On Saturday night we saw two teams in situations about as different as could be. The outcome was... well, it’s what you probably expected.
The New York Rangers are sitting pretty. Sure, they happen to be the biggest victims of the NHL’s divisional format; for all its faults, the 16 best teams in the NHL are occupying the 16 playoff spots. But New York is locked into the first wild card spot and has been for some time, and they have no control of whether they face Montreal or Ottawa in the first round. The stakes could not be lower.
For the Kings, the stakes could not have been higher. Due to the Flames’ scorching run they’ve gone from potential beneficiaries of said playoff format to well outside the postseason. Before Saturday’s game, they needed to win every remaining game to get to 95 points, commonly considered the get-here-and-you’re-in total for postseason play. So how did LA lose so definitively in a game which only mattered for them?
If you’ve been paying attention, you knew how it could happen. Let’s run it down, again.
LA couldn’t get the first goal. The Kings’ biggest bugaboo returned again on Saturday, but they staved off the game’s opening goal for 33 minutes. The Kings had opportunities to avoid the inevitable, though. Jonny Brodzinski, making his NHL debut, had two great chances to break the scoreless tie... and no, I’m not counting the rather impressive shot he took from the seat of his pants on his first-ever shift.
Brodzinski had a breakaway set up by former college teammate Nic Dowd which was denied by Antti Raanta, and he also looked like potentially scoring on a rebound of Andy Andreoff’s shot. Darryl Sutter briefly got our hopes up that he might skate with Adrian Kempe with his Friday practice lines, but Brodzinski ended up with Dowd and Andreoff, and the trio played quite well aside from one lapse in control from Andreoff. (More on that in a bit.)
The first line can’t get it going. The other theory was that Brodzinski might get a shot with Anze Kopitar, but maybe it’s best that he didn’t. The line of Kopitar, Gaborik, and Iginla simply hasn’t worked at even strength, and though there have been signs of progress in the last two games, it’s not enough. I’ll even give them a break for the first Rangers goal, which came after a questionable waved-off icing against New York.
Why were the Kings upset? Because this was not called icing. pic.twitter.com/cdUO0ZGNdy— Jewels frm the Crown (@JFTC_Kings) March 26, 2017
Iginla and Co. were on the ice for four high-danger scoring chances for the Kings and only one against (the Stepan goal), but Kopitar didn’t have a single shot on goal, and that’s one of my selfish benchmarks for the line’s success. And unfortunately, for a line with two 35-plus-year-olds on it, “improvement” isn’t much of a bar to clear.
The penalty kill is human again. The PK has dropped out of the league’s top five in terms of penalty kill percentage, and on Saturday any hopes of a third period comeback were snuffed two minutes in. Andreoff’s aforementioned lapse was a double-minor for high sticking, and the Rangers needed exactly four seconds to beat Jonathan Quick, as Mika Zibanejad tipped a shot with Chris Kreider providing the screen. That was just one of those goals where LA couldn’t do a whole lot, but it was the third straight game allowing a power play goal.
The sporadic pushes were unsuccessful. Saturday’s 30-shot showing was actually their third-lowest shot total of March. In contrast to a more Kings-esque wire-to-wire shotfest, LA concentrated their looks on Raanta into short bursts. The second period had a couple before Stepan’s goal and a couple after, but none of the 14 shots went in. LA then came out of the gate with three shots in the first minute before Andreoff’s penalty. At that point, LA needed an eighteen-minute push and didn’t get it. Their last hurrah? A Kreider penalty led to six shot attempts. Zero got on goal.
It wasn’t a fun night, and it was curtains for LA’s realistic playoff hopes. A loss to Edmonton on Tuesday ends even the unrealistic ones.