Recap: Backup Bests Budaj, Caps Rout Kings 5-0 on National TV

In an early morning, pre-Super Bowl matinee, the awful schedule delivered an awful game — for the road team anyway.

The Los Angeles Kings, fresh off a tightly contested 1-0 win in Philadelphia finally had a chance to test their defensive prowess against the league’s top-scoring team in the Washington Capitals. Things didn’t go quite as planned.

[Box Score]

Given all the media hype surrounding the Capitals, you’d think they’d never lost a game ever. And judging by the way they played against the Kings, it certainly looked like they hadn’t suffered a 5-0 blowout loss to the Ottawa Senators just two games ago. Correction: Judging by the way they played, that certainly seemed true enough. Indeed, it was the Kings who seemed to have forgotten how to win. Or at least score.

A fair reminder that coming into this game, the Caps have had very little adversity in their season:

Of course the caveat with this being that the severe groin strain Jonathan Quick suffered in Game 1 kind of ruins the curve here but regardless, if you take out Quick’s 52 games missed, that’s still 110 games with various players in and out of the lineup due to injury. They didn’t even start the season with their full roster. Remember, Marian Gaborik fractured his foot blocking a shot during the World Cup of Hockey and wasn’t activated until the end of November.

Losing players to injury is part of the game and teams must be able to account for that. If they can’t overcome with the depth they have in the minors or on their roster, that’s the general manager’s (or perhaps coach’s) fault. Last year’s President Trophy winners find themselves again leading the league in PDO, which means that things come a little easier for them than most other teams.

No, this doesn’t mean the Caps don’t work hard, don’t have the talent or lack excellent coaching to put themselves in a position to win. It just means that they have the best combination of shooting luck and great goaltending. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the Kings tend to hang around the cellar when it comes to their ability to convert shots into goals. (They’re currently tied with the Buffalo Sabres for fifth worst in the NHL.)

So the contrast really showed in this game. The Caps used their speed in the offensive zone to force errors and turnovers. With the Kings overcompensating, it was all too easy. A breakaway? No sweat. There’s no way that’s not going in with the way LA’s day was going. How about leaving T.J. Oshie alone in front of the net? Top shelf snipe to literally pop the water bottle? Well, obviously.

That’s not to say these aren’t talented players who have scoring ability. But a couple of the goals were pretty spectacular, probably-wouldn’t-be-able-to-repeat-it-if-they-tried-it-in-the-same-game-situation type of thing.

The best summary for this game is think of the Colorado Avalanche game right after the All Star break. What could go wrong basically did go wrong for the Avs in that game. What could go right basically did go right for the Kings (sans a Jeff Carter hat trick — but that’s just insult to injury in a blowout loss, no?)

Suffice it to say, this was not the defensive stalwart team fans have come to know and expect since Darryl Sutter took the helm in 2012. This is an oddly streaky, wildly inconsistent team that’s a surprise waiting to happen every night. Will they actually score tonight? Can they overcome a deficit? Will they give up the tying goal in the dying seconds of the game? Will they give up the go-ahead goal in the last few seconds of the period? These are the exciting moments that await Kings fans everyday.

Goal scorers for the Caps included the above noted Oshie, Marcus Johansson, Brett Connolly, Lars Eller and because the hockey gods weren’t cruel enough, Justin Williams. Philipp Grubauer was up to the task of being a shooter tutor so the media decided that warranted first star of the game (meaningless, yes, but they seemed to feel he was their best player, which wasn’t even close to true).

LA was shutout for the sixth time this season. For context, that happened all of four times last year. Despite the results of today’s loss, the Kings remain in the hunt for the playoffs — if just barely. The Calgary Flames are playing the New York Rangers today and are one point behind in the standings. At the moment only the St. Louis Blues and Flames can knock LA out a wildcard spot, which is good news for the Kings who will end their road trip in Tampa and Sunrise before they have five days off for bye week. Going home with six points would be a nice way to kick off their break.