Kings and Oilers: A Crease History

Tonight as Los Angeles and Edmonton prepare to meet each other for the first of five times this season, Kings fans, players and staff alike are preparing to welcome back an old friend to Staples Center. Oilers goaltender, Ivy League graduate and all-around swell guy Ben Scrivens is set to make his first appearance back in front of the Kings faithful which systematically swooned over him during his brief stay a year ago.

ScrivensStats

These numbers weren’t too shabby either

In honor of Scrivens’ wonderful time in the LA goalcrease and his continued success in Edmonton, let us flip back the calendar pages a few years and take a cathartic glance at a time where the Kings and Oilers’ goaltending situations were enough to make their fans bash their heads against a brick wall.

But first, remember back in the late-80s and early-90s when things were great for the both the Kings and Oilers, at least as far as their netminders were concerned. Holding down the fort in the Forum were Kelly Hrudey and the incomparable Rick Knickle (ok so maybe just Kelly Hrudey).

photo.phpBut this mustache is actually incomparable… Unless you are counting every 70s porn star than it is pretty typical

Up to the north a few of the game’s greats made their home between the Oiler pipes, with Andy Moog and Grant Fuhr forming a formidable tandem for the greater part of a decade before handing the reins to Bill Ranford.

As they say however, all good things come to an end, and both teams soon found themselves in goaltending purgatory; a never-ending depression of quality backstops (which led to the depression of their fan bases). A depression that LA has only recently recovered from, and that Edmonton is hoping that Scrivens and Viktor Fasth can finally rescue them from.

It was a period pockmarked with the Fukufujis and the Drouin-Deslauriers of the world, when the goalie position for both Los Angeles and Edmonton looked like a revolving door of mediocrity than something they could build a team around.

Considering that the Kings and Oilers are both squads with a rich hockey history and a long-standing tradition of success at the highest level (long-standing meaning the last five years for Los Angeles), chance would have it that these two teams suffered through these trying times simultaneously.

Now sit down, get your anxiety medication ready, and enjoy a brief recollection of the best of what was the absolute worst.

fisetStephane Fiset – Los Angeles Kings – 1996-2001

The Kings acquired Fiset from Colorado at the start of the 96-97 season for something called Erik Lacroix and a first-round draft pick that turned out to be Martin Skoula. Fiset appeared in 40 or more games for the Kings from ‘97 to 2001, and carded two seasons with a winning record and made playoff appearances in ’98, ’00 and ’01.

So why is Fiset on this list? He went 0-5 in the playoffs and got shipped off to Montreal for future considerations in the spring of ’02. In case you didn’t know, “future considerations” is hockey-speak for a bag of pucks or a washing machine.

Salo_Tommy_LTommy Salo – Edmonton Oilers – 1998-2004

If you take a look at the numbers that Salo turned in for the Oil in the five-plus seasons he spent in Alberta, you might be confused as to why he’s on this list. Salo recorded 25 or more wins in four of his five full seasons with Edmonton, and took his team to the playoffs four times as well. But Salo did finish with a 5-16 playoff record and being a good goalie is all about performing when the lights are at their brightest.

Like at the Olympics, where Salo lost to Belarus. While he was a representative of the Edmonton Oilers. Enough to earn him a spot in this article.

_39953803_icehockey300x245Ty Conklin – Edmonton Oilers – 2001-2006

Speaking of performing well in playoffs, remember this?

 

 

 

Sorry about bringing that up, at least things ended up working for these two.

la-sp-sn-kings-movie-premiere-20120724-001

 

As for Conklin’s legacy in Edmonton, I’d say this about sums it up.

8460516Dan Cloutier – Los Angeles Kings – 2006-2008

It is not to say that Cloutier’s tenure in Los Angeles was rough, but it made fans harken back to the good ol’ days when the dynamic duo of Roman Cechmanek and Cristobal Huet ran the show.

In his two years of sharing the net with Mathieu Garon, Barry Brust, Sean Burke, Erik Ersberg, Jean-Sebastien Aubin and Danny Taylor among others (the Kings were so deep in the nets at this time that a grand total of 11 goalies saw playing time in two seasons), Cloutier carded GAAs of 3.98 and 3.44.

In fact, when you run a search on Google Image for Cloutier, three of the first five results contain a Photoshopped beach ball in the net behind him.

Screen Shot 2014-10-13 at 9.20.52 PM

Thanks a lot Vancouver

He also had an ugly incident with then-Nashville Predator and soon-to-be Kings trade-deadline pickup Scott Hartnell that really gave his reputation a black eye.

Such an outburst was so uncharacteristic of Cloutier, but thankfully it was only a one-time thing and did not in any way define his career.

Wait, never mind.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions:

Los Angeles: Frederic Chabot (1997-08), Steve Passmore (2000-01), Milan Hnilicka (2003-04), Adam Hauser (2005-06), Jason Labarbera (2008-09)

Edmonton: Mikhail Shtalenkov (1998-99), Steve Passmore (1998-99), Dominic Roussel (2000-01), Mike Morrison (2005-06), Jason Labarbera (2013-14)

Now if this glimpse back into the history books gave you a series of nightmarish flashbacks, take a step back and breathe, because the times are much better now. The past is in the past and you can rest assured that your team is in the hands of not only capable goaltenders, but some of the league’s best (offer may not apply in Edmonton).

But as the 2014-15 Kings and Oilers renew their rivalry tonight, let fans of both teams get together and mutually agree to one thing.

At least it isn’t 2005 anymore.

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An Introduction, an Audition, a Plea for Help (TRH Blog #2)

When I was asked to write a sample post as part of my ongoing tryout for The Royal Half’s North America’s Next Top Blogger competition, I racked my brain for literally tens of minutes trying to find a relevant, edgy topic to blog about that would have the internet begging for more.

I decided not to get ahead of myself, as none of you came to TRH to read my recollections from last weekend’s Frozen Fury (which I did not attend), or my analysis of the young players at training camp (whom I hardly know). Since you don’t know who I am and don’t care who I am, I figured the least I could do with my moment in the spotlight is to fix the former, and attempt to make my case on why I would make an excellent, an above average, a tolerable addition to #TeamTRH.

I grew up in a northern suburb of Minneapolis. For the impatient readers who are already frustrated asking what the hell this has to do with the Kings, I’m getting to that part. Before my senior year of high school I became what had to be the first high school hockey player to give up playing in front of 18,000-plus at the Minnesota State Tournament to play in front of 18 parents at Iceoplex Simi Valley, as I moved west to play with the Southern California Titans 18AAA team.

As a goalie, I typically chose to root for New Jersey since I idolized Martin Brodeur through my youth. However I began to shift allegiances when I grew a fondness for the Kings’ goal horn and goal song when it played over 15 times over the two games I started at the Toyota Sports Center against the Jr. Kings.

For proof of this, watch this stunning high-definition highlight package of me getting torched against Beau Bennett and company, all set to the dulcet tones of some guy from California Rubber magazine I have to assume is doing voice overs for the NHL Network today.

Hint: I gave up goals four through nine

The next year I moved from beautiful Southern California to a slightly less pristine locale as I played a season of junior hockey for the Fresno Monsters. Living with my teammates from the Santa Clarita Valley, I became more and more of a Kings fan, partly due to their influence and mostly in order to stick it to the San Jose-supporting chumbolones who lived in Fresno.

21058_350450364277_7196319_nProof that I actually played in Fresno and that I actually can make a save, contrary to what the previous video may have indicated

 I returned to Minnesota for college a born-again LA Kings fan, and in the four years that followed all of the these things happened:

-I purchased Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick Kings t-shirt jerseys, and a Jack Johnson Team-USA Olympic t-shirt jersey (officially an antique as of February 2014)

unnamed-2Looks even funnier in person

-Created a fantasy hockey team named “CoreyPerryHasAids” (2011 Runners-Up)

-Celebrated a Stanley Cup Championship

-Purchased a Penner Pancakes shirt from The Royal Half Gift Shoppe

-Celebrated a second Stanley Cup Championship

-Graduated from a small college with an English major (all but eliminating any chance of a real career and a paying job)

-Applied to blog for The Royal Half (See above note)

I realize that after telling my story I have probably alienated myself from the majority of The Royal Half audience by virtue of being a goalie (a bad one at that), being from the Midwest, living in Fresno and by being a Kings fan who came on board post-2010. Despite all this, I still feel like there are a few things I can bring to the table.

-On the off-chance there are people who are interested in technical breakdowns and detailed analysis on the goaltending matchups that go on over the course of the season, I could deliver in spades. Want an example? Check out this hot take: Quick = good. Dan Ellis = bad. You’re welcome.

-In case Flubber McGee and his Kansas City roots weren’t quaint enough for all you LA city slickers, I could be a #TeamTRH correspondent from deep in the midst of flyover country while being a constant reminder of how much better life is in California than in Minnesota during the winter months.

(Fun fact: I have Omsk, Siberia saved in my weather app on my phone so during the third blizzard in March I can look at the weather and say to myself “at least I don’t live in Siberia”. In the winter of 2013 Siberia had better weather 78 percent of the time.)

-I would be able to showcase my writing chops to a wider audience (English major bro), and boast extensive experience with writing on topics that readers here might come to expect, such as the softness of Ryan Kesler, the Sharks embarrassing themselves, and above all game recaps that incorporate Simpsons videos and Darryl Sutter quotes.

So if you have made it to the end of this article, I wholeheartedly thank you and assure you that you won’t have to endure my ramblings again. Unless by some crazy miracle I win this contest then unfortunately you might have to hear from me again. Sorry about that.

But in all seriousness, if The Royal Half’s North America’s Next Top Blogger competition comes down to a vote, please vote for me. If you won’t do it because you enjoyed this blog or because you want the opportunity to ridicule my Midwestern accent on a future podcast of All The Kings’ Men (I say the word coach really funny), I will stoop lower and ask you to vote for me out of sheer pity. Because chances are you live in sunny California, where the calendar is moving from summer to second summer, and I live in a place where there is snow in the forecast next week – snow that won’t be gone until late April. And that sucks.

Blogging for #TeamTRH would give me an excuse to stay inside on my computer and avoid the reality of the harsh elements and sub-zero conditions of winter outside my window. By choosing me you are saving me from possible frostbite and hypothermia.

You don’t want me to get frostbite or hypothermia do you?

Actually, don’t answer that…

GKG

Taking it Outside (#TeamTRH Tryout Blog)

20140808-levis-stadium-stadium-series-dl

Will the Kings-Sharks outdoor game be a stunning spectacle or an open-air atrocity?

In early August it was announced that the San Jose Sharks would not only be finally making their long-awaited outdoor debut, they would be doing so in their backyard. The NHL’s 2015 Coors Light Stadium Series would be taking place in Santa Clara’s Levi Stadium, and the Sharks would be assuming the duties of the home team.

In early August it was also announced who San Jose would be playing outside on Feb. 21, but there was not nearly the same amount of buzz coming from the Sharks’ opponent in the weeks that followed. Possibly because that team was still preoccupied with celebrating some award thing a couple months earlier.

1897079_SP_0616_parade_WJS

Yep, that’s the one

But now that training camp is upon us and the 2014-15 season is almost here, it is only fair to consider the implications of the Kings’ second outdoor game in two seasons. But while the hype machine for the Stadium Series is already whirring at full speed, talking about heated rivalries-this and outdoor aesthetics-that, it is not the worst idea to take a step back and try to see the big picture.

So here is my attempt to try and lay out the positives and negatives that come with such a high-profile event, and to ultimately decide whether or not the 2015 Stadium Series is a good thing for the Kings.

Pro: Every time the NHL takes its product outdoors it is another fresh reminder of the sheer beauty and majesty of the sport of hockey. The cliché is beaten into the ground but it truly is hockey at its most pure form. Every chance a team has to play in such an event and every chance a fan base has to participate in one should be cherished, because it truly is a special experience and you never know when the next chance will come.

Con: On second though, the matchup at Levi Stadium will mark the 12th outdoor game the NHL has played in the last six years. The Rangers, Flyers and Capitals have seven appearances among them. If this outdoor fad was any more played out Bettman would probably start handing outdoor games to any old team, even those from a market without a trace of enthusiasm for the sport or any hockey history to boot. Like Minnesota.

hfr-hockey-city-classic-2-1

But where do you put the beach volleyball court?

Pro: Unlike the defensive snooze-fest that occurred last year at Dodger Stadium, the 2015 matchup between the Sharks and Kings is sure to be one with loads of offensive excitement. Los Angeles rode a retooled and reenergized forward core to the top of the mountain in the playoffs, and is bringing back just about all the pieces to defend their crown. As long as Marian Gaborik can keep his groin in one piece, the Kings should have no problem putting at least a few on the board, if not more on Feb. 21, making for a much more appealing game to Kings fans than their 2014 dud against the Ducks. Especially considering the Sharks goaltending, which is known for cracking when the lights are at their brightest.

Con: Now that everything in the previous has been written down, none of it is going to happen. Gaborik will be on the IR by December, the Kings will hit their mid-season scoring slump right on time, Niemi and/or Stalock will stand on his head and the Sharks will win in shutout fashion, probably like 6-0.

Pro: One of the best parts of NHL’s outdoor series, has been the awesome retro jerseys the participants design for the games. The games have been an opportunity for teams with rich histories like the Penguins, Maple Leafs and Red Wings to take a step back in time and show off some great throwback sweaters.

Recently the Stadium Series games have taken a more modern approach to designing the specialty jerseys. In 2014 the Kings’ uniforms were sharp and the expectations should be no different in 2015. Longtime fans should revel in the opportunity to accept another jersey into their Kings collection.

Con: If the trend of putting regional emblems on the shoulders continues like it did with the “LA” and “OC” patches last year, good luck trying to make it through the game while seeing this on the Sharks’ jersey.

norcal Also look for 74% of the crowd to already have this tattooed on their shoulders.

Pro: Another crack at a high-profile game like this allows the Kings a chance to redeem themselves after faltering under the Dodger Stadium lights a year ago. A victory against the Sharks brings them above the .500 mark outside (including the game at Caesars Palace in 1991), and will be another opportunity to gain some bragging rights over their California rivals.

Con: Do the Kings really need more bragging rights over the Sharks? Ever hear of a little thing called the #ReverseSweep? The Kings essentially tore out the Sharks’ souls, emptied about four magazines of an AK47 into them, and proceeded to defecate on the annihilated pile of nothingness that was the San Jose Sharks organization. They aren’t done yet either, they are raising the Stanley Cup banner right in the Sharks’ faces. A championship run that all started with laying an egg at the Stadium Series. I’m not saying winning at Levi Stadium could sabotage all chance of the third Cup in four years, but that’s exactly what I am saying. If it ain’t broke don’t break it. Also after what we did to them last year it’s a nice gesture to give the Sharks something to celebrate.

SharksBanners

There’s a similar banner hanging at the Honda Center

The Verdict: Inconclusive. Who is to say if participating in another outdoor game is good for the Kings, when it comes down to it the game is just one out of 82. It’s probably good for the exposure of the league and good for growing the game in California and yadda-yadda-yadda, but in all honesty it is probably just one big money grab.

As a Kings fan the best way to look at the outdoor game against San Jose is as a win-win situation. The Kings lose, and they are right where they were a year ago. All they need to do is rally the troops, pick up a free agent from Columbus (cough Hartnell cough) and next thing you know a high-profile public figure is cussing in front of a podium at Staples Center at yet another Stanley Cup rally.

If the Kings win, that’s just one more thing they are better than San Jose at. Also it would make Logan Couture sad, and if there is anything that gets me excited, it’s making Logan Couture sad.

photo-5

It doesn’t end therehMZ7dic

Game 3 Recap: Quick Leads Kings to Cusp of Glory

Photo Cred.- NHL.com / Getty Images

Photo Cred.- NHL.com / Getty Images

After much was made about their unorthodox, improbable (and as some would say, referee-assisted) manner in which they escaped Staples Center with a 2-0 series lead in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, the Los Angeles Kings silenced their critics and the Madison Square Garden crowd with an absolute no-doubter Monday night.

Led by a transcendent 32-save shutout performance by Jonathan Quick, the Kings blanked the New York Rangers 3-0 in Game 3 taking a stranglehold of the series and pulling themselves one win short of clinching their second Cup in three years.

Quick’s finest work came in the middle period, when he was able to anchor his team, which entered the frame with a 1-0 lead, against a furious Ranger onslaught without giving an inch. New York threw everything they had at the Kings, outshooting them by a 17-8 margin, but could not solve the visiting netminder, who made three or four jaw-dropping stops to preserve the goose egg on the scoreboard.

Not only was LA able to take the Rangers’ best punch without buckling, they were able to counter with a pair of second period tallies to extend their lead and all but ice the game heading into the final 20 minutes. It was a microcosm of the Cup Final to this point, with the Kings ultimately finding a way to stymie a stretch of strong play by their opponents with timely goaltending and opportunistic scoring.

Unlike the first two games of the series, Los Angeles was able to draw first blood, and they were able to do so in the most deflating way possible for the Rangers. The Kings were able to add an exclamation point onto the end of a tight, well-played first period when Jeff Carter buried a beautiful outlet pass by Justin Williams with 0.7 seconds on the clock.

It was a gut punch for the home team that would soon be worsened by a seeing-eye shot by Jake Muzzin that bounced off a Rangers defender past Henrik Lundqvist on the latter of two early second period power plays for Los Angeles.

After weathering the ensuing Rangers surge and killing off a pair of penalties, the Kings added a backbreaker at the 17:14 mark when they were able to turn a bad pinch attempt by Dan Girardi into a 2-on-1 rush the other way. Mike Richards’ pass attempt to Trevor Lewis returned to him off of Ryan McDonagh’s skate, giving him ample space on the short side against a sliding Lundqvist.

The Kings knew exactly what they had to do in the third period with a 3-0 lead, and tapped into their trademark suffocating defensive style of play, meticulously winding down the clock and snuffing out any hope of a New York comeback.

No matter if they were up a man, down a man, or facing an empty net, LA never wavered from playing smart, conservative hockey in the final 20, focusing on getting the puck safely out of their own end and depositing it deep in the Rangers’ end.

One of the primary reasons the Kings were able to completely control the flow of the game was their strong outing on special teams. Their penalty kill was masterful, silencing New York on all six of their opportunities, thanks to several big stops by Quick and a few massive shot blocks by Matt Greene and company. Not only did the PK keep the Rangers off of the scoreboard, it allowed the Kings to stem some of the momentum that New York was building in the second period. Factor in Muzzin’s power play goal earlier in the second at a time when the Rangers were trying to rally around their own penalty kill unit, and it was full-scale domination for LA in the special teams battle.

With the win the Kings take a 3-0 lead in the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three years, and have earned four chances to get that elusive 16th playoff victory. Rest assured that the Rangers, a team that has showcased its pride and heart so often this postseason, will not go down quietly, especially in a Game 4 before their home crowd. Los Angeles had trouble closing out the Devils in 2012, dropping Games 4 and 5 before clinching the Cup in convincing fashion in Game 6 at Staples Center; this year’s team is surely hoping to not postpone a possible celebration quite as long.

This hindsight is the single biggest advantage the Kings have over their Eastern foes in this series – not their size, not their skill or depth – but the fact that the bulk of their roster has been in this exact same spot before. Los Angeles knows what it takes to close out a series and will be careful not to rest on any laurels before finishing this series off once and for all. They know first-hand that three wins amount to absolutely nothing. They have already seen a 3-0 comeback this spring up close and personal, which could be their most valuable weapon in trying to prevent a second one.

 

Other Stuff and Things:

-This is the closest representation I can find of the Kings’ play in this series so far.

-My favorite thing about this team is their unwavering composure, both on the ice and in front of the media. In the post-game interviews the players wouldn’t even talk about the game that was just played – in their minds the page was already turned to the task at hand in Game 4.

Whether it was Quick dryly shooting down a reporter asking him if he could taste the Cup with a simple “no” or Greener focusing on areas of improvement, talking about the need to be more disciplined than the many things his team did well, this group is all on the same page.

That is why while it is easy as a fan to fear a let down and drop in intensity for the next couple games, reason leads me to believe this squad will not let that happen. Here’s hoping my rational instinct is more accurate than my irrational fan side.

-As to why the Kings are all aboard in their collective mindset and unflappable focus on their goal, give all credit to the man behind the bench. Coach Sutter has done an incredible job of creating an entire team of guys in his image, systematic and maddeningly even-keeled. The cliché of “buying in” to a coaches philosophy is thrown around more than it should be, but that is the only explanation for what has transpired with this Kings team. Sutter has found a way to get his team to 100% buy into what he has told them, and as a result they all have responded remarkably on the ice. The fact that he cannot be added the Jack Adams ballot after this playoff run is a crime.

Maybe one of the funnier things I have ever seen.

-The NBC feature on Dustin Brown during the first intermission was incredible. The fact that as a kid growing up around Ranger fans in New York, he chose to root for Vancouver in the 1994 Cup Finals is perfect. The guy was a pest his whole life, and is not afraid to admit it.

Brown-Brent

I’d make fun of a young Dustin Brown if he didn’t look so eerily similar to someone.

-Speaking of NBC, the production and broadcast crew must have made a decision well prior to Game 3 that regardless of what happened it would be bag-on-Rick-Nash-night. Poor guy got put through the ringer from the pre-game show to the closing remarks. I know he hasn’t been producing as someone of his compensation should, but he played an effective game yesterday, producing a slew of good scoring opportunities. Yet every intermission there was a new highlights package dwelling on his impotency. Hopefully he doesn’t pull a Patrick Sharp and come alive at the worst time (Knock on wood)

-Speaking of knocking on wood, I’m going to be doing that pretty much up until faceoff on Wednesday. Nothing makes me feel more uneasy then hearing people say the other team has no chance and that this series is over. The Kings have won three games, the series is not over, and the last thing the media needs to do is give the Rangers any more bulletin board material than they need facing the end of their season. The last win is always the toughest, please let’s not make it any harder.

-15 down, one to go. Maybe Wednesday is the night. Go Kings Go.

Game 1 Recap: They Do it Again

 

Photo Cred: NHL.com- Getty Images

Photo Cred: NHL.com- Getty Images

The Kings of the rope-a-dope picked up right where they left off last Sunday in Chicago. After once again digging themselves a hole early in Wednesday’s Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Kings once again found a way to climb back out in dramatic fashion, thanks to an overtime goal by who else, but Justin Williams.

Mr. Game 7 Game 1 added yet another page to his clutch-player resume when he buried a feed from Mike Richards, who picked off an errant pass from Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi less than five minutes into the overtime period. After Richards made a simple pass from the sideboards to the slot, Williams coolly walked in and uncorked a perfect shot from the hash marks that beat Henrik Lundqvist over the blocker side, giving the Kings a 1-0 lead in the series.

But while the game ended in smiles for the LA faithful, it hardly began that way – a trend that is becoming all too familiar in this postseason run. New York controlled most of the first period, jumping out to a 2-0 lead, and threatened to do even more damage, while the Kings’ first 10 minutes or so was akin to Bambi learning how to walk for the first time.

Perhaps it was the disparity in days off between the two teams, perhaps it was the Rangers being extra motivated by all the talk of their underdog status, but they used their elite speed and tenacity to draw first blood with tallies by Benoit Pouliot and Carl Hagelin while capitalizing on sloppy defensive play and costly turnovers by the Kings.

However, just like we’ve seen so often in the playoffs, all this Kings team needs is a spark to turn around a game, and in Game 1 that spark came from the unlikeliest of sources: Kyle Clifford. The Big Red Dog reacted to an impromptu line pairing with Jeff Carter and not only cashed in his first goal since December 11 to make it 2-1, but made a couple incredible defensive plays to keep the Rangers from doing any more damage.

The second period was where the momentum clearly shifted toward the Kings favor, as the turnovers and their difficulties possessing the puck began to fade and their defensive zone presence began to resemble the Los Angeles squad that surrendered the fewest goals in the regular season. Add in Drew Doughty throwing in his hat for goal of the year at the 6:36 mark of the period to tie the game and the Rangers were on their heels for the remainder of the game, save for a helter-skelter last minute of regulation play.

The Kings poured on the pressure in the final 20 minutes, outshooting the Rangers 20-3 but coming up empty against Lundqvist, who finished the game with 40 saves. While playing solid in the first two periods, Lundqvist lived up to his all-world billing in the third, making a number of grade-A saves to keep his team in contention, including a miraculous diving save in the dying seconds on a Jeff Carter wrap around.

While it will be easy to shine the spotlight on Lundqvist’s third-period heroics, the goalie on the other side had just as much of an impact on the game’s outcome. Jonathan Quick, the target of ruthless scorn and doubt coming into the series with his less-than-stellar playoff numbers, turned in a gutsy 25-save performance which should be remembered for the quality of the stops he made, not the quantity. He was the best player on the ice over the games’ first 10 minutes, making several difficult stops to keep the game scoreless. Then after being victimized for two sudden goals, one on a breakaway and one deflecting off of Slava Voynov’s skate after a breakaway save, he shut the door the rest of the way.

Even though he only saw three shots in the third period – the first coming more than 10 minutes into the frame – the chances he did see were of the highest quality imaginable. The first save was a tough shoulder save off of Martin St. Louis on a two-on-one, then he stymied Hagelin on a breakaway with less than a minute left.

The Kings can take solace in the fact that they played a subpar game, took an early haymaker from their opponent and still escaped with a Game 1 victory. They learned that they can find a way to overcome an incredible performance by Lundqvist (a feat they will probably have to repeat a few more times), and they should be more prepared to deal with the Rangers’ speed moving forward. The post-game sentiment by the Kings showed that they are well aware they got away with one, and that vast improvements are necessary to continue to enjoy success in this series.

Game 2 will be a pivotal game in this series, as the Rangers are going to throw everything they have at the Kings after suffering what can only be described as a demoralizing loss. LA needs to follow up their opening victory and snuff out any type of rebound performance from New York, especially with the series shifting to Madison Square Garden for Games 3 and 4, where the Rangers will undoubtedly have some extra jam in their favor.

 

Other Stuff and Things

-I was getting tired of everyone and their mother gushing about the Rangers speed heading into the series, but holy moley am I scared of their speed after watching Game 1. Their tenacity and quickness both out of their own end, on the forecheck, and in faceoff situations is terrifying, especially when your defense is not controlling the puck like the Kings’ were early in the game. Haglin, Kreider and Pouliot showed they can break a game open by themselves, and they nearly did in the first period. I’m not sure how to go about containing them, but it needs to be the top priority for the Kings heading into Game 2. Hagelin Ball and Chain

Actually I do have an idea.

-While I don’t think Ryan McDonagh is deserving of the all the incessant praise he was getting before and during the game, he is an extremely dangerous weapon on the blue line. LA is going to need to know where he is at all times, especially when the Rangers have sustained offensive zone time.

-Speaking of undue praise, the NBC crew’s East Coast bias could not have been more apparent last night. From Olczyk and Pierre’s fawning over McDonagh and lamenting over why he wasn’t a Norris finalist while simultaneously ignoring the similar plays Doughty was making, to Pierre’s attempts at antagonizing Sutter in the first period during their on-the-bench interview. Lucky for LA the broadcast crew doesn’t have any bearing on the outcome of the games, or else they would be in trouble.

-Sutter’s interview was another classic:

Pierre: “How is your start troubling, with all of your turnovers?”

Daryl: “We’re playing great as far as I’m concerned.”

Mr. Sutter can see what you are trying to do Pierre, and he does not like it.

-The power play. Woof. I know the PP has never been the Kings’ bread and butter but it can’t be a liability like it was last night. Zero shots over their first three opportunities, several odd-man rushes against and Hagelin’s shorty. It doesn’t need to be clicking at 50% but it can’t give the Rangers momentum every time it takes the ice.

-Willie Mitchell played phenomenal. He made a couple backcheck plays that made him look like he was 25 again, and he nearly scored on a cannon in the third period.

-Voynov played the opposite of phenomenal. He’s been fighting the puck for most of the playoffs, and the goal off his skate, while primarily a bad bounce, just adds insult to injury. He is long overdue for an upswing. If Doughty, Muzzin and Martinez can keep factoring in the offense and Slava can recover his game, look out.

-Everyone knows it is not a Kings playoff run until Greener is bleeding from the eyeballs. It is a playoff run now.

matt-greene-bleeding

Face Time Baby.

-This was neat.

-Game 2 is massive. If the Kings can go up two-rip then steal one at MSG, they take a 3-1 lead back to Staples for a chance to close things out at home. And we all know the Kings are automatic with a 3-1 series lead right? (Rimshot)

-See you on Saturday, Go Kings Go.

Stanley Cup Final Preview and Predictions (Or Just a Preview)

LA-Kings-v-New-York-Rangers-2014-Stanley-Cup-Final-NHL-Wallpaper-400x250

If you listen to certain always-reliable sources of journalistic integrity such as Twitter, Barstool Sports and Mike Milbury, you might be led to believe that the 2014 Stanley Cup Final features one of the most lopsided matchups in recent history. In the world of public opinion, the Western Conference was essentially awarded the Cup back even before the playoffs started, and by winning the Conference title on Sunday, the LA Kings all but clinched their second championship in three seasons. The West is too deep, the East is too soft and inexperienced outside of Boston and Pittsburgh are arguments people cite before adding that all the Kings need to do to come out on top is show up for four games.

The peculiar thing is that anyone already writing off the New York Rangers likely has not been a Kings fan for very long, or at least is not an attentive one. Everyone who has followed the Kings, the 2014 variety and beyond, knows that there is no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to this franchise. A second-period 4-0 lead in a playoff game can vanish (just like an 0-3 series deficit – sorry San Jose) just like an underachieving eighth-seed team can deliver the most dominant postseason performance in Stanley Cup Playoff history. Bottom line is when it comes to Kings’ hockey the only thing that you can predict is its unpredictability.

With this in mind, it is with great hesitation that I see so many pundits and patrons bestow the Kings with such a hefty advantage prior to Game 1 with the Rangers. While Los Angeles does look deeper, more experienced and more battle-tested on paper, it needs to be said that no team wins three consecutive playoff series by accident. Simply by virtue of making it to the Stanley Cup Final, the Rangers should not be underestimated. As I made clear before, the first lesson any Kings fan learns is that expecting anything is the first step toward getting burned, and it is best to just watch and hope for the best.

So unfortunately I do not feel comfortable making a concrete series prediction (my fear of jinxing the team has led me to be choose Kings in seven each round in my playoff pool –  a plan that has worked well so far), I can offer up a few aspects of the Final that will be interesting to watch moving forward.

Showdown of the Stoppers:

To nobody’s surprise, the most intriguing matchup of the Stanley Cup Final is that between the pipes, as a couple of the highest-echelon goaltenders meet at the biggest stage. Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist have cemented themselves as two of the most dominant puck-stoppers in the NHL over the last five years, and the stage is set for them to show who is superior.

But coming into this series, the two do not seem to be on equal footing as far as recent performance goes. Lundqvist is coming off of a series-clinching shutout against Montreal, sits atop playoff goalies with a .928 save percentage, is second with a 2.03 GAA and has given up three or more goals in only four of his 20 postseason starts. Quick on the other hand has taken his lumps in the playoffs, posting a .906 save percentage and a 2.86 GAA, putting him in eighth and ninth respectively. He has given up 13 goals his last three outing, and had surrendered 16 in a three-game stretch to begin the playoffs.

So advantage New York right? Not so fast.

While the numbers are not there, Quick has shown glimpses of his super human side throughout the Kings’ current run – especially when the spotlights are at their brightest. He has been able to flat-out steal a couple of saves in each of his teams’ Game 7 victories; from the glove-hand larceny on Patrick Marleau which helped put the final nail in the Sharks’ coffin to a desperation save on Andrew Shaw to send the Western Conference finale to overtime, Quick has saved his best for when it is needed most.

Perhaps the scariest thing for the Rangers to consider about their opponent is that LA has found a way to defeat San Jose, Anaheim and now the 2013 champions without their goaltender firing on all cylinders. Through three rounds the Kings have surrendered an uncharacteristic number of goals, but have made up for it with timely scoring and an absurd sense of resiliency. If their offense can continue to come through and their defense finds a return to regular season form that won Quick the Jennings Trophy it could mean disaster for New York.

The Burden of Home Ice:

Unfortunately for the Kings, they finished the regular season with more points than their Eastern foes and have therefore earned the right to be the high-seed in the Final. Why is this unfortunate? Los Angeles has proved over the last couple of years to be one of the most effective teams on the road in the post-season. They were able to build a 3-0 series lead when starting away from Staples Center in each round of their 2012 Cup run, and have won three road Game 7s this year.

While LA did win their last series in which they started at home (2013 second round vs. San Jose), this series has a definite if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it vibe to it. The way the Kings have been able to deliver on the road in elimination games this season one would almost think they would choose to defer home ice if this series happens to go the distance. On the other side, New York is more than comfortable playing the underdog after defeating the Penguins and the Canadiens as the lower-seeded team.

In the end it is ridiculous to think that the Kings are anything but thrilled with the opportunity to play at home more often than not in this series, but there is a feel of unfamiliar territory that comes with their high seed.

The Inspirational vs. the Un-Killable

Both of these squads seem to have had some extra mojo working in their favor throughout the playoffs, which have helped propel them to a spot in the NHL’s final two. The Rangers have undoubtedly taken their place as the sentimental favorite in the playoffs, as their players have found a way to rally around Martin St. Louis after the tragic passing of his mother during their series against Pittsburgh. The way St. Louis, always a likable player, was able to take his game to another level and spur his team to a gutsy comeback against the Penguins and a subsequent dispatching of Montreal all while coping with the family tragedy has a storybook feel to it.

Throw in the story of Dominic Moore playing for his late wife and to a lesser extent Lundqvist trying to finally buck his playoff demons and there are plenty of reasons for someone on the fence to root for the Rangers.

But the Kings have also been weaving their own Hollywood-worthy plot in these playoffs. In a postseason that began with a historical feat as LA became the fourth team in NHL history to pull off the #ReverseSweep, the Kings have taken being clutch to a level hardly seen before in professional sports. 7-0 in elimination games, 3-0 in Game 7s, rallying from 3-0 and 3-2 series deficits, climbing out of three separate holes against Chicago, these Kings have redefined the phrase “it’s not over until it’s over”.

While they have not made it easy on themselves, Los Angeles has repeatedly found ways to persevere and get the job done when things looked their bleakest. Dustin Brown said it best when he quipped “We made history by making it very easy for us last time, and making history by making it very difficult this time.”

East Coast vs. West Coast. Quick vs. Lundqvist. Pearson and Toffoli vs. Kreider and Hagelin. Anyway you slice it the 2014 Stanley Cup Final is sure to be one to remember. Since I know better than to guess how it will end up, I will leave it to the two teams to figure it out.

Game 1 tonight. Go Kings Go.

Reflections of a Happy Fan

Photo Cred.- Getty Images

Photo Cred.- Getty Images

 

Sports are a fascinating, exhilarating, exhausting and often maddening enterprise. If you allow them to, sports can take you on a dizzying thrill ride, with peaks at the highest reaches of ecstasy and valleys that can plunge you into heart-wrenching depression, while reaching every level of anticipation, frustration and anxiety in between.

And all of this can be experienced while being planted squarely on your living room couch.

Sure, there is a lot that can be learned and experienced from personally playing hockey, football, baseball, water polo or what-have-you; but the incentive and commitment that goes with being a participant is much different than that of being a fan. My own 19-year hockey career was at its core driven by a deeply instilled passion for the game, but it was often directed by a host of different personal variables.

One might get into the game as a hobby and to meet friends, stay in the game to parlay their skill set into a college education (or in rare cases a career) and continue playing the game into old age to stay in reasonable shape. But in any case, the players are integrally connected to the game they play whatever its outcome may be.

So why do people sit glued to couches, bar stools and $250 nosebleed seats every-other night from April to the dawning of summer watching a group of 20 and 30-year-olds they have never met playing a game on a sheet of ice that they have no stake in? Why do people put friendships on hiatus for reasons such as “they are a Blackhawks fan,” and making conscious decisions to cancel on a planned get-together because “we just won Game 6 and Game 7 happens to be on the same night as our date”? Continue reading