A look inside the Kings drought emergency (part 2)

When you look at the individual numbers, the facts are worse. The Kings’ leading scorer, Anze Kopitar, ranks only 34th in the NHL with 47 points (17 goals, 30 assists). Their leading goal-scorer, Jeff Carter, also ranks only 34th in the league with 20 goals. Kopitar is 56th with 17 goals. The Kings have only six players on their roster with 10 goals or more and only Carter and Kopitar have 15 or more.

Further, some of their best players have been mired in prolonged slumps. Mike Richards’ skid has received perhaps the most attention, but he’s not alone and he’s not the driest player on the roster. Richards’ last goal was Jan. 18 against Detroit. He has only two goals since Nov. 25. Overall, he has seven goals and 36 points.

Dustin Brown, the Kings’ team captain, hasn’t scored since Jan. 13. He has one point on the road this season, a goal against the Ducks on Dec. 13. Overall, he has 10 goals and 16 points. Justin Williams’ last goal was Jan. 9 against Boston. He has 14 goals and 29 points.

 

 

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A look inside the Kings drought emergency (part 1)

The facts are grim. The Kings are 6-13-1 in their last 20 games and have dropped to seventh place in the Western Conference standings with a 31-22-6 record. They have been outscored 50-30 in their last 20 games before the Olympic break. Further, they were 2-8-0 and were outscored 28-13 in their last 10 games.

Overall, the Kings rank 29th in the 30-team NHL with an average of 2.25 goals per game. Only the sad-sack Buffalo Sabres, last in the league’s overall standings, are worse offensively. The Kings’ power play also ranks 29th in the NHL with a 13.6 percent success rate. Only the Florida Panthers are worse.

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Kings recall Martin Jones from Manchester, send J.F. Berube to minors

As expected, with the Olympic break over, the Kings recalled rookie goaltender Martin Jones from their American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester, N.H., and sent goalie J.F. Berube back to the minors. Jones, who is 8-4-0 with a 1.71 goals-against average, is expected to serve as Jonathan Quick’s backup for the rest of the season. The Kings return to the ice Wednesday to face the Colorado Avalanche. Berube has appeared in 34 games this season, all with Manchester.

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Sochi Olympics musings (semifinals)

They dropped the puck on the semifinal game between the United States and Canada on Friday in Sochi, Russia, and a Kings game broke out. Jonathan Quick was superb in goal, the U.S. power play was disorganized and ineffective, the puck stayed mostly on the perimeter and the Americans failed to generate the sustained pressure needed to score enough goals to defeat Canada. The Canadians were the aggressors and if not for Quick, it might have been a far worse result than 1-0.

In the end, Jonathan Toews’ line for Canada neutralized Phil Kessel’s line for the U.S. and David Backes’ U.S. line muzzled Sidney Crosby’s line for Canada. The difference was the depth of the Canadians, with an energetic line of Jamie Benn, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry running amok. Benn scored the only goal of the game and his line did what the Americans could not: generate pressure.

All too often, the Americans got one quality shot away, only to see Carey Price make the save and one of his Canadian teammates move the puck out of danger and into the U.S. zone. Canada’s best defense was a strong offensive game, hanging onto the puck and creating scoring chances through its possession play. The Americans failed to do any of that, which is why they looked exactly like the Kings during Saturday’s semifinal.

Canada meets Sweden in the gold-medal game Sunday.

The U.S. faces Finland for the bronze Saturday.

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Sochi Olympics musings (U.S. vs. Canada)

It’s their game, sure. Canada invented hockey. We get that down here in the United States. It’s their game, their national past-time, their pride and joy. Their sons (and daughters, too) dream of playing for the glory that comes with an Olympic gold medal or a Stanley Cup championship. It’s a sport that defines and unites a nation.

It’s our game, too. Maybe not in the same exact way, but in similar ones.

You’ll see that when the U.S. and Canada play in the semifinals of the Sochi Olympics on Friday at 9 a.m. (PST). You’ll see it in the passion and the hard work and the precision each team displays. In many regards, it will be like watching brothers, and maybe that’s because there are so many NHL brothers fighting for a berth in Sunday’s gold-medal game against either Finland or Sweden.

Team USA’s Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick will be trying to deliver a payback to Canada’s Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty for a loss four years ago in Vancouver. The Ducks’ Cam Fowler of the U,S. will be trying to stop Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry and keep them from a second consecutive gold medal. Team USA coach Dan Bylsma will be trying to find ways to neutralize Sidney Crosby of Canada, his best player when they’re both on the job with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And so on and so on.

This is the game they’ll all be chirping about next week, when they return to their respective NHL dressing rooms. It might take more than a few nights of dinner and drinks to bury the hatchets. It might take a few games before their NHL teams are all reunited and feeling so good again. It’s going to be that kind of game Friday.

Sure, this is a game Canada is supposed to win. It is their game. It’s not a game the U.S. can’t win, however. Hockey isn’t an American game the way baseball or football or basketball is. We don’t celebrate Saturday nights at the rink quite the way they do. But we have something of a shared history in the game of hockey, especially internationally and particularly in the way we play the game. Our capacity to defy the odds with our ability to achieve the unthinkable is a shared trait, and a noble one at that. We admire their will to win and they should admire ours, too.

Every Canadian of a certain age can tell you where he or she was when Paul Henderson clinched the 1972 Summit Series victory over the Soviet Union just as every American hockey fan can say where they were when Mike Eruzione scored the go-ahead goal against the Soviets in 1980 in the “Miracle on Ice.”

I remember both moments like they were yesterday, but especially the Americans’ improbable victory, I remember driving to varsity basketball practice when a man on the radio suddenly shouted, “The United States has beaten the Russians 4-3 at Lake Placid.” I pulled to the side of the street and began screaming and honking the horn. It was incredible. It was unbelievable. I was lost in my own little world until I looked across the street and saw a man, screaming and honking his own car horn. We noticed each other and screamed and honked in a shared celebration.

ABC’s Channel 7 wouldn’t air the tape-delayed game for a few more hours in Los Angeles, but the man in the other car and I already believed in miracles.

So, here’s hoping for that kind of Henderson/Eruzione drama Friday.

It’s something we can all appreciate, Canadians and Americans.

Because it’s a game for all of us.

 

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Kings recall Pearson, Toffoli, Vey from minors, return to the practice rink

The Kings recalled forwards Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli and Linden Vey from their American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester, N.H., on Wednesday. They also returned to the practice rink in El Segundo to resume workouts. They were without six of their Olympians, however. Anze Kopitar and Slovenia and Slava Voynov and Russia were eliminated in the quarterfinals Wednesday in Sochi. Canada’s Drew Doughty and Jeff Carter will face the U.S.’s Jonathan Quick and Dustin Brown in the semifinals Friday. The Olympic break continues until Feb. 26 for the Kings, who return to action with a visit to Denver to play Colorado.

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Sochi Olympics musings (semifinal draw)

In the end, it was predictable. All four top-seeded teams won in the quarterfinals Wednesday and advanced to the semifinals Friday. No. 1 Sweden defeated Slovenia; No. 2 United States beat Czech Republic; No. 3 Canada defeated Latvia; and No. 4 Finland ousted Russia. Sweden will face Finland in one border war and the U.S. will play Canada in another, a rematch of the gold-medal game from Vancouver in 2010. Ready to get your hate on? Oh, it’s going to be like that.

So, who plays in the gold-medal game on Sunday morning?

Well, the U.S. has been perhaps the most impressive team of the tournament, from its gritty play to its efficient scoring. The Americans have won mostly in routs, save for an eight-round shootout victory over Russia. Their role players have been superb, especially Ryan Kesler and David Backes. Phil Kessel has been a scorer with a deft touch. Goaltender Jonathan Quick of the Kings has been unbeatable for the Americans. Canada has the better team on paper, with more depth and a pedigree that’s impossible to match. The Kings’ Drew Doughty and the Ducks’ Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf have been the Canadians’ most consistent players. Others like Sidney Crosby have been all but invisible, which is what almost cost Canada during their 2-1 quarterfinal victory over Latvia.

I’ve picked Canada all along and I won’t change now.

As for the other game, Sweden has sailed through the tournament without appearing to drop a bead of sweat. That’s about to change with rival Finland awaiting the Swedes on Friday. Goaltender Tuukka Rask of the Boston Bruins has been superb and the Ducks’ 43-year-old Teemu Selanne continued to cement his legendary Olympic status with a goal and an assist in the Finns’ quarterfinal win over Russia. The Finns look like they’re on a mission.

I’ve got to go with Finland.

 

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Sochi Olympics musings (quarterfinal draw)

After the one-sided qualification games were completed Tuesday, here’s what the quarterfinal matchups will be:

No. 1 Sweden plays Slovenia at midnight Tuesday.

No. 2 U.S. plays Czech Republic at 9 a.m. Wednesday (USA Network).

No. 3 Canada plays Latvia at 9 a.m. Wednesday (MSNBC).

No. 4 Finland plays Russia at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday.

Despite the presence of the Kings’ Anze Kopitar with Slovenia, I don’t see Sweden having a struggle. Goaltender Jonathan Quick of the Kings and Team USA should defeat the Czechs, but better not take anything for granted or it will be a long flight home. Canada should rout Latvia. Finland’s matchup with Russia looms as the only one with the slightest bit of intrigue. The pressure is on the hosts to win gold. Finland has played a strong, smart game since its opener and has superb goaltending. Still, it would be an upset if the Russians don’t win and advance to the semifinals. The semis should look like this Friday:

Sweden vs. Russia and U.S. vs. Canada.

 

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Sochi Olympics musings (Day 5)

Phil Kessel of the Toronto Maple Leafs had a hat trick in Team USA’s 5-1 rout of Slovenia in its final preliminary-round game. Slovenia played the third period without center Anze Kopitar of the Kings, who fell ill and was sent to a medical clinic. Kopitar was released later in the day and expected to be fit to play in the next round. Ryan Miller of the Buffalo Sabres made 17 saves and came within 18 seconds of a shutout while starting in place of the Kings’ Jonathan Quick.

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U.S.-Russia game sets viewership record for NBCSN, network says

Saturday’s 3-2 shootout victory for the United States over Russia averaged 4.1 million viewers for NBCSN’s telecast, setting a record for the network. Now imagine what the viewership might have been like if it were on free TV on NBC rather than its all-sports cable spinoff way down the dial. Also imagine if more West Coast viewers might have been awake for the 4:30 a.m. (PST) faceoff. Viewership peaked at 6.4 million for the eight-round shootout, which was roughly between 7 and 7:30.

The previous best for NBCSN was 4.0 million for Game 3 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final between the Boston Bruins and the eventual champion Chicago Blackhawks.

 

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