LOS ANGELES- A 36-15 advantage in shots on goal, six power plays and a heaping helping of offensive zone time could not power the Los Angeles Kings past the Phoenix Coyotes Thursday night at Staples Center.
Phoenix struck twice within 57 seconds in the second period and got 36 saves from Ilya Bryzgalov in their 2-0 road win.
“When you can come in and steal one like that that’s a good two points for us,” said Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett. “Bryzgalov was obviously very good. We got ourselves into some penalty trouble…they put a lot of pressure on us through our penalties but we managed to weather the storm and find a way to win.”
The Kings have scored a meager two goals in their past three games and have now lost 10 of their last 12 games.
The first period was scoreless but not without its chances for Los Angeles. A late power-play opportunity sent Ryan Smyth in on Bryzgalov alone where a desperate backcheck momentarily averted the Los Angeles threat. The Kings then set up and sustained pressure with a couple of shots blasted through from the blue line.
Despite their inability to score, the Kings carried a 10-6 advantage in shots on goal into the intermission.
“Through this whole stretch the power play could have made a difference,” said Kings Head Coach Terry Murray. “The penalty killing could lose you a game, power plays tonight could have definitely won us the game. We had some good things going on in the early power plays, but as we got deeper into the game we lost the momentum and the cohesiveness in our power play group.”
Early in the second period, a rough-and-tumble sequence ended with Phoenix defenseman Michal Rozsival headed to the penalty box for cross-checking.
Though the their power play came and went without a serious threat, the Kings would earn another opportunity with the extra man 90 seconds after the Rozsival penalty expired. This time it was winger Scottie Upshall who was sent to the clink for slashing.
A deflected, dribbling Jack Johnson shot had a chance to be sent home by Michal Handzus but the penalty expired after two shots on net. Despite a 16-6 shot-on-net advantage, the Kings had not come all that close to opening the scoring.
An even-strength flurry was negated by Bryzgalov, who remained poised and maintained strong position throughout the early going. Just after he made his 18th consecutive save, it was the Coyotes who earned the advantage after a Justin Williams tripping minor.
Phoenix gained possession and scored immediately as Ray Whitney’s 50-footer from the left-wing wall was batted around and knocked into the net by the towering Martin Hanzal.
Kings defenseman Matt Greene swiped at the puck with his hand as it went in high on Quick’s glove side. Greene immediately and vociferously protested that Hanzal played the puck with a high stick. After a rather lengthy review, the goal stood and Phoenix skated away with a 1-0 lead.
“How does it get called on the ice as a goal, first of all, and then how does the replay hold it up? I don’t have an answer,” Murray said.
“I mean, you’ve got a guy that gets credit for the goal, he’s 6-foot-6 and the stick is above his head. Matt Greene is 6’3″, and he’s trying to bat the puck down with his hand beside his ear. And the net is four feet high. That doesn’t add up. It makes no sense. I don’t know why we have video replay in the National Hockey League. If the replay is there for the review of goals and non-goals … I don’t know.”
While Murray, Greene and the Kings were flabbergasted, even Hanzal himself was caught a little off-guard by the call on the ice and its subsequent confirmation.
“It was really close,” Hanzal told the Associated Press. “I was surprised they called it a goal. I thought it was going to be a high stick, but it is what it is and I’ll take whatever I can get. I had exactly the same thing called in Colorado before Christmas, but they didn’t count it.”
Mike Murphy, the NHL’s vice president of hockey operations, told Fox Sports’ Jim Fox in a phone conversation that all the on-ice officials had Hanzal’s tip-in as a goal and that the video evidence was not conclusive to overturn their call on the ice.
Phoenix nearly scored on a Taylor Pyatt deflection that went wide, sending the Kings racing the other way. A Handzus shot crept up the arm and onto the back of Bryzgalov’s shoulder but somehow stayed out of the net. The Coyotes then took a 2-0 lead when Lee Stempniak’s coast-to-coast rush culminated in a wrist-shot goal.
“When you take a long break like that, there’s no question it throws a little bit of a wrench into the gears for a couple shifts. Then they come right down the ice off of a play that we make to give them a two-on-one and now it’s two-nothing,” Murray said.
Late in the second, the game got chippy as the teams exchanged several hits and, following a freeze, all ten skaters were pushing and shoving behind the Los Angeles net. When the dust settled, Phoenix’s captain Shane Doan received the lone roughing minor meted out in the scrum.
Doan acknowledged that the Coyotes, who will host Los Angeles on Saturday, cannot commit as many penalties in the second half of this home-and-home set.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game, and we recognized how good those guys are and we gave them way too many power plays,” said Doan. “If we give them that many they’re going to capitalize, and we can’t afford to do that in the next game.”
Early in the third, Sami Lepisto’s second penalty of the night, an elbowing minor, gave the Kings another shot to get on the board with the extra man. The Kings had a generally lifeless two minutes and drew boos from the somewhat thinner-than-usual crowd on hand.
The Kings were blanked on six power plays and dropped to 0-19 in their last six games. They have not gone 20 straight power plays without a goal since March 2003.
“I think our power play’s gotta be way better. We’re working hard but we’re not getting the end result and it’s frustrating as a group,” Smyth said.
When asked if it was a matter of paying a higher price for prime real estate in front of the net or changing the point of attack high, Smyth was critical of the Kings’ effort on both fronts.
“A little of both, for sure you gotta get dirty and you gotta get gritty goals,” said Smyth. “This time of the year, you see 2-1 games, a lot of tight games and sometimes it takes a little hard work.”
Nevertheless, the Kings continued to pile up shots on Bryzgalov, soon drawing to a 28-11 advantage that ultimately became a lopsided 36-15 Los Angeles edge.
With their top lines and pairs resembling their early season surge—including Andei Loktionov playing on the top line for the first time in months–the once-white-hot combo of Williams, Jarret Stoll and Smyth created an odd-man rush, only to send a shot way wide of the net at the end of the well-executed three-on-two break.
A golden opportunity eluded the Kings when a one-time pass got past Dustin Brown with three minutes remaining in regulation. The lost opportunity seemed to seal the Kings’ fate as they dropped to 2-10 in their last 12 games.
“The shots are going a couple inches wide, (Bryzgalov) saves it not knowing where it hit him but we can’t get discouraged,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar. “We’ve got to keep on going with that and we’ll break through for sure.”