or four minutes left.” It may not be the way a team would want to win, but at least the Kings are winning. The game against the Sharks was an exciting one. Both teams even fought hard to try to win in overtime and had decent chances. The sold out crowd at Staples Center definitely found going out in the rain (something southern Californians seem to try to avoid at all costs) and the money spent worth it tonight. I may not be a fan of the shootout (and I can’t see my opinion of it ever changing), but the shootout ending with Dustin Brown scoring the deciding goal was definitely an exciting end to a very intense game in Los Angeles.
The playoff race is definitely going to remain intense until the end of the season. All NHL teams have nine games or less left in the regular season and only ten percent of the teams have secured their playoff spots. No teams are listed as mathematically eliminated on the NHL site yet, but Edmonton and Colorado have been mathematically eliminated in the west. If they won all of their games and no one above them won a single game remaining this season (which is impossible given the schedules and all the teams ahead of them that play each other), the Avalanche finish higher than 11th in the west. (For the record, no one has been mathematically eliminated in the eastern conference.)
The Kings broke a four game home losing streak tonight in LA when they won in the shootout… again. The Kings are tied with the New York Rangers for the best shootout record (8-2). The Flames have also won 8 shootouts, but they’ve lost 7. The only problem with being so good in the shootout this year is that players might hang back in the overtime, realizing that their goalie Jonathan Quick can get them the win in the shootout more times than not and if they’re tied with another team in points this season, they lose the first tie breaker. The Kings have 41 wins this season, but only 33 of those came in regulation or overtime and the first tie breaker this year only includes regulation and overtime wins. I’ve never been a fan of deciding a sport of any kind by a skills competition and if they think the shootout shouldn’t count maybe they should just get rid shootouts and go back to ties if there is no score in the five minute overtime period. I doubt this will happen, since it’s all about ratings and fans seem more likely to watch if the game could end in a shootout, so I’m sure it’s here to stay.
All other teams fighting for a spot in the western conference were surely annoyed by another three point game in the conference. There always seem to be more three point games near the end of the season when so many teams are desperate to secure their place in the playoffs. The only truly secure teams in the western conference are the Vancouver Canucks, though the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks are pretty sure of their spots, too. I suppose the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche are fairly securely out of the playoffs, but that’s not something anyone wants to admit until they’re officially mathematically eliminated and that hasn’t happened yet.
Tonight’s game was intense and definitely a nail biter for fans of both teams. There was no scoring until just under 6 minutes remained in regulation, then there were two goals within a little over a minute leading to a tie at one goal, which they maintained until they got to the shootout. Though the Flames were the first to score on the shootout, Stoll and Kopitar scored for the Kings and the Kings won the shootout and the game 2-1.
When asked about what makes him so successful in the shootout, a typically humble Quick threw the attention right back to his teammates saying, “I gotta give a lot of credit to the guys shooting the puck for us… when you score two out of three, I think we’re gonna win more times than not.”
I thought one of the best signs for the Kings fans tonight (other than a much needed win at home in front of the fans, which was a nice change from the last four home games) was that the Kings had one really amazing power play in the second period. They didn’t score, but they did everything correctly. During the second intermission, I was talking to some of my friends in the press box about that power play and mentioned that I thought it was the Kings’ best all year. Terry Murray brought up that same power play in the press conference, saying, “You know the power play we had in the second period. We didn’t score. You know the one I’m talking about? That was the best power play we’ve had this year. That is exactly what we’ve been talking about – what we need to see on a regular basis.” The trick, of course, is to somehow make that something the Kings can do on a regular basis and clearly if Murray had the solution to that the Kings would have the best power play in the NHL instead of the 19th (their rank before tonight’s game).
The Kings will be home again on Thursday hosting the division leading San Jose Sharks and what’s sure to be an excited Staples Center sellout crowd as the regular season winds down and Kings fans prepare to see some more playoff hockey in Los Angeles.
The Ducks extended their four game losing streak to five games tonight in Anaheim as they hosted the Edmonton Oilers (last place in the western conference). The Ducks stay in 9th place in the west, but are tied (with the Chicago Blackhawks) for having played more games (23) than any other team in the NHL. If their standings are potentially inflated now, since many teams in the conference have played four fewer games, the Ducks are in pretty bad shape.
The next time the Ducks play is this Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the US. They host the Blackhawks and I have to wonder if there won’t be some new faces in the Honda Center when they do. Something’s gotta give if the team isn’t doing well, right? Even in the Ducks’ six game winning streak they didn’t play well consistently. It should be an interesting week in Anaheim.
The Kings tend to do pretty well in the regular season home closers (even though lately they haven’t played any games beyond that at home). However, this season when the Kings are in the playoffs and know that they will be coming back to play in front of their fans this month, they couldn’t beat the Oilers (last place in the western conference and the NHL). I realize that the Oilers aren’t in the playoffs this season and they were, in fact, they were the first team (out of all 30 in the NHL) to be eliminated from the playoffs officially. The Kings are 3-3-4 in their last 10 games, which is worse than most other teams in the league (whether they’ll be playing next week or not). This isn’t the way most teams would want to end their first regular season where they won’t be going home early in April. The Kings don’t seem worried and are determined to make it past the first round of the playoffs.
When I mentioned the playoffs being a good way to thank the Kings fans for their loyalty through the years, Jack Johnson replied that while it was a thank you for the fans “I think the fans should expect that.” He’s got a good point. Many fans of every sport expect their team to make the playoffs. The Kings fans haven’t expected that lately, but I’m sure they’ll be happy to get back to expecting their team to make the playoffs and looking forward to their team winning the Stanley Cup someday rather than just hoping their team will squeak into the playoffs and perhaps make it to the second round occasionally. The Kings have only been in the Stanley Cup Finals once (and even those who aren’t Kings fans remember that one, since Wayne Gretzky was part of the team that lost to the Canadiens in 1993). Soon, their fans will see how the Kings do in the 2010 playoffs. Some of them already have Stanley Cup rings, but many of the Kings don’t have any playoff experience. The whole experience will be very exciting for the players and the fans. Staples Center will be back in black and completely packed once again. Today’s game was announced as a sold out crowd of 18,118, but there were many empty seats. The next time we’re in Staples center, empty seats will be a lot more difficult to find.
This year is also the Kings’ first ever playoff Beard-A-Thon benefiting the Kings Care Foundation. Check out the information on the Beard-A-Thon here on the Kings website.
Since the 1985-86 season when the Presidents’ Trophy was introduced, only 7 of the winners have won the Stanley Cup in the same season. Of course, only four other Presidents’ Trophy winners had lost in the first round of the playoffs (the most recent being the Detroit Red Wings, who lost to the Edmonton Oilers in 2006). The Ducks became the fourth team to knock the Presidents’ Trophy winner out in the first round of the playoffs. Were they surprised? Not at all. The whole playoffs, the Ducks have been saying they didn’t think they were out of their league and they could beat the Sharks. Clearly, they were right. Throughout the playoffs, I didn’t talk to many people who had predicted the Ducks would win before the playoffs started. Most people I talked to before the playoffs thought my Ducks in 6 prediction was completely nuts. They told me how the Sharks had performed in April didn’t matter and their history of collapsing in the playoffs didn’t matter. I disagree. The Sharks ended the season just cruising and barely hanging on to their league best record and while I realize that history isn’t always a good indicator of the future since teams change, a lot of the current team were a part of the Sharks teams that lost in the conference semifinals the last few years.
The start of the night (Getzlaf dropping the gloves as soon as the puck dropped – 2 seconds into the game – and fighting Thornton) may have surprised a lot of fans and media, but Randy Carlyle & Ryan Getzlaf were not surprised. They had discussed the Thornton/Getzlaf fight idea and whether it was a good idea. Carlyle told Getzlaf it was his choice. He said he’s never been the type of coach to send a player out to fight, but he was happy with Getzlaf’s choice.
Hiller continued to look amazing in net and though the Ducks couldn’t stay out of the penalty box for long (12 penalties, 30 minutes) neither could the Sharks, who had exactly the same penalty minutes. Hiller kept the Sharks to one goal on the power play (they were 1-4), while the Ducks went 2 for 5 on the power play.
Since they’ve beaten the team with the best record in the NHL this season, the Ducks have a lot of confidence going into the series against the Red Wings. The Red Wings clearly have an amazing playoff history and swept the Blue Jackets in the first round, but the Ducks still believe they can compete at a higher level than they have so far and face the Red Wings with confidence. After saying that they’d think about facing the Red Wings tomorrow and for now they’d enjoy their win, Randy Carlyle joked that he decided he’d give the team a half hour to enjoy the win, then it’s back to work.
At this point in the season, a lot of teams are normally set in stone for the playoffs. The eastern conference has 3 teams that have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs (Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and NY Islanders) and Boston has clinched their division title/playoff spot. The western conference is a lot more up in the air. Other than San Jose (clinched the division title & playoff spot) and Detroit (clinched playoff spot), everything in the western conference is up in the air. The closer it gets to the playoffs, the less likely it is for some of the lower teams to make it into the playoffs, but there is definitely a lot more excitement this year surrounding the playoff race than I can remember in recent years.
It’s been suggested that this is largely due to the points for losing in overtime and shootouts. I didn’t feel like completely redoing the standings again this year to figure out if that’s the case. I suspect that the points for losing are a factor. Teams have been moving in and out of the playoffs for weeks in the western conference and it seems very likely that the last day or two of the season (April 11 & 12) will be very important to some of the teams in the western conference.
In spite of all the people I’ve heard who believe so strongly that the western conference is the stronger/tougher conference (due to the top two NHL teams coming from the west), teams in the eastern conference need 83 points to be in playoff standing (Montreal is in 8th place with 83 points). Teams like Edmonton (in 7th place in the west with 79 points), Anaheim (currently in 8th in the west with 78 points), and Nashville (tied with Anaheim in points, but with fewer wins) would be in 9th – 11th place in the eastern conference. The 6th place team in the western conference would just barely beat out the Montreal Canadiens for the 8th spot if the Blue Jackets were competing in the other conference. The eastern conference has more teams in the 80s & 90s than the west. Of course, the fact that each team doesn’t play every team from the opposing conference at home and away each year makes it even more difficult to argue either side of that dispute, but I think it’s worth thinking about the fact that the teams in the last two playoff spots in the west (a quarter of the qualifying teams) would not be in the playoffs if they had to qualify by the eastern conference point scale.
We’re all used to hearing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” after games now and it’s clear that the Kings haven’t stopped. “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now,” a rock ballad by Starship, may be another appropriate song for this season’s Kings. Last night, the Kings (who many had counted out of the playoff race a while ago) ended the Canucks’ winning streak – a streak that included a regulation win against the Sharks who have only 12 losses in regulation this season. Roberto Luongo and his team were on a roll, but the Kings didn’t let that stop them. Don’t tell any of the Kings that in spite of being only 3 points away from 7th – 9th in the conference they are unlikely to get into the playoffs. They don’t need to hear that. All they can do is control how they play and they believe that if they play their best they can make it.
The problem isn’t that the Kings are 3 points away from a playoff spot. The problem is that in spite of being only 3 points away from 7th place the Kings are in 12th place and only 6 points ahead of 14th. If the Kings were in the eastern conference, they would be 9 points out of 8th place, but only 11th in the conference. Those extra teams between the Kings and 8th place are very important. While the Kings can control their play, they can only control how the other teams do on a few occasions (when they play Nashville & Dallas twice, Edmonton, & St. Louis). Most days, they can only control themselves and for the next four days the Kings will practice as other teams play and hope that the games work out in their favor. Clearly, at some points, the teams the Kings need to lose for them to move into playoff position will play each other. All the Kings and their fans can hope for when the teams around them in the standings play each other is for a regulation win on one side or the other. If three points are handed out in those contests, it hurts the rest of the teams contending for a playoff spot.
The Kings look happier than I’ve seen them – ever. I didn’t have access to the Kings the last time they were in the playoffs. Lately, their playoff hopes have been over pretty early in the season. At this time of last season, the Kings were trying to make themselves feel better about the fact that none of the games they played mattered. There was no way they could make it into the playoffs and they all knew it. The excitement of the playoffs and trying to get into the playoffs is what the players love. They live for the exhilarating games. Now, the Kings are fighting for a spot and every game is like a playoff game. They know how much each game means and they’re battling to get every point. One game at a time… The team realizes it’s a long shot, but they believe they have the power to make their dreams of making the playoffs come true and perhaps believing will make all the difference. Most Kings fans certainly hope it will.
The Kings will be in Vancouver on Friday to face the Canucks again (after the Canucks play in Anaheim Wednesday) & in San Jose to play the Sharks Saturday. They return to Staples Center on Monday to face the team currently in 8th place, the Nashville Predators. It’s a rough road, but the Kings having fun trying to get to the playoffs and the fans that are attending the games are having fun with them. Last night, the Kings had an announced attendance of just under 17,000 fans. Sure, many of these fans were cheering for Vancouver, but Staples Center was fairly full. There are only four home games left in the regular season and the fans are enjoying their team’s excitement and energy as they fight to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
I know there is a lot of debate about the idea of mascots not fitting in with the hockey world, etc. Personally, I’ve always enjoyed NHL mascots. Perhaps that’s because Iceburgh (the mascot of the Penguins, my first NHL team) is so entertaining. The way he plays around is fun to watch and he doesn’t disrupt the game at all, so I don’t understand the harm. Depending on the counts you use and what you count as a mascot, 24 (or 25) of the 30 NHL teams have mascots. If you haven’t been lucky enough to see all of them, you can click here to see pictures of all 24 mascots. Four of the original six teams have mascots, including the Canadiens and Maple Leafs. Since most of the arguments I’ve heard about hockey not being a place for mascots say that they take their hockey more seriously in Canada, I find it interesting that the two original six teams from Canada, as well as the Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators, & Calgary Flames have team mascots. This makes the Edmonton Oilers the only team in Canada without a mascot. Clearly it’s not simply an issue with being serious about hockey. Mascots entertain kids and older fans when they’re not overly intrusive and distracting. If used properly, I think a good mascot can add to the experience of a great night of hockey.
The video my sister posted today on her Facebook page made me think about this. If you want to see a hilarious campaign video for Iceburgh, check this out: