Stink, stank, stunk. Sloppy, discombobulated putrefaction. If you turned the game off after the first period, you could be forgiven for wanting to spare yourself the pain of watching this game.
Short of injury, everything that could go wrong on the ice, did. Jonathan Quick wasn’t as sharp as we’ve come to expect; the Kings were passing to the Bruins instead of not each other; and there was an overall apparent lack of chemistry between linemates. No one seemed to know where each other was in time or space. Errant passes often ended up on opposing sticks and defense was nowhere to be found all night. It wasn’t just that Quick had a bad night (and oh boy did he), it’s that the guys in front of him were, at times, completely non-existent. Team structure went by the wayside as every man attempted to regain a handle on the skidding, out-of-control train sliding off the rails all by himself. But like a hand gripping sand, the harder the Kings squeezed, the more seeped out of their clenched fists.
Lucky be a lady and apparently like fate, that lady be fickle. Tonight, she smiled like a proud parent on the visiting Boston Bruins, who were blessed all throughout the match while she frowned on the third-game-in-four-nights Los Angeles Kings like a naughty child. You could mistake the two teams for each other as hosts and visitors for all the world that the team in black and silver looked lost, disheveled and at time, even a little disinterested. Meanwhile, the Bruins had no problem carrying on for all the world like this was merely practice. Goaltender Jeremy Swayman barely broke a sweat for lack of testing. In fact, if you’d removed him from the equation altogether, it’s still dubious as to whether or not the Kings would’ve been able to score. Alas, so goes luck and so goes hockey.
Chalk it up to a crappy mid-season game in which things did not go their way, but it’s not all bad news. The team is still in second place in the division, and though the gap has widened between them and first place, they could, in theory, still catch the red hot Calgary Flames (who suffered their own stinker recently—although they managed to at least score in their game). And the Vegas Golden Knights have blackslid a little, giving LA a bit of breathing room as the second seed. The expectation of this team coming into the season was that they’d be on the bubble. Being in second place should be considered a bonus at this point. (Editor’s note: rationally, I know this. Yet, that satisfactory feeling of seeing them not only win but be in second place is not something one should want to give up so easily to be content with mere “potential” in a wild card spot—or not as the bubble goes.)
It would be easy to blame luck and lack of trying. But these are professionals and while they may not have left it all on the ice as if this were their last hope of staying alive in the series or going home to golf, there was certainly effort put into this game. The problem is, it was a collection of individuals and not a team who were trying their best in this game. When the Kings are playing well, Jim Fox is effusive in his praise for five-man units. Everyone acts together interdependently rather than independently.
Jonathan Quick was not the goalie we’ve come to expect this season. He was not Mr. Reliable except in the way that he couldn’t seem to stop a beach ball. But it’s not all his fault. He couldn’t score for the five guys in front of home. And speaking of those guys, there were times when they weren’t even around. When the Kings get under pressure, they have a tendency to overload one side of the ice, leaving them vulnerable to outnumbered attacks, something the Bruins staff clearly prepared their team for as all too often, the Kings got caught three men to one side with about 80 feet or so of open space for their opponents to work with.
Jake DeBrusk scored his first ever career hat trick, heating up just in time for trade season, though rational fans know that Don Sweeney would be a fool to trade him just as the promised skill is finally starting to shine through. He had a lot of help from Quick and a rather favorable call from Toronto. The high sticking rule is odd. It used to be that the stick must be either directly parallel to or below the cross-bar. Now it seems that as long as the scoring player’s stick is under the shoulder, it’s fine. A quick Google search led me only to the historical rule change from 1994 in which the stick is allowed to be at crossbar height. It’s one of those strange rules like goaltender interference where officials take a Whose Line approach to rule enforcement.
The Kings finally got a call in their favor during the second period when they had a 5v3. But while their special teams has improved of late, this was one of those stinkers of a game. Not only did their penalty kill fail in all critical areas, their power play was more of a power kill. Their 27th-ranked power play sealed their fate when they barely managed a weak, side-angle shot on goal and only managed to pass the puck around while Bruins penalty killers pretty much just stood around. A for effort, F for execution.
Perhaps if the ref hadn’t thought that Adrian Kempe getting blatantly slashed on a breakaway resulting in a trip and a missed opportunity on a penalty kill would’ve helped turn the tide. Maybe Kempe would’ve scored and breathed some life back into the team. Or he would’ve missed and the sting of early defeat would’ve hung in the air. It’s hard to say and hardly something the team can point to as a missed golden opportunity.
That came later in the third period. Finally getting some life with the Bruins sitting back and not pressing the issue, the Kings beat Swayman but couldn’t beat the inside of the post, in which the puck slide under the Boston netminder’s pads, rung the iron before popping back out to the sighs and dismay of a frustrated crowd.
Cal Petersen was fine in his relief of Quick. He suffered some of the team’s bad luck when Boston managed to score on the power with literally a second left and the black vulcanized rubber disc, which had been so cruelly taunting the Kings all night, barely evaded his left toe and into the back of the net. But he acquitted himself well and squared up to Patrice Bergeron on an individual breakaway (after he’d noticed that literally all five Kings players were 80 feet to his left on the other side of the rink), saving a sure goal before Drew Doughty took an ill-advised (really, though, are any penalties really “advised”?) penalty during a scrum following said breakaway.
Penalty aside, as an individual performer, Blake Lizotte put in a good showing. He was strong on the puck along the boards and really lived up to his buggy nickname, buzzing around and creating general havoc in the offensive zone. Too bad he was mostly alone in his efforts. For his part, Brendan Lemieux lived up to expectations when he attempted to fire up the bench with his first period fight. Quinton Byfield continues to show the promise of a young player who will be excellent in the feature, though it may suit him better to be a little more selfish with the puck, perhaps opting to shoot more rather than passing to Dustin Brown.
Speaking of Brown, if you want a really clear snapshot of how this game went, he fell down inside his own blue line and someone still attempted to pass to him. Yeah, it was that kind of a night. Perhaps not quite a burn-the-tape kind of night such as the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 10 - 7 victory over the Detroit Red Wings from Saturday, but certainly one to put in the rear view mirror as quickly as possible and focus on their upcoming road trip, in which they’ll take on the ever streaky Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets, the floundering Buffalo Sabres and try to close out their four-game swing with a revenge game against the Boston Bruins on March 7. It’ll be tough, but the Kings have been strong on the road this season with more of their victories earned away from home.
There wasn’t a lot to like from this game but eight points on this brief stint away from Crypto Arena sure would feel good.