Pierre-Marc Bouchard’s second-round shootout goal against Jonathan Bernier was the only puck that crossed the goal line in 65-plus minutes of hockey in St. Paul.
Bouchard’s backhand, five-hole beauty came immediately after Wild goaltender Niklas Backstrom kicked up his leg — from his belly — to stop Jack Johnson’s shot on the other end. Backstrom stopped Dustin Brown in the third round to seal the win and send the Kings (27-22-2) to their first shootout loss all season.
Bernier was hardly to blame. He got some help from a goal frame en route to a 25-save performance, but made some timely saves and was able to swallow up the big rebounds when he needed to.
That was the encouraging part, along with another typical stingy defensive performance by the Kings, who have a point in four straight games. The Kings will play four back-to-back games this month (beginning tomorrow night in Edmonton), which means Bernier figures to be called upon often.
Less encouraging, again, was an offense that failed to solve Backstrom on 27 shots. To their credit the Wild did a tremendous job getting in front of shots, blocking 25 — including seven by defenseman Greg Zanon alone. Between the defense and goaltending, it was about as opposite as Sunday’s NHL All-Star game as possible.
But if you’re scoring at home, the Kings now have 11 goals to show for their last seven games. Terry Murray went back to a top line of Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams flanking Anze Kopitar for the third period (Kopitar centered Brown and Andrei Loktionov for the first 40 minutes). That garnered little in the way of results, as the Kings managed a meager four shots on Backstrom for the final 20 minutes.
Expect some tinkering in goal tomorrow in Edmonton, where Jonathan Quick is expected to get his first post-All-Star start. Expect some more tinkering among the forwards if the Kings are unable to solve the defensively porous Oilers, who had one win in seven games prior to the break.
A few more tidbits:
- Anze Kopitar (13-4) and Michal Handzus (13-6) more than earned their keep in the faceoff circle. The Kings won 65 percent of their draws as a team, which must only make it more frustrating that they were unable to generate more scoring chances.
- Johnson (seven) and Drew Doughty (four) had more of their shots blocked than any Kings players. It’s further evidence of opponents’ willingness (and ability) to neutralize the Kings’ attack by targeting the talented defensemen.
- A win would have made quite an aesthetic impact on the standings. By settling for the single point, the Kings remained one point out of the eighth and final playoff position — currently held by the Wild. Minnesota has one game in hand.