LOS ANGELES 3
First things first - this Game Report was made possible by my wonderful wife, who suggested that I should head to the game tonight. We're working on routine as I'll be at work on Monday and she is figuring things out but it was great of her to do. Thankfully her family was also in town to help out as well. For those interested, things are going pretty well and thank you again for all the congratulations and well wishing.
Back to business - So tonight was a pretty interesting game in the sense that we did come out fairly strong. Every indication early on was that we'd overwhelm an LA team that for whatever reason doesn't generate a lot of goals (it really doesn't make much sense as they certainly have the players). The shots were coming we were getting to a lot of the right spots even against LA's stingy defensive setup. We should have generated at least four powerplays in the first period. There were multiple stick infractions and some holding/interference as well. They weren't cheap would-be penalties either - we drew them and deserved a pay off. It didn't come.
After that we got frustrated and backed off the game plan a little bit. At the same time, Los Angeles returned to their disciplined system play in their own zone. LA plugs up the middle of the ice and uses their sticks better than any other team I can think of right now. They are quite tough to beat in that area. The thing is; this is nothing new. Los Angeles has been doing this for some time. The Oilers video guys should have this system picked apart by now. I don't know why we don't have a specific plan for attacking the zone against the Kings. It really handicaps our high level scoring lines ability to generate the high quality shots we need. There were a ton of times tonight where our top six drove the middle well but were shut down by LA's efforts. We needed to adjust.
After the first (some of the commentators and Krueger said the first 45. I don't agree) they did not appear to spend as much time in the Kings' end and certainly did not spend as much dangerous time there. Where you'd think we'd be up at least a couple after the first you did not have that impression after the second. Things had ground to a halt and the Kings controlled the pace. They also scored an ugly goal to take the lead.
We certainly didn't exhibit the push back I've seen in other games. Even the ones we lost and ones where it was only a couple shifts long. We sort of just kept playing iffy hockey. Not a lot of sustained pressure and not a lot of rush pressure either frankly. After Gagner's goal and into the third we didn't get the jump I still thought we might. The attitude seemed to be that we'd missed the boat in the first and the game was done. I highly doubt we would have won in OT...possibly in a shoot out.
While you can't leave a game to the last 60 seconds and blame a referee's skate for a loss, it sure does stink. That was an interesting looking rush with fresh enough legs that Hall was leading. He would have at least had the opportunity. Instead we get semi-caught and a shot through several players winds up in our net. Crummy.
It's not that we deserved a better fate. It is that good teams often deserve to lose and manage to squeak one out with an elite play at the right time or JUST enough pressure and a defensive mismatch or some such thing. Not our night. We're not there yet.
- He played pretty well. Kind of has to stop at least one of the LA goals though. Both were strange and neither was great. He made a couple great saves (and I actually looked away on the play where he made a great stop on the weird bounce off the glass) and certainly did enough that we had a shot. He looked really confident in the net - almost to the point of too much confidence because he was knocking rebounds into some pretty iffy areas. It wasn't a control problem either as he was directing the puck to these places. I liked the way he played the puck but unfortunately Khabibulin and Dubnyk's style of playing the puck is so different that our defence struggled to adapt to the goalie they've seen so little of this season.
- Justin has kind of drifted into the background in the past couple games to my eye. He's not skating the puck as much from his own zone and is not picking his spots as well in joining the rush. He has also been caught multiple times (including tonight at least twice) standing still around the opposition blue line on 40/60 sort of plays. In the AHL I bet he turned a bunch of these into great chances. In the NHL the wingers he's facing pull up and make a pass or blow by him. He's got to watch that and got bailed out on these plays tonight. Not so lucky against Colorado. He didn't get an assist on a great backcheck-to-quick-up play and made some things happen, but he's backed off the aggressiveness a little bit. I'd like to see him amp it up. This might require him to be moved onto a pairing with Smid. I say this because I'm not a huge fan of the work Nick Schultz is doing. Too much indecisive play at the blue line. Too few offensive efforts, not a lot of physicality and not a lock-the-barn kind of guy either. This was all going on this evening. I'd much rather have Tom Gilbert.
- I will give Ryan Whitney some credit. He made a few great passes and even better reads tonight. He fired the puck when he needed to and paused, changed angle, then found his man on others. It was nice to see him do that. What he cannot do is fail to finish checks in the corners. He cannot have bad giveaways trying to exit his own zone. He can't drift around and lose positioning. He did all of those things. Fistric had a pretty decent game. He fought hard and punished people in the corners. He wasn't the greatest at moving the puck but also didn't make any mistakes he couldn't recover from. The one thing that was missing from the Colorado game if my limited TV viewing was correct is that he didn't really keep the puck in the offensive zone as well tonight. Those plays made a big difference against Colorado.
- Right now Jeff Petry is playing well from the offensive side of the neutral zone to the other team's faceoff circle. He made two fairly memorable and solid offensive plays in this area - one in the second and one in the third. Outside of those areas he is struggling. His first passes, ventures into the deep offensive zone and positioning around our net leave something to be decided. Smid on the other hand was pretty simple and solid. I wonder where his big hitting game is right now though.
- I wanted to highlight these guys even though they were only a line briefly. They did some nice things as individuals and in the third period. Teemu specifically had a really great shift that generated scoring chances with great work behind the net. He didn't have as good of a night where he started, with Gagner and Hemsky. Instead of creating room he struggled to transition and make a quick pass to either #83 or #89 and failed to capitalize on shooting chances. I'd also like to see him return to focusing on the hitting game more, because he does it so well and in a way that makes offence happen. I'm guessing he was still hurting some today. Magnus was just okay. He had a couple bursts where he challenged the Kings D but nothing sustained. Couldn't find any real lanes either. Again, not a bad effort just nothing to write home about. Vandevelde continues to plug away and do his job as best he can. He hit a few people, caused some turnovers and went to the right places in the offensive zone. Unfortunately he could not capitalize on a couple very good scoring chances. In the first he received the puck in the slot and only had to take one more stride to be facing a completely open net and instead simply whacked it into Quick. Classic 4th line move. Too bad.
- It is not good when Ben Eager is really the only guy who impresses you compared to his relative performance but that was tonight's game. Ben kept himself out of the penalty box, laid some hits (though he strangely let up on Dustin Brown twice) and got a couple scoring chances. I can't help but think if he played a more patient, positional game he'd have more nights like this. At least he was focused. Just couldn't capitalize on a couple rebound chances either. Belanger was okay. He took a couple solid shots on the net and played a tight positional game. Smyth won a couple puck battles which is great, but I cannot help but seeing him continually behind the play. He's not the type of guy that could ever get by being a stride behind and he sure isn't that guy now.
- Again, this crew wasn't together all that long but for convenience sake we'll group them here. Yakupov managed to find himself a couple decent scoring chances and took good shots. He could not beat Quick and was never really in alone. Also didn't manage a one-timer. I've started to notice that while #64 has a powerful, accurate wrister release, it is actually fairly slow. Goalies seem to be able to read it. I've also noticed that he is anticipating hits too early and either leaving himself vulnerable or missing the puck. He needs to work on his patience and hiding his release a little better. Gagner was pretty meh to me tonight. Hemsky and the defencemen got him the puck in his wheelhouse on several occasions but he seemed reluctant to fire that goofy half slapper. He scored but let's be honest it was not a great goal. He had better chances and was just a little off tonight. Hemsky started well, driving the net and should have drawn at least two penalties in the first period. He spent the first and some of the second absolutely dummying Keaton Ellerby. Unlucky for us, his D partner was Drew Doughty who had a stellar game swooping in to shut Hemsky down. Unfortunately neither Yakupov nor Gagner seemed to clue in and follow up on the play so that when Hemsky forced Doughty across he could dump it to one of them or get the rebound. He tailed off a bit after the first but was pretty decent overall. Still looking shot which is great on that line. Still needs to go to the low post a little bit more.
- Very frustrating night for Hall and understandably so. He crushed a guy near the end of the game but that was probably the most satisfying moment he had. It was he who was going up the wing and had the puck take a bad bounce off the linesman. He carried decent enough speed in the neutral zone tonight, though the line as a hole kept slowing down right at the opposition blue line and trying to pass for some reason. When Hall did head for the scoring zone he had an old, familiar problem: he carried the puck much too far from his body with his stick at a low angle. This meant an already active and strong Kings D could strip the puck and shut him down fairly easily and before he was able to look shot and pass off. He never corrected which, again, is something the video guys should be doing. Being that I believe this is part of Buchberger's role, I don't see it as likely this will happen. The good news is these games have been few and far between this year. I wish he'd adjust and carry closer to his feet the way elite players that aren't huge do. He'd be absolutely unstoppable. Hopkins was just okay. He fired a really nice shot off a Hemsky set up in the first that really could have gone. In the second he broke in and was robbed by Quick. His passing was off though and he didn't carry speed well. He also got beat up by hits which isn't good to begin with and especially when you have a shoulder issue. Defensively he made the effort out there and broke up some plays. Eberle was also just okay by my eye. He had a great chance in the first that I believe he rang off the bar. That stunk because it would have really fired up the crowd and the team to start the game. After that he was decent enough but quiet in the offensive zone.
So all in all just a game we didn't win. We're starting to lose too many of these to make the playoffs for sure. The good news is we've been in pretty much every game. This is indeed a team that, if it hits a roll on this road trip for instance, may turn into one of those "they may never lose again" sort of teams, but they need a lot of things to go right, and probably a personnel change to make that a more realistic option. We'll see where we go from here.
I think we almost need a Chicago visit...crazy as that may sound.