LOS ANGELES- Following their sweep for a four-game road trip that included heavy travel, the Los Angeles Kings have returned home to consecutive defeats at the hands of the St. Louis Blues and Anaheim Ducks.
Against the Blues Thursday, Los Angeles turned in arguably its ugliest performance of the season, mustering a mere eight shot attempts–two of which hit the net–in the first period and ultimately being blanked 4-0 in one of the easier shutouts of St. Louis goalie Jaroslav Halak’s career.
“There’s nothing to explain. We had nothing going on, there was no energy, we were totally outplayed,” said Kings Head Coach Terry Murray. “We had six shots after two periods. We’re coming off an incredible road trip, the tank is empty. There’s nothing to talk about.”
Facing their crosstown rivals from Anaheim Saturday, the Kings played a far more intense game, a goalies’ duel in which the resurgent Ray Emery bested the often spectacular Jonathan Quick. Los Angeles tied the game in the third period and carried the play in the final frame, still they eventually fell early in overtime on a snap-shot goal by Corey Perry
“I liked everything that was going on. Right from the very start of the game there was a playoff-like atmosphere, the building was alive, and both teams came to compete hard,” said Murray. “I thought we had an excellent third period, but we just couldn’t find a way to finish at the end of the day.”
In the St. Louis game, the Kings left little to report apart from some superb goaltending early on by Jonathan Quick. He was pelted with pucks as the somnambulant squad in front of him invited the Blues to the L.A. net.
“(Quick) made in the first period probably about 10 saves he shouldn’t have so it could have been a lot worse than it was,” the Kings captain Dustin Brown said.
After his stellar start, a short-side, tough-angle goal in the closing seconds of the middle frame opened the flood gates as the Blues would then score on an ostensibly harmless Alex Pietrangelo shot from the red line and add another goal late.
“Obviously it feels not good when you give up a goal like that but it happens to everybody. The puck just bounced on him and I don’t think he could have done anything different with it,” said Quick’s opposite number in net Halak.
Quick ultimately posted a respectable 35-39 save outing on a night where the Kings drew boos from the home crowd on hand despite the team’s recent success on the road.
A more motivated Kings team faced a Ducks roster with everything to play for as Anaheim sat a mere two points outside the Western Conference playoff picture heading into the game.
The Ducks struck first after a bad hop off an awkward hop handcuffed Jack Johnson and left the puck loose in open space inside the Los Angeles zone. Brandon McMillan swooped in and dashed to the net, where he beat Quick low to the stick side after a nifty transition onto his forehand.
“(McMillan) is a very, very smart player. He gets around the rink and he’s a good positional player. We think he can grow into a larger role,” Ducks Head Coach Randy Carlyle said.
A backdoor pass for Michal Handzus on the power play nearly knotted the contest before intermission but the puck sailed across the crease wide.
Early in the second, the veteran Jason Blake pounced on Drew Doughty at the blue line, lifting the puck and darting to daylight. Quick came up with a huge pad save to maintain a one-goal deficit for the Kings.
A stretch pass later in the frame sprung Brown for his own breakaway opportunity, which he sent wide of the Anaheim net but not before drawing a hooking penalty.
Alexei Ponikarovsky wheeled down low and barreled into Emery after a stuff attempt, the rebound from which was knocked in by Wayne Simmonds for an apparent equalizer. The goal was waived off and Ponikarovsky was assessed a two-minute minor for goalie interference. The replay indicated that Ponikarovsky was pushed into Emery by Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa.
“From my view I thought it was a good goal. I see their defenseman pushing (Ponikarovsky) from behind, so it depends where you are on the ice I guess to get a look at it,” Murray said.
A late scramble in front with Williams and Penner each earning solid chances tested Emery once more, but the goalie had a shutout going through 40 minutes. Emery, a recent addition to the Ducks following major surgery on his hip, embraced his first taste of the “Freeway Faceoff” rivalry.
“They had a full barn, guys were yapping back and forth and that’s the way I like to play,” Emery said.
His counterpart between the pipes Quick was also outstanding, robbing Blake again on a quick one-time chance set up by Sbisa behind the L.A. net.
Although the goalies matched clutch save for clutch save throughout, Emery downplayed the netminders’ duel.
“We did a good job of limiting the quality chances they had and keeping it to the outside. It’s not goalie against goalie, it’s team against team,” Emery said.
The Kings had a power-play opportunity that fell by the wayside but just after it expired Handzus threw a puck in front off the cycle where it was pushed in by Brown to tie the score at one.
Quick stonewalled Blake once more as the veteran winger Blake fired a rising shot from his off wing that Quick snared with aplomb.
The game went to overtime and early on the Finnish connection of Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu nearly ended it if not for another stout play from Quick.
Los Angeles would not survive the next Anaheim attack, however, as Perry broke in on Quick to send the game-winner high off his glove and into the net.
After a respectable 3-for-12 showing on the four-game road trip, the Kings have failed to register a power-play goal in two straight games, including six failed conversions against Anaheim.
Perry offered a simple explanation for the Ducks’ repeated success Saturday.
“Just guys blocking shots and sacrificing their body. We did a heck of a job. They were shooting the puck from everywhere and you’ve got to give a lot of credit to Ray, he was seeing a lot of shots,” Perry said.
Both teams will next face Calgary with Anaheim trying to fend off the Flames among other teams for the final playoff spot in the West and the Kings trying to solidify their own postseason position.
Quick spoke highly of the Flames and suggested continued improvement would be needed to secure a win against Calgary.
On the Anaheim side, the Ducks now face four back-to-back sets including this Los Angeles-Calgary gauntlet and a home-and-home set with the Kings to conclude the regular season.
“There’s been a lot made of our four sets of back-to-backs to finish the season here, this is our first one. We know Calgary is sitting in Anaheim with their feet up watching the hockey game,” Carlyle said.