(This article was originally published by me as a guest author at the site called “Surly and Scribe”)
I woke up at 4 a.m., and I am pissed. Game day. No work scheduled. Holiday weekend, free time only, and a rare chance to catch up on sleep, one of those “roll over and go back to sleep until lunch” opportunites. But nooooooo, I wake up thinking about the Kings.
The toughest thing in the sporting world is when an athlete has to put significant failure behind himself and mentally prepare for the next contest. As fans, we don’t have to. We can linger in doubt, wallow in disappointment, slog thru mudfields of uncertainty. How do the Kings find the balance between retaining important learning moments, while also shedding the withered snake-skin of defeat?
Sticking with the snake metaphor, I am rattled, not feeling venomous, slithering and dithering thru what feels like a well-worn choke-point in the middle of the Baja 1000. In my own little snake-world I am King, lording over small game; but, surrounded by invaders borne of metal and noise, I am victim to chance and subject to a crushing death hardly noticed by my assailant. Why would I journey thru such danger? Am I ignorant of my surroundings, or clueless as to imminent danger, or perhaps I am daringly taunting fate?
So it is with the Kings, ably demonstrated in the last game against the team from San Jose. We at first beat them at their own game, and then lost to them at their own game, and all within the same game. At 18-3 in shots, we owned. At 3-1, we owned. We survived their rally, and at 4-3 we had re-established possession of the mighty momentum. But in all those cases, and all the other reversals of team identity, it turns out we weren’t just battling some group of classless cheaters willing to sacrifice all pretense of honor and respect in order to temporarily delay their own descent into serial failure and irrelevance; we were actually battling ourselves.
We were fighting the ankle chains of last year’s playoff collapse; the ankle chains won. We were fighting our own inability to recognize when, and where, and how to battle. We were offerred a duel, and as master swordsmen we agreed to pistols, and then let our adversary provide both weapon and ammunition.
Youth can be forgiven very much; but when lessons that should have left permanent scars are lost to exuberance, youth is redefined as ineptitude. The same team did the same thing to our Kings last year and again this year. In both cases, the result was not success on our opponent’s part, it was failure on our part.
Make no mistake: the Kings got their asses kicked, literally and figuratively, last game. San Jose came into our building having decided that they were gonna fuck us up, and they did just that.
Doughty mouthed off about wanting to push them out of the playoffs when it was really a battle for a Division Title; Thornton therefore smashed Doughty in that same mouth with his stick and then “boyhandled” Doughty at will with his fists. That was a Captain talking. The same Captain that said something to Ryan Getzlaf once, 2 seconds into a playoff game where Thornton had been called out as being chronically un-impassionate. Even though the Kings scored on Thornton’s extra penalty, the statement was made: We are gonna fuck you up, and we plan to drag you into a street fight.
After that, Colin Fraser accepted the invitation, by a questionable hit on Torrey Mitchell. Could have easily been a penalty against, but it wasn’t. Next shift, Clowe tossed Greene around like a rag-doll, and in my view Greene chose to exchange hugs instead of punches. Again, Clowe gave up a man-advantage, but in so doing the Sharks proved themselves willing to trade a short-term strategic advantage for the permanent psychological advantage.
A soft goal-against, soft as in skaters not doing their jobs defensively plus a suspect rebound, and with the shots at 18-4 the game was tied. In the Shark’s minds, they had gotten away with the bullying, having fought their way even.
The Kings then proceeded to outplay San Jose for the next 13 minutes, trading chances uncharacteristically but nonetheless burying their chances while stifling San Jose’s. It was 3-1, off a beautiful rush goal, and the game was settled into a chance for the Kings to play their best recent style, of layered swarming forecheck, pestilent back-pressure and castrating defensive zone containment. Instead, on the very next shift after the goal, before the goal could even be announced, Clifford lets Ryane Clowe win a fight. Right in front of the Sharks’ bench, literally leaning on their door, Clowe returns the game to a street brawl. Why wouldn’t he?
Does Clifford render Clowe impotent, making him look like Kevin Westgarth all last year, running around begging for anybody to engage him when we were behind? No. I love Kyle Clifford, he is young, he is valiant, but this is a time and place issue. We have a chance to win this game, and the Sharks are looking for something, anything, to convince themselves that they are not impotent. And by fighting Ryane Clowe, Clifford might as well have been a bottle of Viagra. Just after the fight, the Sharks had a 2 on 1 where any lifted puck beats Quick who is doing the lunge-to-stomach technique, followed by 45 seconds of in-zone pressure. The Kings were very fortunate not to have yielded a goal off the emotional momentum generously granted by Clifford, to the universally recognized agitator/taint stain Clowe.
The Kings had every chance to win; they created every chance to lose. At the end of the second period, Quick’s penalty was stupid. Period. Stu-fucking-pid. Needless penalty by the last fucking guy on earth I want behind the net handling the puck in the first place, and the result was the dreaded last-minute-in-a-period goal.
Was it any concidence that Clowe scored the 3rd goal to even it up? Was it unexpected that it would happen early in the 3rd period? Not to me, it wasn’t. The Kings had already failed. By being unable to recognize when to simply press their advantage, the Kings may as well have just scored into their own net.
This is my point: if you get the edge, keep it. If the opponent is down, keep them there. Let them whine, let them run around challenging you, let them stew in their own failure. Give them nothing. Stick with what was working. Know what they want and deny them exactly that.
Sometimes, the killer instinct is simply going about your business and holding the status quo. The Kings had a chance to cut off the Sharks’ heads and crap down their necks, and they actually did, but it still wasn’t enough. Having cut off all blood supply to the Sharks’ heads, the Kings then did the same thing to themselves.
The Sharks did not win that game: the Kings lost it. Tonight, the end of this story will be written. The results are fully polarized: either exceedingly good, or exceedingly bad.
The Kings will first have to defeat the Sharks; the hardest thing to do might be to not also defeat themselves.