Of course, the lead story in this game is the giveaway by Quick, which I will not dodge by calling it a takeaway. Neither did Quick dodge his blunder when speaking to the press. The team as a whole owned this loss, for themselves, and as is trademark behavior for this team nobody is blaming Quick for the loss.
Indeed, Quick’s game-ending play is destined to be revisited ad nauseum whenever the press wants to contrast Quick’s game with the great success he has earned. However, that highlight blip will not tell the story of this overtime game: the story is that it even got to overtime at all.
Quick had perhaps a dozen outstanding saves included among the steady Blues barrage totaling 42 shots, and at times single-handedly kept the Kings close on the scoreboard. The only reason the loss seems dramatic is that Quick held the team together until they found their game with only 32 seconds left in regulation.
Here is the Player X Ray, which by the way is beginning to have an influence on the media; Fist mine, and then a screen grab of the lines as presented by Fox TV, in a TV graphic they had never used before:
It may not seem like much to you, but this is actually my first step towards worldwide domination.
Seriously, as with all good inventions, when people first see it they think, “Well, of course,” but the fact is Fox TV, for the Kings, has not used this format of having pictures of the players actually grouped by line combinations this season at all, and it has never been a regular feature.
Who knows if they will continue to use it: after all, it is only a no-words-required visual presentation being employed in a predominantly visual medium. Maybe eventually Fox will realize we already know these guys are on the Kings and won’t use the LA Logo 12 times, next to each single guy. Maybe they could put something else there, something not repetitive and more informing, like I dunno, maybe stats for example. We’ll see.
Back to the game…
I said earlier that Quick, and the Kings, owned this loss. That is vital in a successful team; they know what they did well, and what they did poorly. Honest self-appraisal is the only way toward improvement. Contrast that with these two quotes from the Blues, posted by Jon Rosen the LA Kings Insider, after they WON a game:
Hitchcock, on the “psyche” of the team coming back to win in overtime:
“The hockey gods took care of us. They did. I mean, we played a great hockey game. Waking up tomorrow would have been a challenge if we didn’t win the hockey game today.
Backes, on the win: “You don’t draw it up where you give up the tying goal with 30 seconds left. Those are the no-no’s of hockey. .. The hockey gods rewarded us, it seems like, for some good work tonight.”
As much as I’d like to think these guys are referring to the Kings as the hockey gods, that argument just doesn’t stand. Neither does the idea that the COACH and CAPTAIN of the team are both yielding that they think they are subject to the fickle whims of fate, or the capricious patronage of “hockey gods.” This is not winning thinking, and I am unable to reconcile this with normal thought processes.
The sub-text, the hidden message to the team, is that winning or losing is mostly beyond their control. That even when they dominated a game for most of the time, and when their opposition just barely made it to overtime on the low-percentage, desperation last-minute goalie-pulled attack, the resulting, ultimate success was, in their thinking, out of their hands. They do not own this win, and it implies they do not own their losses, either. “It was them hockey gods what got us, guys, just keep plugging away and maybe those gods will let us win, some, too. Let’s hope so, anyway.”
The Kings, on the other hand, are proactive in thought and action. Here’s our coach:
On the overtime loss:
“You know what? They came out exactly how you expected them to. They played a work, speed game. That’s what they did, and we had a handful of guys that weren’t ready for that part of it. It made for a tough time. Actually, I thought we played really well from about five minutes left in the first for most of the second.
And, here’s our Captain:
Brown, on getting chances in overtime, followed by a “fluky” play:
“You might call it a fluky goal, but they outplayed us for the whole game. When you play the game that they did, you get the breaks that they get.”
On a one-goal game despite St. Louis’ dominance, which led to an equalizer:
“Well, Jon Quick was really good. He gave us a chance. Then we get a double minor power play, and they find a way to get a goal on it. They deserved to win the game.”
I would much rather rely on self-aware leaders grounded in reality, rather than buck-passing idolaters struggling for approval from fictional beings.
Now for the real-world steps taken by Coach Sutter to find the right line mixes. The X Ray shows the lines as used for the first two periods, mostly. Stoll was inserted for Richardson on a D-zone draw in the first period, and Penner was moved into Clifford’s spot for an O-zone draw in the 2nd.
Sutter’s regular line rollovers in sequence (1,2,3,4 or often 1,3,2,4) were thwarted by excessive specialty teams time, as in Blues Power Plays. He started with 1,2,3,4 and evolved by the 3rd into a mad scramble as lines were shuffled.
King and Clifford were nearly benched in the 3rd, Clifford getting just 3 shifts and King just one shift on a one-off combo of King/Richardson/Carter. Clifford skated his 3 with Kopi and Carter, but halfway thru Clifford was sat and never played with those guys at all during overtime.
As Sutter was “shopping” for line combos in the 3rd, he tried Penner (instead of King) with Stoll and Lewis, and it looked good. Penner, who may well be Sampson, seems to do better when there is a formal Playoff growth; in truth, Penner “stubble” equals other guys’ full growths. Penner was in beast mode: maybe the weight of his playoff beard forces him to skate harder just to keep from falling forward. I expect this line to remain intact for Game 2, as it was used all thru the 3rd and overtime, to good effect.
Sutter also moved Richardson up to the Kopitar line in the 3rd period, but that would not stick and was abandoned after 3 shifts. Richardson was simply more effective at the Center position. Also, taking him off the 4th line would totally gut that line and reduce the Kings to rolling just 3 lines, which Sutter never likes to do over an entire period. Sutter even tried Penner (Penner again! Mr. Go-To) with Kopi and Carter toward the end the 3rd. I say toward the end; Kopi’s line was out for the second to last shift of the 3rd, meaning it WAS NOT the last shift, the “goalie-pulled we-need-a-goal” line, with the game at stake.
Sutter recognized the game Williams was having as being the best of his team, and so it was the Brown/Richards/Williams who were saved for that crucial last shift when Quick came to the bench. Stoll jumped on the ice for Quick, joining Muzzin and Doughty. Some beautiful defensive play at center ice, when the Kings net was empty, prevented the Blues from icing the game, and then Williams just waltzed in to tie the game.
Williams had missed the net twice on prime scoring opportunities already in this game, trying to hit the corners of the net. His team-high game total of 5 shots, plus the two missed, shows why Sutter used him instead of Kopi and Carter; Williams was on. He cleverly took the ice that was given him on entry, and advanced to the faceoff dot, then moved actually into the defender’s path. In so doing, Williams disguised his release, so that Blues goalie Elliot never saw the shot coming. Top corner placement was perfect, however, and I don’t know if anybody was going to stop that shot whether they saw it or not.
With the game tied, Sutter had a 4th period to finalize his line combinations.
King was brought back from the dead to skate with Kopi and Carter; I dunno if he played up to them as much as they played down to his level. Carter was actually okay early but had a rough game after his shot hit the post and stayed out to end the 1st period.
Penner remained with Stoll and Lewis, and that line continued to be potent both as checkers and in the O-zone. Richardson skated with Clifford and Nolan, and the line of Brown/Richards/Williams was left intact, as they had been all game.
The Kings finally outplayed the Blues, in overtime, and although the Blues had good chances of their own, we saw extended possession in the Blues’ zone, we saw Kings with speed and possession thru center, we saw shots and chances and rebounds. The Kings had at least drawn the play even, as well as the score, but then it all fell apart on the Kings overtime Power Play.
I have no doubt that the Kings will successfully pick themselves up after this game. We saw the Blues at their very, very best, while the Kings were not. The game was lost in overtime, and the Kings looked better in OT until the stickhandling gaffe, meaning the Kings still have the “game” to beat this new Blues lineup.
Hitchcock, when not genuflecting, talked about how the Kings had not yet seen the new-look Blues, since the regular season games had come before the acquisitions of Leopold and Bouwmeester. What Hitchcock failed to mention is that the difference-makers, the new guys on the new-look Blues, had also not seen the real Kings yet. And, in fact those guys still have not seen the Kings when they play their best.
That’s what I expect in Game 2: Blues energy, matched by Kings intelligence and composure. If there is a storm to be weathered next game, it may well be the Blues looking for shelter that time.