Some stuff from the morning skate, in advance of tonight’s Kings-Devils game…
– This is a big stretch for the Kings, as far as their hopes of getting back in the playoff picture. It’s New Jersey tonight and Phoenix on Thursday, and one would think that the Kings need at least three out of a possible four points in those games, because after that it’s two against the Ducks and a home game against red-hot Nashville. As we sit here, roughly one third of the way through the season, Anaheim, Nashville, Edmonton, San Jose, Dallas and Detroit look like playoff locks, which would leave Minnesota, Colorado, Vancouver, Calgary and the Kings fighting for two spots. One could argue that the Kings’ best hockey is still to come. One could also argue that they just aren’t very good. Regardless, there’s still a long way to go.
– Mathieu Garon gets the start in goal tonight, to little surprise. The assembled media — all three of us — talked to Garon this morning and he’s being very careful with what he says about this goalie situation. That’s the smart thing to do, of course, because the last thing the Kings need is conflict in the dressing room — for reference see “Avery, Sean, circa 2005-06” — and besides, it’s not Garon’s nature to be cocky and loud about anything. Garon wouldn’t go beyond saying that if he plays well, he gets more ice time, and that’s what he wants. Pretty vanilla stuff. But really, nothing even needs to be said. Garon’s numbers are better and he deserves to play. Garon certainly doesn’t need to say it himself. The numbers show it, he knows it, Cloutier knows it and Crawford knows it. Both goalies know that it’s a long season and things can turn around quickly.
– No Rob Blake on the ice this morning, so read into that what you will, but don’t read too much into it. He’s a veteran guy nursing an injury, so there’s no point in risking something in a morning skate.
– Lots of talk about Alexander Frolov today, and why not? He’s been outstanding in recent games and he’s doing the things that Crawford knows he needs to do, just like Andy Murray knew he needed to do over the last couple years. He’s aggressive on the puck and making things happen, rather than just being a perimeter player. I’d love to see a tape of his scoring chances over the past couple weeks contrasted with a tape of his first two or three weeks. I bet the difference is staggering. Crawford, on Frolov: “He’s in the top 10 in scoring and I don’t think most people think he would be there. If you get opportunities and mix it with good habits, that’s what good goal scorers do. You have to pay a price to score in this league. The last two goals he’s scored haven’t been (from) more than seven or eight inches from the net. You have to pay the price to score those goals.”
– It’s no surprise that Frolov’s turnaround has coincided with his pairing with Craig Conroy and Sean Avery. Avery is a gritty winger who fights for loose pucks and Conroy has outstanding vision and playmaking abilities. Conroy has the ability to get pucks to Frolov in good positions, and Frolov’s finishing ability is making Conroy look good as well. Crawford, on Conroy: “Craig is a typical playmaking center. That’s why he had such a great line in Calgary. Iginla was so good at getting open and Craig does such a good job of getting guys the puck. He’s your old-time center. They didn’t score a lot but they were good at passing the puck.”
– One thing to watch tonight: New Jersey’s opponents this season have generated only 75 power plays. I thought that had to a typo, but it’s not. Nashville, with 106, has allowed the next fewest. That’s an amazing display of discipline on the Devils’ part and possibly a bad sign for the Kings, who have been productive on the power play of late but might not get many chances tonight.