The first thing I thought about after the buzzer sounded ending the game was the grief I may receive from my dear friend Tyler, who is a Minnesota Wild fan, as any good Wisconsin boy should be.
The second thing I thought about was where my friends and I should go to drown our sorrows of this loss as well as the four we have been handed in the last five games.
Injury issues aside for a moment, this game highlighted one very important fact – our best players were not our best players. Ryan Smyth very much gets a pass. He wasn’t spectacular out there but he shouldn’t be yet coming off his injury. Even at the level he was playing however, he was leaps and a few bounds above Anze Kopitar and Alexander Frolov. Kopitar looked like a shadow of himself. Frolov had defensive lapses and made some odd decisions in the offensive zone when he had opportunities to take high percentage shots.
The Wild’s first goal started with Kopitar turning the puck over on a poke check and Havlat driving the other way toward Quick. Havlat roofed the puck from the right wing, over Quick’s right shoulder.
The second goal was an odd decision by Frolov. He broke his stick and, while already one man down & the Wild with the puck in the offensive zone, Frolov left the zone and went to the bench to get another stick, essentially causing a 5 on 3. Before he returned, the Wild scored. This can be argued both ways and there are options there: stay in the zone, get another stick, make a change.
The third goal practically appeared to me in slow motion. The moment I saw Frolov float from Quick’s left side to his right, fail to take the man with the puck (Nolan), fail to block any potential pass by Nolan and fail to support Doughty on defense, I knew something bad was about to occur. As it happened, Nolan took a pass – shot from practically behind the goal and Belanger tapped it in. I don’t blame Frolov for that goal but his poor defensive positioning did contribute to it.
The Wild’s fourth goal broke all of our hearts as the Kings had just come back from a 3-1 deficit to tie the game in the third with less than 3 minutes remaining. Jack Johnson pinched when he should not have, a 2 on 1 went the other way and the Wild got a lucky goal that went off Doughty’s stick and past Quick. This game was very much a team loss. We could discuss Jack Johnson, Whisky, Purcell, the list goes on. The Wild were very opportunistic. We handed this game to them and, make no mistake, they took it without hesitation.
But at the end of the night, the most discouraging aspect of this game however was Kopitar’s overall play. Weak in the defensive zone coverage. Weak on the puck through the neutral zone. Unwilling to go to the front of the net. Unwilling to carry the puck and the play over the blue line. Easily knocked off the puck and his skates. Easily taken out of the play. That is not the Kopitar we saw at the beginning of the season. It is the Kopitar we saw for much of last season.
I am not overly concerned. I know this team has the talent, character and work ethic to bounce back. I only question whether Kopitar understands that his general manager isn’t paying him around $7 million dollars per season to be an average center on the King’s first line. Players of his caliber and pay grade do not get to take shifts, nights, weeks or months off. He has 2 goals and 4 assists for the entire month of December, to date and is a -3 this month. He went goal-less in 9 games in November. He hasn’t scored a goal in the last 5 games. If he expects to be on a winning team, he has to at first self reflect and play like a winner. With the exception of Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, I am not sure there are any other players on this team that are not expendable. Lombardi is not going to tolerate his best players failing to play their best game. Neither will this coach. Neither will my brothers and sisters of puck. As a consolation prize, Drew Doughty and Wayne Simmonds had excellent games. Simmonds continues to show why he is the soul of this team. Drew continues to show why he is poised to become one of the, if not the, best defenseman the Kings have ever dressed.
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