Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Two One-Goal Losses? Twitter Has Answers!

One of the only nice things about the Kings playing on the road is the excuse to say home,  listen to Nick Nickson and Daryl Evans call the game on the radio, and banter back and forth with my fellow Kings fans on Twitter.  It's like a really great cocktail party where the drinks are free and you don't have to worry about driving home.

The conversation in the Kings Twitterverse the past two days has been filled with equal parts of love and frustration with the struggles of both our team as a whole and our favorite players individually.  Frustration is understandable when you're losing critical games during a stretch run to the play-offs, especially when there are no easy answers about how to fix it. 

Plenty of folks choose the negative path and bitch and complain.  Popular tweets in that vein right now include wondering when Terry Murray will be fired, whether Jon Stevens has brought a curse with him to LA and why Dean Lombardi hasn't pulled the top six left winger that will magically solve our problems out of the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.   I guess we need some rain if that third one is going to happen.

Bitching is easy, but optimism rules on Twitter too, and I was so encouraged tonight to see so many of my fellow Kings fans refusing to lose hope in spite of the uphill battle we're fighting.   Here are some samples of that optimism from my Twitter feed tonight, and some hilarious solutions to the Kings woes!

@LAKings -Myself, @jenwells21 @SanDSarebear & probably @HockeyQueen92 & @megums are willing to give the players free hugs if they are down.

RT @sherp70: HAHAHAHA RT @PamperedEllen: Maybe the #LAKings are into astrology and the changing of the "signs" has their heads all messed...

#iwishicould give the Kings magic fairy dust that'll make them win. The cheering & pep talks obviously haven't worked. GKG always & forever

athletic ups and downs are experienced firsthand. But somehow we grow, learn from it, and get better. Because thats all we can do; be better

Solutions Twitter has for #LAKings so far tonight...alcohol, hug line, free massages. Give me some more people....

@cheshirecat25 We can cut out the brownies in the shape of each players number.....

“@megums: @jenwells21 YES!!!!!!!!!!” How about fortune cookies?

@PucksAndGrub @megums as long as the fortune says some thing like "You score many goals and win many games" i'm down.

I love how the guys are talking trades to fix things, but the ladies are baking and hugging. Girls rule! #LAKings

RT @pucktacular: I may be a ton of miles away from the Kings but I feel their pain from here. Never kick a team when they're down. I am...
RT @ilikebs: Could they just replay the fight with Cliffy from the 1st period to cheer me up, plz? Thx... #LAKings

"It is always darkest just before the Day dawneth." #LAKings @LAKingsCourt  

At least in my Twitterverse, optimism rules the world.  So don't give up, Kings fans!  Take a cue from these folks and DON'T STOP BELIEVING!  Instead, bring all the positive energy you have to Staples Center Thursday night and cheer the Kings on against the Pacific Division rival Phoenix Coyotes.  WE CAN STILL DO THIS!


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Kings vs Oilers: Do Or Die

When you're supposed to be a play-off caliber team and the last place team in your conference rolls into town, only one game outcome is acceptable -- WIN.   Thankfully the Kings did just that tonight against the visiting Edmonton Oilers.

"If we didn't come out with this one, I think lips would be dragging on the floor," forward Justin Williams said.

The first period saw fast skating, 8 shots, and 2 goals for each team. The Oilers struck first, putting the momentum in their favor, but it was nice to see the Kings fight back for a change.   Drew Doughty and Wayne Simmonds, both slumping hard this season, combined to feed Marco Sturm for the Kings first goal of the night. Justin Williams had plenty of gas in the tank for a breakaway that led to the second tally by Anze Kopitar.

Things stayed hard fought in the second, beginning with a major hip check by Drew Doughty to level Taylor Hall along the right side boards.   In the scrum that ensued, Wayne Simmonds went down awkwardly and did not return to the game after being helped off the ice by his teammates. Later in the period, Jarrett Stoll scored a beauty to put the Kings ahead a goal. While shots remained fairly even (18-17 in favor of the Oilers), the Kings gained critical momentum with a period ending power play that extended 28 seconds into the third.

Unlike the rest of the games on this home stand, the Kings actually kept their foot on the gas pedal in the third, adding two more goals for a final score of 5-2.  Drew Doughty netted his third goal of the season, which combined with his assist and the hit to Hall also earned him the #1 Star of the Night.  Jarrett Stoll scored 2 goals, including the final empty netter, and was named #2 Star of the Night.

Some other tidbits of interest:
  •  Rogie Vachon was an incredible hockey player and IS an awesome human being.  That deserves Hall of Fame recognition, folks.  Put the guy in there already!
  •  Speaking of awesome human beings, hats off to resident do-gooder Daryl Evans for making a nice donation to a good cause this evening.

  • Great new Jumbotron video montage intro set to "Welcome to the Jungle" featuring black and white still photos to start, then turning to color and video.
  • Kudos to the Kings Care folks for their creative arrangement of the vintage mystery pucks tonight! They looked excellent and I was psyched to get a Willie Mitchell puck myself.
  • If I have to listen to Davis Gaines sing the national anthem one more time, I may scream.
  • Hats off to Kings fan "Terri" who answered Hat Trick Challenge questions wearing a TRULY vintage Rogie Vachon sweater. She's a true Kings fan!
  • The crew that was singing The Briggs hit "This Is LA" all night at the top of their lungs from the cheap seats? You're invited back anytime.  You rocked my world.
  • And finally, to whomever is calling the Kings game on this video (presumably someone at Hockey Night in Canada), get your shit straight.  Rob Blake DID NOT teach Drew Doughty a thing about hip checking, because he left the Kings before Drew arrived!  Credit Sean O'Donnell for that little skill.
Now the Kings hit the road for back-to-back games in Dallas (Monday) and St. Louis (Tuesday) before returning to Staples Center Thursday to take on the Phoenix Coyotes.  That's a lot of hockey in the next 5 days, but here's hoping the boys have turned the corner and get a nice stretch of wins before the All-Star break.


Why Benching Doesn't Help A Team Win

In his tenure as head coach of the Los Angeles Kings, I have never seen Terry Murray bench as many players as he has so far this season. Yet in spite of all this effort to bring attention to what specific PLAYERS need to work on, the TEAM isn't any better. That got me thinking about whether the benching strategy really works.

Given the team's recent struggles, I see the point of needing to shake things up. If someone is making unnecessary mistakes or not working hard enough, benching is a way to get the player's attention and point out the behavior you don't want replicated. But here's the problem -- EVERY PLAYER on the Kings roster has had some games this season where mistakes or poor work ethic were an issue. So why hasn't EVERYONE on the roster been benched at least once?

If you're Richardson, Sturm, or Ponikarovsky, you should be pissed off Wayne Simmonds hasn't been benched yet. His play at times has been as poor as any other formerly high performing forward. In the defensive corps, Davis Drewiske is probably riding the pine wondering why he's always the odd man out while he watches Doughty and Johnson create turnovers.

Hockey teams are like most groups. When everyone gets treated fairly, people find ways to work together and solve problems. If there are perceived favorites or cliques, people get pissy, sniping starts and the focus becomes laying blame on someone else. So when coaches bench the same guys over and over, they start feeling like there's no way out of the doghouse, and the intended message gets lost. Most importantly, the coach loses their credibility with the team by creating a culture that magnifies mistakes at the expense of rewarding correct behavior.

If you believe, like I do, that hockey is the ultimate team sport, benching individuals serves no purpose. If you want guys to work together, bench an entire line!

The sooner Coach Murray and the Kings embrace the concept that whether you win or lose, you do it TOGETHER, the sooner our TEAM fortunes will turn around.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Kings vs Blues: Still Singing The Blues

For almost a month, the Kings have been searching for answers. With most of the pieces in place to be a winning team, they just can't seem to put the complete puzzle together.

Got any answers on that stick tape, Smytty?

Coach Murray has tried every line combination possible. Fans like me have changed their game routines. The artistic among us made their own shirts hoping to find the mojo.

Johnson and Clifford have never looked better!

After playing a series of games with solid first periods and first goals scored, the Kings figured maybe they should change that. The result was a terrible first period and a 1-0 deficit after 20 minutes. Hey, at least we didn't blow a lead, right?

The bad news kept coming in the second as the Kings coughed up 2 more goals.  Power play woes continued, with no goals scored on 2 chances. The one goal that was scored by workhorse Michal Handzus was a few seconds after the first power play ended, thanks in large part to some aggressive play by Alec Martinez and Jack Johnson back at the blue line. But on balance, it was a terrible period, marked by poor puck control, terrible passing, an inability to consistently clear the zone. 

Sorry Quickie...it's gonna be one of those nights.

After 40 minutes the score was 3-1, and the Blues kept it that way in the third.  As has been our habit since 2011 started, the Kings had no fight left in them in the last 20 minutes, so it was no surprise fans started leaving before the end of the period and the team skated off the ice to a chorus of boos from those who remained.

Tonight's poor effort is especially sad because a win would have been the best birthday present for Kings players Jack Johnson and Kyle Clifford, as well as Kings radio commentator and all-around awesome dude Daryl Evans.  

At least the fans cared enough to make some great signs.

As the Kings "must-win" homestand draws to a close this weekend, the questions surrounding the fate of this team are many and the answers are few.  But with only half the regular season left, there's no doubt this team is as down in the dumps as you can get right now.  Hopefully that means we've got nowhere to go but up.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Kings vs Leafs: Where's Our Pride?

Before the Kings took on the Toronto Maple Leafs, I tweeted and Facebooked some advice to my boys: "Beware of bottom feeder teams because they have nothing to lose." Apparently no one on the Kings got the word, because they threw away another perfectly good win chance by letting a less talented team outwork them.

Baaahhhhh!! We're playing the Leafs?  EASY WIN!

Granted, it was Canadian Pride Night. Air Canada gave away free airline tickets all night. Some of the Canadian players flew in family members for the game. The mighty Maple Leaf was everywhere.

But frankly none of that mattered, because the Kings followed the same habit that hasn't worked for the past month -- play 30-40 minutes of solid hockey and take the night off. Any team who played 60 minutes, Canadian or not, would have beaten us.  Blowing a lead and losing by one goal (final score 2-1) was just the icing on the cake.

Wait...shouldn't you be on the other side?  Oh that's right...you're the OTHER Schenn brother....
Not much for the Kings to have pride in tonight, eh?  But I'm still gonna say it anyway...


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Kings vs Blue Jackets: Still A Long Way To Go

When you're in a slump, one way to get yourself out of it, at least mentally, is to change your routine. Michal Handzus shaved his beard. Jarrett Stoll was showing off a new scar from getting hit between the eyes with a puck. Ponikarovsky and Mitchell got tired of their gym sessions and made it back into the line-up.  And Dustin Brown attempted some Doughty-style turns during warm-ups.

Since my Kings were making an effort to right the ship, the least I could do was help. I ditched my customary black turtleneck. I left my "lucky" Drew letter bracelet a home. And I didn't take my usual warm-up skate photos, instead electing to stare intently at each player as they skated past, hoping to burn some good karma into their brains.

And whether it was the karma stare, the changes in routines, or just good puck luck, the Kings finally got a win.

The Kings dominated the first period, scoring 3 goals without one response from the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets.  For a while during the second, it looked like we going to stay in charge for the duration.  When Columbus netted one, we didn't panic, stuck with the game plan, and ended 40 minutes of better than solid hockey with a 4-1 lead.

Then the third period happened.  Columbus' star Rick Nash finally found his game and hit us for 2 goals.  Our defensive game broke down, Quick made some puck handling mistakes and suddenly Columbus was within one goal.  Thankfully, we found our 5th gear, and Justin Williams finished the night with an empty netter to leave the final tally at 6-4.    The Kings faithful breathed a huge sigh of relief.

So we ended our losing streak at 5 games and got a critical win, but we're not out of the woods yet, Kings fans.  Forty minutes of great hockey is an improvement over thirty, but we need sixty minutes to be a contender.    As good as it was having Poni and Willie back in the line-up, we saw tonight that they are not the answer to all the Kings problems.   Letting teams back into the game like we did will earn us nothing but another first round exit from the play-offs, and that's if we manage to make it there.

The journey is still long, but tonight was a step in the right direction.  Now we need to take another one against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Kings vs Predators: Its' All In Our Heads

After watching the Kings slog through 5 games in 7 nights, it was nice to see them looking refreshed and happy during the warm-up skate Thursday night.  

I felt cautiously optimistic we might end this losing streak at 4 and get the ship righted.  The recent slump wasn't a slump at all, just a bunch of over-worked, over-tired players.

I really hate when I'm wrong.

This same old story of 30 minutes of good to decent hockey, followed by mental meltdowns, blown leads and lost point opportunities is beyond tiresome.  Any human that can understand body language saw EXACTLY what happened to this team when Nashville scored the tying goal in the second period.   The shoulder slumps and heads down when the Predators scored the 3-2 go-ahead goal less than 2 minutes later sealed the deal.  We were done after 40 minutes and the entire team knew it.

I'm also sick of players giving the same lame quotes after every loss:

"We need to work harder."
"We need to battle more."
"It's just a matter of bringing more focus to the little things."

Well guess what, boys,  The fans are tired of it.  Lame excuses aren't good enough any more.  That's the reason the fans booed you at the end of the game.  Maybe you should hear some other things fans are saying as well.  During an impromptu bitch session outside Starbucks after the game, here are the things some of my hockey buddies and I were tossing around -- and interestingly enough, we all agreed.
  • There are 4 players that have kept up their end of the bargain this year at their respective positions: Kopitar,  Clifford, Scuderi, and Quick.  Everyone else needs to look hard at themselves in the mirror and figure out how to be better.
That means you too, Greener.  And the answers aren't down there....
  • Wayne Simmonds is not the player he was last year.  Nice to see you can break someone's nose, Simmer, but goals win games.  Skate better, handle the puck better, and go get some.
  •  Moving players away from their natural side of the ice isn't working.  They'll tell the coach they're willing to do it because they want to play, but they're not helping the team having to re-learn their position.
  • Doughty and Johnson together is too much ego for one blue line.  One of them needs to go, and Doughty isn't the biggest ego in that pairing.  Just sayin'....
  • We need a new power play coach.  With the fire power we have, there just isn't a reason we can't score with a man (or more) advantage.  Sometimes a fresh set of eyes is all it takes.
If there is a team poster boy that holds the key to our redemption, it's....KYLE CLIFFORD.  You heard me, Kyle Clifford.  Because you know what I see when Clifford plays?  I see Drew Doughty two seasons ago.  I see Kopitar as a 19 year-old rookie.  Those guys had no expectations, no pressure, and they just went out and played hockey.  Just flat-out PLAYED!  Why?  Because there were no voices in their heads making them doubt what they could do.

Looking at this team Thursday night, I saw a bunch of guys filled with doubt and fear.  Fear of losing.  Fear of actually succeeding because of the pressure that builds after the success.  Until we shake that fear and start believing in ourselves, don't look for this team to win a game, regardless of what line combinations are on the ice.

But guess what, Kings?  Even though we get frustrated and boo, YOUR FANS STILL BELIEVE IN YOU!

The question is whether you believe in US enough to win.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Kings-Blackhawks: Not Ready For Our Close-Up

After a lethargic start to the New Year against the division rival San Jose Sharks, the Los Angeles Kings had serious incentive to jump start them tonight -- a rare nationally televised match-up against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks.  

The best teams find energy for big moments like this.  Right at the moment, the chance for the struggling Kings to stop their current losing skid in a very public way and prove they have what it takes to go the distance over a whole season is a pretty big moment.

Remember to keep your feet moving tonight...people are watching!

So of course we squandered a golden opportunity.

Things actually started off really well.  The Kings brought great intensity in the first period, quickly out shooting the Blackhawks and drawing first blood on a gorgeous Jack Johnson shot, tipped in by Michal Handzus for a power play goal.  Then Blackhawks sniper Marion Hossa tied the score late in the first.  The fact that Hossa's goal was yet another blow to the Kings previously unstoppable home ice penalty kill was a sign of things to come.

The energy started to drop in the second, with the Kings allowing the Hawks a second power play goal, this time to Patrick Sharp.   Ryan Smyth brought us back to life when he took a nice pass from Justin Williams and buried it to even the score at 2-2 with a little more than a minute left in the period.

The Hawks scored 5 minutes into the third (that sneaky Patrick Sharp again....) and the momentum dropped off even more.   Yet the Kings still showed signs of life on 3 power plays in a row, including one with 23 seconds of 5-on-3 action.   It took the third power play, but the puck finally found Ryan Smyth, who scored his second goal of the night to tie the game 3-3.

Don't know what Toews was explaining to Hossa, but it sure helped the Hawks kill some penalty minutes.

Everything on the score sheet indicated we were still in the game, but looking at the play on the ice it was clear the Kings were struggling to close the deal.  Then we got Toews'd with 5:27 left and never made it back, mentally or physically.

Final score: 4-3 Hawks.

Watching the Kings come out swinging and fade halfway through a game is getting REALLY old.   Perhaps what this team needs most is a case of 5-Hour Energy drinks before every game.  Heck, if it helps, I'll spring for a round of Starbucks.

In spite of the disappointment of losing and likely dropping further in the standings, there were a few entertaining activities off the ice.
  • Marty Turco MUST have a rider in his contract excluding him from playing in Staples Center.   Apparently he enjoys being heckled by The Mayor because he smirked at every insult...and there were many.

  • A message to the bandwagon Blackhawks chick in the Toews jersey blocking my view -- "Don't hassle with the Hossa!" is officially the dumbest slogan ever.  Putting it on a sign only made it dumber.
  • How fun is it to be Stan Lee right now?  Whether you like The Guardian Project or not, he gets to go to games around the league and ride Zambonis.  It's almost a better gig than creating comic book characters.

Our worn out Kings finally get a rest, as Coach Murray already announced he's giving them the day off tomorrow.   Hopefully the boys can get their legs back under them and end this losing streak before the start of the year turns into the end of our season.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

Kings vs Sharks: Not A Happy New Year

Starting a new year is a great opportunity to start fresh. It can also be a huge problem if you're not ready to make the jump to something new. And sometimes, it's tough because old habits die hard.

Let's just say the Kings didn't embrace their opportunity to get out of their recent slump and start a new win streak.  The biggest frustrations of our recent slide continued tonight in the 1-0 loss to the conference rival San Jose Sharks. Somehow, our early season strengths (defensive mindset and face-off wins in particular) have become weaknesses and we can't seem to buy a win.

"What am I supposed to do here again?  Oh yeah, get the puck!"

A few of my many thoughts during the game tonight:
  • 6 PM starts just feel weird, even on a weekend. 
  •  The people who buy tickets in the section where The Queen watches warm-ups should really not plan to use them until the game actually STARTS.  My boys need their photos taken, folks!
  • The woman sitting next to me in the turquoise jacket AND nail polish just needed to go away.  I get that you're a Sharks fan, but you're not twelve, and that's the age cut-off for nails that color.
  • The guy to my left started off the night complaining about how little leg room the seats have. The fact that he was extremely tall apparently never figured into the Staples Center Design scheme. He was also an apparent hockey first timer because he kept leaning forward and sticking his head right in my shots.
  •  Problems with 5 on 3 penalty kills continue, at least in the sense that we're having to do them.   What happened to our D again?
  • The power play is still not a bright spot.  We started the second period tied with no score, and couldn't manage to get it done.   Last time I checked, hockey lasts 60 minutes, not 40.
  • Both teams looked completely exhausted.  By the end of the 3rd, everyone involved was just glad the nightmare was over.
This is Drew during warm-ups.  Should have known it wasn't gonna be a good night.
I guess if we can't START the New Year right, we can at least call this Day One of our resolution to win games, right?