The last time the Los Angeles Kings suffered an agonizing defeat to the Calgary Flames, I think I linked to previous recaps to show how this was a trend. I don't think I have the stomach for it this time.
Flames 4, Kings 3. After Johnny Gaudreau got his first career hat trick in the final 25 minutes, Mark Giordano took a lane given to him by Jeff Carter and drove the net, stuffing the puck past Jonathan Quick for the game-winner. I hate going to the cliche of "you have to play 60 minutes" because it's so difficult to play a completely great game, but when you see postgame quotes like this one from Matt Greene...
We just stopped playing before the game was over, let ‘em back into it. They took advantage of it. That’s it. Can’t lose those games. It’s all on us.
... it has to be addressed. However, a quick look at the game's shot attempts (thanks, War on Ice) backs up what we were thinking before the unthinkable happened: the Kings were actually doing a decent job of holding on to the lead down the home stretch.
So this isn't your usual case of one team falling back to protect a lead, only to get trapped in their own end and concede their lead. The third was arguably LA's best period! What happened? Well, Johnny Gaudreau happened, but more importantly, the Kings' defense let Johnny Gaudreau happen.
Gaudreau scored near the end of the second on the power play, after Brandon Bollig hit Anze Kopitar rather hard (and, perhaps, rather late) near the boards, and Jeff Carter took a cross-checking penalty in retaliation. Allowing that first goal was a forgivable offense; Jarret Stoll lost his stick almost immediately during the 4-on-5, and to his credit, he blocked the initial shot. The fact that the rebound ended up on Gaudreau's stick was simply unfortunate. That was just the warm-up, though. With under two minutes left and Jonas Hiller out for an extra attacker, Gaudreau was able to walk around the net with Drew Doughty chasing and Jake Muzzin watching, sliding the puck underneath Quick. Then, as soon as Calgary could pull Hiller again, disaster:
There's something to be said for knowing who has the puck and playing them accordingly. Letting Bollig in on a 2-on-1 is one thing; he rang a shot off the crossbar, missing out on his first goal of the season. Giving Gaudreau space in front, or giving Giordano a clear path to the net, is another. The double whammy was on Gaudreau's equalizer (and hat-trick goal); Muzzin got spun around, and Doughty got stuck with the unenviable task of trying to deny Gaudreau a shot at Quick. Technically, he did...
The only thing more predictable than Calgary eventually taking the bonus point was that Doughty would attempt to take over the overtime session. Doughty generated a chance or two, but a brutal turnover nearly led to a fourth Gaudreau goal on a 2-on-0; Quick made a terrific save to extend the game for another, oh, 20 seconds or so. Then again, it was an individual effort by Doughty which led to the Kings' first power play. With Doughty, you'll gladly accept his general on-ice excellence with the knowledge that stuff like that might happen when he tries to do too much. See Game 1 of last year's Stanley Cup Final for the best evidence of that. As for Muzzin, he played 28:55, a career-high for a regular season game. If the final minutes tonight were any indication, that's pushing his limits.
My condolences tonight to the beat writers who had already finished their stories with five minutes left in the third, because they had to throw away some good material. Since I was in the stands, I had nothing written and simply reel off the positives at the end!
- I often forget to mention Brayden McNabb or Dustin Brown getting their nightly big hit in the recap, so a nod to both of them. McNabb had a nice one on Bollig before absolutely leveling Paul Byron later on (a high hit, though Byron had lowered himself), while Brown laid out Gaudreau before the whole hat trick thing. Most of the players on the ice were getting in on the action; when Tanner Pearson lights someone up, you know it's physical.
- If not for the comeback, the story would have been LA's power play. Again. Anze Kopitar set up a Marian Gaborik goal; Darryl Sutter essentially gave them the entire power play to find the net, and Gaborik obliged after a perfect setup by his bestest friend (secondary assist: Justin Williams, who switched on for Carter a few seconds earlier). And when the line finally had a disjointed power play in the next period? The second combo came through, with Jamie McBain scoring off a great set of feeds from Williams and Dustin Brown. That made it 3-0.
- This is more of a stray thought than a positive, but Jonathan Quick did manage to mix in some highlight-reel saves with the four goals he allowed. Still, it felt a lot more like a 2013 performance than a 2014 one for Quick, and it continues a worrying trend:
|MONTH||NUMBER OF STARTS||QUICK'S SAVE PERCENTAGE|
- Trevor Lewis scored again! Lewis had a good night all around, until he was on the ice for Gaudreau's game-tying goal. Interestingly, he was out with Kopitar for that one; it makes more sense than having him on with his usual linemates late, but they weren't really given a chance to play any D after Jiri Hudler's lead pass.
- Finally, to reiterate: LA did not have a bad third period. They had a few bad shifts. LA goes into the holiday break playing very good hockey overall, but tonight's ending indicates that the four upcoming days off are going to be very welcome ones.