By Bobby Scribe.
Everything started out well. The events outside of Staples went without a hitch. The restaurants were packed. The purple and white balloons were everywhere. As usual, Los Angeles Kings’ jerseys engulfed the landscape around Staples. Upon entrance, the sights, sounds and scents brought back a familiarity all of us had been deprived of since April and many of us dearly missed. Even the video presentation was nicely done taking the team from 1967 through the 2001 series with Detroit and naturally showing very little, because there was little to show, thereafter. I admit it, I got goosebumps and I am not the goosebumps kind of guy. When Lisa Loeb sang God Bless America and some enthusiastic fan screamed “THE KINGS!” after “God Bless”, everything felt right.
The first five minutes of the period was all Kings. They sustained pressure, cycled the puck well but could not generate any, as Jim Fox sometimes labels, “Grade A” quality chances against Phoenix Coyotes’ goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. Then, at around the 15 minute mark, through a steady decline, the Kings began to fall apart. It felt almost as if a giant vacuum was sucking the life and intensity out of the team. The normally steady and exceptional Drew Doughty made eye popping turnovers. Frolov, who later scored a goal, looked lost most of the time. The second line of Jared Stoll with Dustin Brown on right wing and Ted Purcell on left did not generate much offense or, for that matter, much of anything. Wayne Simmonds, who has received nothing but accolades last season and this pre-season, looked like a confused rookie and the fourth line…well, the fourth line appeared as if they were assembled at the last minute and had never before played together.
There were bright spots. The L.A. Kings power play scored each of their three goals. Ryan Smyth did what Ryan Smyth does, circle the net like a great Canadian white shark and create opportunities. Anze Kopitar, despite missing some great chances and arguably an open net, still played well. He showed an impressive level of endurance and through each of the three periods banged bodies, played hard in the corners and drove to the net. He was rewarded with a goal and an assist.
But this game wasn’t just about the final score of 6 – 3. It was about a lack of mental preparation, a team that looked so discombobulated on the ice that we fans weren’t so much upset while there as we were stunned. I am not even sure the fact we faced the Phoenix Coyotes mattered. We could have played a random AHL team tonight and with that level of play, giveaways, turnovers and nothing short of an inability to put two tape to tape passes together, the Kings would not have beaten any team. I will admit that I was a bit perplexed as to why Kings coach Terry Murray did not call a timeout after the third goal, or perhaps the fourth. He obviously saw a team that was not focused and scrambling. I noticed that nobody posed that question to him. It would have been my first.
Alas, the cliches are all there. It’s only one game is the one thrown around the most. Respectfully, “one” game can be the different between post season or another early year that ends in April. “One” game can mean momentum gained or momentum lost and a winning v. a losing streak. “One” game is more than one game when your team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2002 and has only entered the post season a total of four times since 1993. “One” game isn’t one game when every game counts.
This however my fellow brothers (and sisters) of puck is not the time to panic. Everything that you saw tonight can and will be addressed. Drew Doughty is a very mature second year defenseman. He will recognize his mistakes and correct them. Jonathan Quick has a well earned reputation as an intensely competitive and hard working goaltender. Dustin Brown is our captain. He has embraced that role and knows this team’s success is, in great part, on his wide shoulders. We are in good hands. The Kings projected enough mistakes out of their system to last them two dozen games. So, don’t lament and write off the season just yet. After all, it’s only one game.
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