This Week in Kings (11/18/13)

CLASS IS IN SESSION - Bruce Bennett

The Kings were on a four-game road trip that took them right through my backyard, and you best believe I stalked them (almost) the whole way through. Relive their highly successful week with a bonus live perspective!

Sometimes it's tough being a fan of a west coast-based team out here in the east. Most of the time you're watching games that start at 10:30 (though as an insomniac this doesn't bother me as much as it would for most people), you'll get some weird looks wearing a jersey that says "LA" on it everywhere (though the weird "What team is that?!" looks have dropped off a hell of a lot since the Cup win, replaced by dirty looks from Devils fans), and perhaps worst of all, your opportunities to see your team live are quite slim without heavy traveling. So when the NHL schedule came out, this weekend obviously stood out to me immediately. The Kings would play 3 games in 4 nights, on Long Island, in my own home state of Jersey, and right across the river in Manhattan. There was no way I wasn't attending all three of these games. If I was broke, a bank would be robbed. If I had too much homework in my college courses, some zeroes were being earned. If I lost both my legs in a tragic shark attack, wheelchair ramps were being used.

Luckily I didn't have to brave the opposition arenas alone (although honestly I'm so used to being "the road fan" by now it barely even bothers me; there were several times I was taunted/insulted by random passerby without even noticing until someone else pointed it out to me). I had a great group to attend all three games with: a girlfriend who loves the Kings almost as much as her favorite team (which got awkward for that third game, admittedly), a recent transplant from California, and a Flyers fan who still loves Richards & Carter and was brave enough to wear a crown to all three games. So our intrepid little group set out on Operation Follow the Kings Everywhere, and much fun and many great memories were shared by all. If you're not big on personal anecdotes and observations from live games, you might want to skip this week (or at least skip the mini-recaps of the games I attended live), because there's plenty of that to come. But first, let's get right into the big news of the week, and I think you probably know where this will start....

This Week in News

(any big stories from the past week, both in LA and around the division. if there aren't any, maybe we'll just make some things up.)

-For the third week in a row, we have to begin with yet more injury news, and boy was this a doozy. Jonathan Quick left Tuesday's game in Buffalo in overtime after going down making a save. He spent a long time on the ice trying to stretch out the problem area (which we would later learn was his groin, so insert your jokes here), with Buffalo fans of course doing what every single fanbase does to an injured player taking a long time to get off the ice: booing heartily. As I'm sure you'll be shocked to learn, there was no Puck Daddy article calling out Sabres fans for booing an injured goaltender, because apparently it's only wrong when it happens to rookies or something I dunno. After a while Quick had no choice but to leave the game, replaced by Ben Scrivens for the remainder of the overtime and the shootout, which the Kings eventually lost. After an MRI, it was revealed that Quick had a grain 2 groin strain. The team didn't release any timetable, but 4 to 6 weeks appears to be the consensus (I've seen a few websites say it could even be 2 weeks but that sounds pretty optimistic to me). Obviously, anytime you lose your starting goaltender it's a huge blow. Quick's numbers weren't great by any stretch (.905 sv% in 16 GP at the time he went down), though he was also probably starting to turn it around a little bit. He was just coming off a 19-save shutout against the Sabres at home followed by stopping 25-of-26 shots in a win against Vancouver. What Kings fans could console themselves with was twofold: first, even before he temporarily took over the starting job, Ben Scrivens had a career sv% of about .914, which is fairly good for a backup. Secondly, the Kings are so good defensively and such a great puck possession team, they don't necessarily need elite goaltending to win. I mean, Quick's record this year was 10-5-0 with that aforementioned .906 sv%. So a full-on panic for losing Quick probably wasn't warranted, which of course didn't stop many fans from doing it anyway, perhaps understandably so.

-Here's more injury updates, courtesy of Eric's mid-week Kings Links: Carter has a broken foot (and will probably be out at least a few more weeks, as there was apparently some kind of setback), Greene went on LTIR with a still-mysterious upper-body injury, Clifford also went on injured reserve with an upper-body injury although was not eligible for LTIR, and Jarrett Stoll was skating at the time and of course would return a few days later (and perhaps play his best hockey of the season, oddly enough).

-Of course, all these injuries lead to call-ups, as both goaltender Martin Jones and forward Tanner Pearson were recalled from Manchester ahead of the Islanders game. Jones did not end up seeing a single minute of NHL action, as Scrivens took all three games in four nights including the back-to-back. One assumes he'll get into an NHL game eventually, and his AHL numbers (.927 sv% while starting 13 of 14 Manchester games, including some back-to-backs, to go with a career .921 sv% in 149 AHL games) are encouraging. Pearson, meanwhile, continued his strong play with the Monarchs even after his linemates Toffoli & Vey were called up, with 4 points in 5 games since then. He would get into the lineup immediately and score an extremely important goal against the Islanders, before falling off in a big way against the Devils & Rangers. Those kinds of growing pains for a young player are not uncommon, of course, but he would perhaps be the most likely of all the call-ups to be sent down first once players start coming off injured reserve.

-So those were the big stories in LA this week. What's happening on the other side of California? Uh, not much of anything, actually. In the place of real news, here's an article from the San Jose Mercury News titled "San Jose Sharks Still Blowing Leads". Yay!

-The Anaheim Ducks made a minor deal with frequent trade partners Toronto this week, sending them center Peter Holland for minor league defenseman Jesse Blacker and a couple of conditional draft picks (the highest can become a 2nd rounder based on the number of games Holland plays for the Leafs). The Leafs were also kind enough to take the quite-useless Brad Staubitz off Anaheim's hands in an obvious salary dump, because they were that desperate for anything even resembling a center as they've just been decimated by injuries at that position of late. Holland had been passed by another youngster on the Ducks' depth chart anyway, so giving him up was no real skin off their backs.

-If you're looking for Vancouver Canucks news on Nucks Misconduct this week it's tough to find any (plenty of whining and complaining about how unlucky their team is and how bad the officials are though, if you're into that sort of thing!). A Google News search gave me an article about the Sedins being sad over their lack of goals this year, which sounds hilarious, so here you go.

-The biggest story out of Phoenix this week was probably a new TV deal between the Coyotes and FS Arizona. Hilariously, the deal is for the next 12 years (!), even though the Coyotes can of course leave town after another 4 seasons due to the out clause (although it's the Yotes, so they probably will just stay there forever). The Yotes will also continue to be one of the few remaining teams in the NHL to not have all of their games locally televised, as the deal only calls for 70 Coyotes games to air on the network each season. Admittedly, the Kings didn't always have every game on local TV either, although given both the improved ratings for the team in recent seasons and the defections of teams like the Lakers & Dodgers from FS West to their own dedicated channels, I don't think that situation will return any time soon (if ever).

-While we're linking to Coyotes articles, as a bit of a hockey sweater nerd I enjoyed this ranking of the Yotes' jerseys from worst-to-first from Five for Howling. I actually like their current 3rd jersey quite a bit more than they do, oddly enough. In general it's tough to complain about their jersey designs once they got away from their hideous first sweaters. And yes, I'm interchanging "sweater" and "jersey" in the hopes of giving no one the opportunity to complain about using either one of them, deal.

-Not much news out of Calgary this week, so here's some comedy instead: Flames coach Bob Hartley complaining about a lack of work ethic out of his awful hockey team, and new Flame Ladislav Smid talking about how weird it was to play his equally awful former team. Yep.

-Speaking of comedy and awful teams, there was actually quite a bit news out of Edmonton in the past 7 days. Let's start with their most recent 1st overall pick Nail Yakupov. His agent Igor Larionov traveled to Edmonton to speak with GM Craig MacTavish, and walked back some of his earlier comments saying Nail might actually be looking for a trade to another team (his client's sudden leap in ice time from around 11 minutes to 16 right as this news broke probably had more than a little to do with this sudden change of tone). MacTavish wasn't exactly pleased with this turn of events, calling it "a distraction" from their very important business of losing all their hockey games (okay I added that last part).

-So as things are starting to get even crazier than usual in Edmonton, obviously the best move to calm things down is calling up goalie Ilya Bryzgalov from the AHL. Bryz started just two games for Oklahoma City, one of which he was apparently quite good in and the other in which he, uh, wasn't. With Bryz on his way to Edmonton, someone else was going down, and that someone else ended up being ex-King Jason LaBarbera. He hadn't played in a game since coming in to relieve Devan Dubnyk in a loss to the Red Wings on November 2nd, and hadn't started since allowing 5 goals on 26 shots against another former team, the Coyotes, on October 26th. Even granting that he only appeared in 5 games this season, an .858 sv% is pretty freaking terrible. Fare thee well, Jason.

This Week in Games

(here's all the games involving the Pacific Division from this past week. we'll talk about the LA Kings' games in great detail, while the rest will mostly just be scores, unless I have something to say about it. you'll also get links to Eric's awesome recaps and Nick's fantastic grades/analysis, which will expand on everything I'm saying in much greater detail if you missed any of them.)

Monday, November 11th

Nothing! Nada! In fact, not only were there no Pacific Division games, but as we covered last week, the only NHL game on the schedule at all was a 10 am Pacific contest between the Lightning and the Bruins that was noteable for being the doom of Steven Stamkos.

Tuesday, November 12th

-Buffalo Sabres 3, Los Angeles Kings 2 (SO): Before I can get to the sheer joy of my live Kings experience, I guess I need to talk about this game I wasn't actually at. We can do it pretty quickly, I think (especially since we covered all the Quick injury stuff already): this game was DUMB. I mean really, really dumb. The Kings outshot the Sabres 45-17 and out-attempted them 79-34 (!), but somehow lost in a shootout anyway. Now, as Nick pointed out, this was a game where scoring chances actually didn't correlate that well to any of the advanced metrics (which over the long-term they tend to do), as the Kings only out-chanced the woeful Sabres 16-9. Good numbers, but certainly not as mind-bendingly good as a 79-34 Corsi edge might indicate. Ryan Miller was really good, and an ice-cold Ben Scrivens (he literally saw ZERO SHOTS before he had to play in the shootout) couldn't outduel him for the bonus point, giving the Kings their first OT/SOL of the season. Whatever. In a hilarious sidenote, the Sabres' ownership rewarded their GM & coach for their first home win of the season by promptly firing them the next day. (recap) (grades & analysis) (gamethread)

-Florida Panthers 3, Anaheim Ducks 2: Hey, so what's worse than losing to the Sabres in a shootout? Why, losing to the Panthers in regulation, of course! The Ducks began their amazingly crappy week by coughing up a 2-0 lead to the Panthers, who snapped their nine-game (!) losing streak in the process. Nice job guys!

-Phoenix Coyotes 3, St. Louis Blues 2 (OT): Meanwhile, the Coyotes continued to ride the incredibly strong play of their goalie Mike Smith, who stopped 37 of 39 shots he faced, while Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak somehow let in 3 goals on just 19 shots. The Coyotes are starting to look more and more like a mirage of late: their biggest problem is the massive amount of shots they're allowing, namely 34.6 per 60 minutes, ranking them 27th in the league (ahead of only Ottawa, Toronto, and Buffalo; for comparison's sake, LA is 5th in the league in this metric with 25.3). Their PDO is at 102.2 right now, suggesting some regression could be on the way for them at some point. Their possession stats have also started to plummet a bit: in score close situations, they're now only getting 47.3% of all shot attempts, 24th in the league, and their Fenwick Close is just a little better (47.8%, 21st). A few weeks ago I was impressed with their play and their goal scoring, but unless they turn things around defensively there's probably little hope of them keeping up their current pace. If you had to pick one of the five big teams in the Pacific to really drop off going forward (and yes, I know Vancouver already kind of IS dropping off, but they're actually still playing pretty well), they're probably the one, unless Mike Smith just continues to play out of his mind I guess. At least all the shots, both for and against (their 29.7 SF/60 is still pretty decent, 13th in the league) are making their games quite a bit more exciting to watch than they've been in recent years.

-San Jose Sharks 3, Calgary Flames 2 (OT): Unfortunately the league has apparently rescinded their controversial "your overtime goals don't count, San Jose!" rule.

Wednesday, November 13th

-Dallas Stars 3, Edmonton Oilers 0: Bless your little heart if you actually watched this game (the only Pacific action on the schedule), because I sure as hell didn't.

Thursday, November 14th

-Los Angeles Kings 3, New York Islanders 2: My Weekend of Stalking the Kings began on a tiny little island nobody likes (including most of the people who actually live there). First of all, it really sucks driving to this place. I know everyone in California drives everywhere, but my other 2 games both involved very easy public transportation (head to train station 10 minutes from my house, take either 25 minute or 45 minute train ride, then either walk three blocks to Prudential Center or literally GO UPSTAIRS to Madison Square Garden), making this annoying trip through Staten Island then Long Island Traffic Hell stick out like a sore thumb. You're rewarded for your travel annoyance with a decrepit toilet bowl of an arena, which at least keeps the prices down (I paid less for my ticket to this game than for either of the other 2, and had by far the best seats- lower bowl corner on Kings shoot twice side, 5th row). A ton of fans did show up, way more than in New Jersey, with a healthy representation of Kings fans that pretty much came across on TV watching it later (god, we were LOUD!) and a lot of Islanders fans as well, even though their team is pretty terrible right now. So yeah, the actual game: the Kings seemed to spend most of the 1st period in the Isles' end, although as I learned from comparing my memories with Nick's chances later on, my seats made virtually every Kings' offensive zone possession look like a near-goal even as they actually weren't recording very many chances. The Islanders did seem to get a little better as the 1st went on, leading to by far the worst period of hockey the Kings played in front of me. God, that 2nd period. Two Isles goals very close together (2:14 apart, to be exact), in the only period they would be shooting right in front of me, while sitting in front of an incredibly annoying drunken fan who couldn't even keep the beat of his own goal song while attempting some godawful combination of humming/singing it. Yeah, not fun. Heading into the 3rd period I was understandably downtrodden, and had some very modest goals for the Kings:

-So let's see, did they reach these very modest goals? See a Kings goal: check, and it didn't take that long either. Slava Voynov came down from the point and fanned on his first shot attempt basically right in front of me, but got the puck back anyway, got it down behind the net to Anze Kopitar, and Kopitar got it right back to Voynov for a one-timer that somehow beat Isles goalie Kevin Poulin just 5:34 into the period, and from a short-side angle that almost looked impossible to score from to boot. Do not hear their awful goal song again: check; in fact, the Isles had just 3 shots on goal in the entire period, as they appeared to react to that 1st Kings goal by going into the mother of all defensive shells (seriously, every team plays defensively with a 1-goal lead in the 3rd period, but I really don't recall ever seeing a team flip the puck high and out literally every single time it came into their zone *with that much time left*, and not even pretend to try and forecheck the few times they actually got it deep in LA's zone. maybe this is a thing where it just seemed more pronounced because I was watching it live, I dunno). Try not to scream in rage so much: check. I was screaming, but it sure wasn't in rage. 12:15 into the period, rookie Tanner Pearson would score a hilarious power play goal that just trickled over the goal line (giving me the very satisfying experience of hearing that aforementioned asshole scream "NO GOAL! NO GOAL! NO F'ING GOAL!" repeatedly until the goal was confirmed, then sit down and get very, very quiet for a few wonderful minutes), and then the Kings did something magical. In the kind of thing that always seems to happen TO them, not FOR them (in fact, the few times the Isles did have the puck in the LA zone after the tying goal, my immediate thought was always "they're totally gonna score on us right now and I'm gonna have to fight the urge to drive my car into oncoming traffic on the way home"), they actually broke a tie with less than 2 minutes left in regulation! Tyler Toffoli directed Jake Muzzin's wrister past Poulin in their only non-terrible goal of the game at 18:33, and the Kings held on for an improbable 3rd period comeback win! To say I was happy with this turn of events was an understatement; in fact, I have a large gash on my knee to prove it (no, the link isn't a picture, don't worry). Having seen such an amazing comeback live, the weekend was probably already a success even regardless of what the Kings did in the next 2 games. But as I'm sure you already know, they weren't done, not by a long shot. Oh, and to wrap it up, the Opposition Fan Report: Isles fans were mostly harmless. Other than that one asshole and some typical booing/Kings suck kinda comments, they didn't do much of anything to us, probably because there were so many Kings fans there! It took us a very, very long time to even get out of the building just because of all the people we were high-fiving. (recap) (grades & analysis) (gamethread)

-Tampa Bay Lightning 5, Anaheim Ducks 1: When the Kings were down 2-0 to the Islanders and things looked pretty bleak, I was at least comforted by seeing the Ducks getting killed by the Stamkos-less Lightning. Of course, the fact that the Kings came back and won that game just makes Anaheim's loss all the sweeter, because the Kings made up 2 more points of ground on the division leaders. A very rough trip to Florida for the fowl.

-Chicago Blackhawks 5, Phoenix Coyotes 4 (SO)

-Dallas Stars 7, Calgary Flames 3: As the Canadian media talked about almost incessantly last week, "4 out of 4 points through Alberta" is becoming an increasingly common occurrence as the Flames slide backwards after their unexpectedly great start and the Oilers just keep on being terrible. The Stars not only blew them out while playing night 2 of a back-to-back, they did it on the strength of four goals (!) from Tyler Seguin and six points (1 goal, 5 assists) from Jamie Benn. Ouch.

-San Jose Sharks 2, Vancouver Canucks 1 (OT): This game was proof positive that you can't get everything you want out of life. When I finally returned home from my long voyage to Long Island, the Canucks had a 1-0 lead over the Sharks. All I wanted out of this game was "not a 3-point game, please", so I begged the Nucks to hold their lead against San Jose. And they came so very close.....until that damn child Tomas Hertl tied it after the puck took a wacky bounce right to him with just 1:05 left in the 3rd period. Fine, hope #1 crushed, so my secondary hope turned to "at least let this game go to a shootout so neither team gets an ROW?". "Lol nope." said the hockey gods, as Henrik Sedin went off for hooking Jason Demers 2:07 into OT, and Dan Boyle won the game for the Sharks with a power play goal 31 seconds later. Thanks, guys.

Friday, November 15th

-Los Angeles Kings 2, New Jersey Devils 0: Night 2 of my journey took me to downtown Newark as the Kings played the Devils for the first time since the 2012 Cup Finals. Okay, first, let's talk about their attendance: it probably wasn't quite as bad as it looked on TV, because on TV you mostly see the uber-expensive gray seats and those are almost always empty, but it wasn't *that much* better either. They announced a crowd of 12,000, but I would guess it was at least several thousand less than that. Why do the Devils struggle to draw so badly? Contrary to what you'll hear, especially from Rangers fans, I don't believe it's just due to a lack of interest. Living in New Jersey, you will hear the Devils brought up rather frequently in casual conversation and see a great deal of Devils jerseys/hats/shirts/etc as well. Anecdotaly, I believe the interest is there (though it's true that the Flyers own South Jersey and the Rangers have a sizable NJ fanbase too). I put the lack of attendance on two factors: 1) ticket prices are way too high. They're not all that much cheaper than MSG tickets- we paid around $60 for our seats to this game and around $75 for our seats at MSG, and the tickets were very comparable, both in the upper deck. I would even argue the Rangers tickets were better from an overall viewing experience, but more on that later- and while the Rangers can get away with that because they're an original six team in one of the biggest cities in the world, the Devils really can't. If they brought ticket prices down a bit, maybe not QUITE to the uber-cheapness of the Islanders but a heck of a lot closer, I think they would draw a lot more fans to these games. 2) arena location. I love where the arena is, because it's a million times easier to get to than the old arena in the Meadowlands thanks to the great public transportation, but remember who the Devils' fanbase is (for the most part): suburban white people. And if you know suburban white people, especially NEW JERSEY suburban white people, you probably know one of the things they're most afraid of: cities and crime in said cities. Even though Newark has gotten progressively better over the years and the arena is in one of the safest areas (you literally only have to walk 3 blocks from the train station through a very safe area of the city, with tons of cops around during game nights, and your chances of anything bad happening to you are slim-to-none, or if you wanna drive and pay for parking then you barely have to walk at all), that doesn't stop suburban whites' city-phobia from keeping them home. That old arena at the Meadowlands was in the middle of nowhere, a swamp that had a bunch of sports arenas built on top of it, which in many ways was the perfect place to build a sports arena these people would actually be willing to go to. I think Devils fans have gotten progressively better at actually showing up to this place- once you go once and see how safe it really is, I think you're pretty likely to get over your silly fear of cities (which in many ways is just a silly fear of minorities, anyhow)- but there's no doubt in my mind that some fans still haven't made the trip for this reason. Now, as for why less KINGS FANS seemed to show up for this game than the Islander game, I haven't the slightest idea, but it was like that the last time they had games on LI and in NJ too. It's all the weirder when you realize a bunch of fans flew in from LA for this game and the Ranger game on Sunday but didn't go to the Thursday night game (both because of how harder it is to get to Nassau via public transportation, and I guess because these games were both on a weekend and that one wasn't); I talked to quite a few of them myself over the course of Friday & Sunday. Maybe there's some weird Long Island-based Kings fanbase, I dunno? That's about the best explanation I can come up with.

-Anyway, now that we're done talking about something you probably don't even care about, let's talk about the actual game. The Kings did not look good at the beginning, and the Devils hemmed them in their own zone for quite a while. But they weathered that storm due in no small part to great goaltending by Scrivens, who looked about a million times better in this one than he did on Long Island, and slowly but surely crawled their way back into the game. I think I had the perfect seats to watch this one- way up in the upper deck but right at the Kings' attacking blue line- since most of it was played in the neutral zone. If you're really into hockey dork things like watching specific players instead of the puck and watching their neutral zone formation (dig that 1-2-2!), this game was kind of a treat. I really got a good feel for why the Kings are so competitive on so many nights, even when they aren't playing their best and/or are decimated by injuries: first of all, holy crap is their gap control amazing. Even a guy like Robyn Regehr, who we tear into a lot on this website (and even in this game, which was a good one for him, he had several plays with the puck that infuriated me), just has fantastic gap control most of the time. The Kings are so good at sealing guys off along the boards, and so many offensive zone rushes from the other team turn into nothing. Second of all, their blueline is so dynamic right now, and their forwards are so responsible to cover for it. With Martinez in the lineup, you've got four guys (A-Mart, Doughty, Muzzin, and Voynov) who can all jump up into the play at any time and do it well, and you've got forwards who are so, so good at covering for them. This is something you don't notice much on TV (especially if you're not looking for it) because they're usually out of the camera shot, but almost every single time a defenseman came down low, a forward was back to cover him basically immediately. That combination of dynamic defensemen and forwards who are so responsible at covering for them creates lots of plays where they keep the puck in the opposition zone way longer than they would otherwise, which obviously creates sustained possession and, eventually, scoring chances. Nick had chances even at this game overall (11-11) and NJ actually ahead 10-9 at evens, but as he noted 3 of those chances came on the same shift for the Devils, while the Kings' were more spread out. This wasn't their best game for creating things (that's still to come!), but even in a game where they didn't play their best, you could get a great feel for why they're usually so good at that sort of thing. Anyway, the Kings ended up winning this one after Dwight King deflected a Jake Muzzin point shot 13:08 into the third and then the Kings totally slammed the door shut on the Devils, who managed just 3 shots for the rest of the game, absolutely zero of which were dangerous. The Devils even got a late power play after Mike Richards played the puck with his hand in a defensive zone face-off like a moron, but the Kings' PK was amazing, culminating with Trevor Lewis stealing the puck from Damien Brunner in the neutral zone (while the Devils' actually had a 2-man advantage with the goalie pulled!) and Brunner having to take a tripping penalty as a result, and that was basically it. Kopitar added a pretty hilarious empty netter with 2.9 seconds left, clearing the puck from his own end all the way into the opposition net, and the Kings picked up 2 more points with a 2-0 win. Finally, the Opposition Fan Report: there was again one really loud asshole nearby, who in fact was so annoying and so clueless other Devils fans around us actually started making fun of him a few times, but other than that they were pretty harmless too. There were some homophobic remarks pretty frequently, but they weren't actually aimed at the Kings 99% of the time, instead at the Rangers & Flyers (???). Still gross though. (recap) (grades & analysis) (gamethread)

-Carolina Hurricanes 3, Anaheim Ducks 2 (SO): While the Kings were continuing to beat almost every Eastern team they played, the Ducks were continuing to, uh, do the exact opposite. At least they picked up a point in this one, I guess (and the Hurricanes aren't nearly as bad as Florida).

-San Jose Sharks 3, Edmonton Oilers 1

Saturday, November 16th

-Phoenix Coyotes 6, Tampa Bay Lightning 3

-Edmonton Oilers 4, Calgary Flames 2: The Alberta Toilet Bowl, Live on Hockey Night in Canada! I was way too excited for this game, and if anything it lived up to the hype. First Calgary largely dominated the game, leading 2-0 at the end of the 2nd while outshooting the Oilers 24-12 at the time. But the Oilers would come storming back, scoring 4 goals in the 3rd (even though they were again outshot 11-10), as Flames goalie Reto Berra had himself a good 'ol fashioned meltdown (at least one was an empty netter, I guess!). Here's some hilarious stats for you: this game snapped Edmonton's six-game losing streak and was just their second win in their past 12 games, while for Calgary this was their fifth loss in a row. Woof.

Sunday, November 17th

-Los Angeles Kings 1, New York Rangers 0: My weekend of awesome concluded in New York, New York. First of all, because this article doesn't have enough personal anecdotes already, those of you who know me and/or have followed me on Twitter for a number of years will probably recall my complex relationship with the Rangers. They were my favorite team as a child (though I was a Kings fan at the time too, BECAUSE GRETZKY, so I guess they would have been the equivalent of a Western team?), but were quickly surpassed by the Kings once I got back into hockey after the infamous season-long lockout. The Rangers remained my 2nd favorites for a while, but I basically disowned them last season due to a combination of factors (the Gaborik trade and hating Torts, mostly). When the Rangers fired Torts and replaced him with Alain Vigneault, a coach I've always kinda liked anyway, I decided to give 'em another shot as my Eastern Conference team. But I of course still came into this game with my Kings jersey on rooting for LA, so I was an opposition fan to the end. My girlfriend, who is basically me in reverse (Rangers favorite/Kings 2nd faves), switched jerseys to the Rangers for this one. We also brought along a slightly bigger group of six, as I let one of my best friends (a Rangers fan) tag along, and also brought another one of my best friends to his first-ever hockey game. To complete setting the scene, because Rangers tickets are crazy-expensive, we were all the way up in the 400s, again in the corner but on the Rangers shoot twice side this time. The view was actually pretty excellent, way better than I ever remember the 400s being at MSG (though to be fair it's been YEARS since I've last sat up there), so I'm chalking it up to the sight lines getting much better after their recent renovations. The ice actually looked quite a bit closer than it did from all the way up at the Prudential Center, which as a recent arena built specifically for hockey is well-known for having great sight lines. So that was the major positive of this game from a live experience: our seats were almost shockingly good and I had a great time playing Hockey Teacher to my buddy who knew basically nothing (but still loved every second and now wants to go back, because it is basically impossible for people not to have a great time at a live hockey game; he also quickly became borderline-obsessed with The Professor due to his play, his story as a backup-turned-starter, and his awesome nickname, so I probably just created a new Kings fan too). We'll get to the negatives of the live experience later.

-Oh right, the game. This game was almost the exact opposite of the Kings/Isles game; whereas during that game it looked like the Kings had way more chances live than Nick ended up giving them afterwards, if anything I underestimated how many chances the Kings had during this one, especially at evens (probably because they were on the other side of the rink for the 1st & 3rd). Now, go back and read everything I said for the Devils game about the Kings defensemen being dynamic and the forwards covering for them, because holy crap it was true times a thousand during this one. In fact, two players in particular were so good during this game that even the aforementioned hockey newbie quickly figured it out; by the 2nd period, he was literally pointing out every time Anze Kopitar & Drew Doughty got onto the ice and cheering in excitement. Those two dudes deserve every bit of the A+ and A grades Nick gave their line/pairing. If I was guilty of not noticing anything when I was there live, it was how great the Stoll line was. But boy was this game a blast to watch. There were chances for both teams (that sequence that began with Dominic Moore's spin-o-rama attempt and lead to rushes by both teams back-to-back-to-back was, uh, something else), there were long periods of Kings domination at evens which is always fun to see, and there was some high drama with the long stretch of LA penalties that had to be killed off in the 2nd. In many respects, this was the perfect hockey game; yeah, you'd love to see more scoring, but honestly I don't give a crap about that as long as there's lots of scoring chances, and there definitely were. Both Lundqvist and Scrivens had to make some amazing stops to keep the game so low-scoring.

-I haven't even mentioned the Kings' goal yet, which was a wacky double deflection off two Rangers' defenders from a turn-and-fire shot from Tyler Toffoli early in the 2nd (huge credit must go to Mike Richards who dug the puck out of the corner with two defenders on him, took a quick peek behind him, then fired off a nearly perfect backhand pass to Toffoli to set the whole thing up. he was pretty damn great in this game too!). So yeah, there you go. As for the Rangers' not-goal, well, that was pretty hilarious. When it first went in and I peeked between the standing-and-screaming Rangers fans in front of me to see the conference of officials and Kings players behind the net, my thought was "goalie interference, not gonna count". When they skated over and waived it off and the Rangers' goal song stopped playing, I thought "cool, I was right!". When they announced the goal was under review (goalie interference calls, as you probably know, are NOT reviewable), I had no damn clue what was going on. A quick check of Twitter cleared things up: the goal was kicked in, which was really not visible from my seats, and was unlikely to count, and indeed a few moments later the review came in and it was no goal. Ranger fans of course were not pleased, and the Garden didn't help things by showing a replay on the scoreboard from basically the worst possible angle that made it impossible to tell if it was a kick or not. Needless to say, they complained about the no-goal call for the rest of the night and the entire train ride home, and given the replay angle they saw I can't really even blame them. But here's what I CAN blame them for, in my Opposition Fan Report: it pains me to say this as someone who likes the Rangers, but holy crap they were by FAR the worst fans we dealt with all weekend, which was the only negative of this otherwise perfect game. Let's start with some caveats: when a fanbase is bigger than the others, it probably is going to draw in more assholes too (and unlike with the NJ & NYI games, there was not that one single loud asshole sitting near us who bothered us during the entire game, so that was nice). But every time we got up to do anything, we had to deal with an avalanche of homophobia, transphobia, racism, and generally idiotic behavior from a cavalcade of drunken idiots. Having sat in the 400s at the Garden before, I was not totally unprepared for this, but if anything it was even worse than I expected. Remember my friend I mentioned way back at the beginning who wore a crown to all three games? This was the only game where random passerby were actually hitting the crown on her head (probably in attempt to hit it off, although hilariously I think they were all unsuccessful). Disrespectful remarks are one thing, but there is absolutely no excuse for touching a stranger like that. I also want to make it clear that we are, as far as opposition fans go, pretty damn well-behaved: we cheer for our team and we don't try to hide our joy when they do well, but we don't taunt them or their fans unless otherwise provoked. I've been around truly obnoxious opposition fans, and that's just not us. So there's really no excuse for their behavior, and again as someone who likes the Rangers, it was really disappointing to see. Oh well. Other than that, what an amazing hockey game, and the perfect ending to a truly fabulous weekend. (recap) (grades & analysis) (gamethread)

-Chicago Blackhawks 5, San Jose Sharks 1

-Dallas Stars 2, Vancouver Canucks 1

This Week in Standings

Team GP W L OTL Points ROW GF GA Diff Home Away Last Week
1. Anaheim 22 15 5 2 32 14 71 56 +15 8-0-0 7-5-2 0-2-1
2. San Jose 21 13 3 5 31 12 72 50 +22 5-1-2 8-2-3 3-1-0
3. Phoenix 21 14 4 3 31 10 73 66 +7 9-0-1 5-4-2 2-0-1
4. Los Angeles 21 14 6 1 29 10 58 46 +12 7-3-0 7-3-1 3-0-1
5. Vancouver 22 11 8 3 25 10 56 58 -2 4-4-1 7-4-2 0-1-1
6. Calgary 20 6 11 3 15 6 54 75 -21 3-4-2 3-7-1 0-2-1
7. Edmonton 22 5 15 2 12 4 53 83 -30 1-7-0 4-8-2 1-2-0

Let's start at the top: both Southern California hockey teams played soft schedules full of Eastern Conference teams this past week, but boy were their results remarkably different. The Ducks went 0-2-1, picking up just a single point against the Panthers, the Stamkos-less Lightning, and the Hurricanes. Not a good week. They remain in first place for now, but much like the Sharks a few weeks ago, their hold on that position looks tenuous to say the least.

The Phoenix Coyotes had a pretty excellent 2-0-1 week, and still dropped from 2nd to 3rd. Such is life in the Pacific Division. The Sharks leapfrogged them from 3rd to 2nd with a 3-1-0 week, which had been a perfect one after beating the Alberta crap and also the Canucks, before they got spanked by the Chicago Blackhawks at the end of their road trip yesterday.

It's hard to spin the Kings' week as anything but wildly successful. The competition was soft-ish (the Devils are a sneaky-good possession team with very little to show for it, the Isles are kind of bad, but the Rangers had been trending up of late after an awful start), and you'd like to see them get 2 points instead of 1 against the awful, awful Sabres, but you can't argue with 7 out of 8 points on a 4-game road trip in 6 nights. Even better for the Kings, all three of their wins came in regulation, and now they no longer look miles back of every other team around them in that important tiebreaker (which figures to be even more important than usual this year if the Pacific stays this tight). They moved up from 5th to 4th and into the playoffs via the Wild Card on the strength of this impressive week, and are now just 3 points behind the division-leading Ducks. What looked like an impossibly large chasm just one week ago now looks quite doable. Thanks, Eastern Conference!

On the other side of the spectrum you have the Vancouver Canucks. Like the Kings two weeks ago they had just 2 games on their schedule, both at home, but whereas the Kings won both of theirs the Canucks found themselves on the losing end (though they did manage a point at least). A 1-point week in this division is pretty brutal, and the Canucks dropped from 4th to 5th as a result, suddenly finding themselves staring at a 4-point gap with LA (who has a game in hand on them to boot). Ouch.

And once again, bringing up the rear, the two teams from Alberta! Maybe I should just start copying-and-pasting the same text every week for them. The Flames managed to not only be winless this week, but also were the only team who actually lost to the Edmonton Oilers. Good work, Flames! As for the Oilers, uh, I guess sixth place looks more doable. Balloons! Confetti!

This Week in #fancystats

(all stats are total attempts, not percentages. thanks to extra skater)

Sabres 3, Kings 2 (SO)

Corsi: Kings 79-Sabres 34 (overall), Kings 58-Sabres 26 (5v5, 50.5 mins), Kings 46-Sabres 19 (5v5 close, 40.5 mins), Sabres 9-Kings 7 (5v5 tied, 13.0 mins)
Fenwick: Kings 60-Sabres 25 (overall), Kings 44-Sabres 18 (5v5, 50.5 mins), Kings 36-Sabres 13 (5v5 close, 40.5 mins), Sabres 7-Kings 6 (5v5 tied, 13.0 mins)
Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Doughty (+19), Muzzin (+16), Kopitar/Williams/Brown (tied, +14). Worst: Lewis (+2), Voynov/Vey (tied, +3)

Kings 3, Islanders 2

Corsi: Kings 48-Islanders 47 (overall), Kings 39-Islanders 32 (5v5, 46.0 mins), Kings 22-Islanders 16 (5v5 close, 25.7 mins), Kings 22-Islanders 15 (5v5 tied, 23.5 mins)
Fenwick: Islanders 36-Kings 33 (overall), Kings 25-Islanders 25 (5v5, 46.0 mins), Islanders 13-Kings 12 (5v5 close, 25.7 mins), Kings 12-Islanders 13 (5v5 tied, 23.5 mins)
Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Williams (+11), Mitchell/Kopitar (tied, +8). Worst: Regehr (-6), Frattin (-5), Vey (-3)

Kings 2, Devils 0

Corsi: Devils 44-Kings 40 (overall), Devils 38-Kings 35 (5v5, 51.2 mins), Devils 35-Kings 30 (5v5 close & 5v5 tied, 47.1 mins)
Fenwick: Devils 35-Kings 27 (overall), Devils 31-Kings 24 (5v5, 51.2 mins), Devils 28-Kings 19 (5v5 close & 5v5 tied, 47.1 mins)
Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Brown (+7), Mitchell/Williams (tied, +6). Worst: Regehr (-14), Voynov (-13), Vey (-10).

Kings 1, Rangers 0

Corsi: Rangers 63-Kings 61 (overall), Kings 56-Rangers 38 (5v5, 47.8 mins), Kings 38-Rangers 20 (5v5 close, 30.8 mins), Kings 18-Rangers 13 (5v5 tied, 19.4 mins)
Fenwick: Rangers 48-Kings 43 (overall), Kings 39-Rangers 30 (5v5, 47.8 mins), Kings 24-Rangers 16 (5v5 close, 30.8 mins), Rangers 12-Kings 9 (5v5 tied, 19.4 mins)
Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Brown (+15), Kopitar/Williams (tied, +14). Worst: Lewis (-15), Vey (-9), Pearson (-8)

Next Week in the Pacific

(this is exactly what it sounds like: the next week's schedule for all 7 Pacific Division teams. all times are pacific because, um, duh.)

Team 11/11 11/12 11/13 11/14 11/15 11/16 11/17
LA - vs.TB (7:30) - vs.NJ (7:30) - vs.COL (7:30) -
ANA @PIT (4:30) - vs.NJ (7:00) - vs.TB (7:00) @PHX (5:00) -
SJ - - - vs.TB (7:30) - vs.NJ (7:30) -
PHX - - - vs.COL (6:00) - vs.ANA (5:00) -
VAN - vs.FLA (7:00) - - vs.CBJ (7:00) vs.CHI (7:00) -
CGY @WPG (5:00) - vs.CBJ (7:00) - vs.FLA (6:00) - -
EDM - vs.CBJ (6:30) - vs.FLA (6:30) - - -

After hitting the road to play the East last week, the Kings open up this week by inviting two Eastern teams into Staples to start a 3-game homestand. Once they're done with the Lightning & Devils (and in fact will be done with both teams for the entire season), they welcome in the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday. Colorado is one of those "their record is much better than they are" teams, so overall this week looks like another pretty soft one on paper. The Kings would be wise to pick up as many points as they can once again, because the following week things get tough in a hurry as it starts with trips to San Jose & Vancouver (though at least that week ends with a Saturday home game against Calgary).

The Ducks are still in the process of finishing their own 4-game Eastern road trip, as their game in Pittsburgh is underway as I write this (scoreless in the first). If the Ducks can find a way to beat the Pens tonight (who have struggled mightily of late), it would be their only win of the trip. They'll come home to play the Devils & Lightning afterwards, before hitting the road again for Phoenix to start a quick 2-game trip (the other game is next Tuesday in Dallas, so they'll probably come home between the two games, actually).

Not one, not two, but three teams have quiet 2-game weeks to look forward to. The Sharks are off until Thursday and then will host the Lightning & Devils (sensing a theme here?). The Coyotes are also off until Thursday and will host the Avalanche and Ducks. The woeful Oilers welcome two other crappy teams, Columbus and Florida, into Rexall, and then their week is over by Thursday night.

Elsewhere, the Canucks are still in the middle of their spread-out six-game homestand, which has gotten off to a less-than-stellar 0-1-1 start so far. Hosting the Panthers & Blue Jackets as well this week could go a long way to turning that around, but then things get tough again. They've got the Blackhawks this Saturday in what is always an interesting matchup, and then wrap up the homestand with the Kings next Monday.

Finally, the Flames make a quick stop in Winnipeg tonight before finishing off their stretch of 6-of-7 at home. They have the Jackets & Panthers too, then have 4 days off before hosting the Blackhawks next Wednesday.

So that was the week that was. Before I wrap things up, please indulge me one last personal anecdote in a long, long article full of them. In the midst of this weekend of awesome hockey, this past Saturday I received some personally devastating news to me and my family. I briefly thought about not attending Sunday night's game, which I'm very glad I changed my mind on. So I just want to take this time to thank some folks: first of all, the Los Angeles Kings, for being an amazingly fun team to watch, cover, write about, and just be a fan of. You guys rock, and the game you put on with the Rangers on Sunday was an evening where I got to think about anything except tragedy. Thank you for that.

I also want to think Robert & Eric for giving me this platform at Jewels (and Niesy too for originally "hiring" me), which I was already very grateful for but took on added significance on a day like today. I got to sit here and write for 4+ hours about something I love, which again was 4+ hours I didn't spend thinking about tragedy. From the bottom of my heart, thank you so much. This blog is awesome because of your work, and Nick's work and Langluy's work, and I'm thankful all the time just to be a small, small part of it.

I'm gonna end it there before I say anything really sappy. Thanks to all of you who bother to read this long, rambly thing every week, too. I really appreciate it. See you next week.

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