McNall Worried as Kings Fall Again : Hartford Wins, 5-4; Gretzky Now No. 2 on NHL Point List
After watching the Kings lose their third straight game Saturday night, owner Bruce McNall was looking for help wherever he could get it.
“We need another tough winger. Can you be ready?” McNall asked Gordie Howe after the Kings came from 2 goals ahead to lose, 5-4, to the Hartford Whalers.
“It might take a couple of hours,” said Howe, a Hall of Famer who is two months shy of his 61st birthday.
It may take longer than that to straighten out the Kings, who loaded all their big guns on one line but still fired a blank in the end, even though Luc Robitaille (2 goals), Wayne Gretzky (1 goal, 3 assists) and Bernie Nicholls (1 goal, 2 assists) accounted for all of their scoring.
The loss put a damper on a milestone night for Gretzky, who moved into second place on the all-time National Hockey League point list, one point ahead of former King Marcel Dionne, now with the New York Rangers. Gretzky, who has 1,771 points, trails only Howe, with 1,850.
Is McNall--who has accompanied the team on the entire trip and was joined Saturday by General Manager Rogie Vachon--concerned about his team?
“Absolutely, I am,” said McNall, who reiterated his desire to make another deal before the March trading deadline.
A strong, grinding forward would be ideal. And if the asking price were more reasonable, McNall said he would be interested in Bob Probert, the tough Detroit wing, who is a handful on the ice but even more so when he’s off it, as indicated by a string of alcohol-related offenses.
“I would take the risk if the price came down,” McNall said, “but they (the Red Wings) aren’t even in the ballpark yet.”
And, McNall said, neither are the Kings at the desperation stage, even if they have won just 3 games in their last 11 and are in danger of losing 4 in a row for the first time this season.
“We played a lot better tonight than (in) the other two games,” he said. “I’m not panicked about it. We’ve had a lot of injuries. It’s a typical midseason slump.”
Two more injuries occurred Saturday. Wing Igor Liba bruised a shoulder on his first shift, and during a first-period fight with Hartford hit man Torrie Robertson, King swing man Marty McSorley aggravated the shoulder injury he suffered in the New Year’s Eve exhibition against the Soviets.
McSorley wasn’t hurt by Robertson, but by the linesman, who refused to let go of his right arm. McSorley didn’t play the rest of the night. “I’ll be all right,” he said. “But I don’t understand the referee’s logic. It was two against one, and he made it three against one.”
Talk of a slump might easily have been silenced except for a dreadful giveaway by King defenseman Tim Watters that led to the game-tying goal by rookie Jody Hull of the Whalers at 11:24 of the third period.
Watters, who sat out the last game with a strained neck, collared a loose puck and headed unhindered toward the back of the King net. The puck, however, took a detour, hitting off the side of the net and right out front to Hull (no relation to Bobby). Hull merely had to tip it past a stunned goalie Glenn Healy to make it 4-4.
“I lost it in the snow,” said Watters, sounding a little like a baseball infielder saying he lost a grounder in the sun. It was a bad spot to lose it, a major league giveaway. Obviously, it changed the momentum of the game.”
How badly did Watters butcher the play? “I don’t know how he (Hull) got the puck so fast after I chopped it up into so many pieces,” he said.
The Whalers finished carving up the Kings a bit later, after referee Dan Marouelli whistled Gretzky for a hooking infraction of a highly dubious nature with 4:48 left to play.
Hartford, which already had scored twice on the power play, clicked for the game-winning goal seconds after Gretzky had finished serving his penalty.
Defenseman Dave Babych kept the puck in the zone at the left point and flicked it to wing Kevin Dineen--who had scored his 28th goal to make it 4-3 in the second period--at the top of the left circle.
Dineen took advantage of a traffic jam in the slot to walk in on Healy, who got a piece of Dineen’s shot but couldn’t keep Babych--who had circled to his other side--from tipping the puck into the net.
That goal spoiled a splendid effort by the Gretzky line, notably Nicholls, who now has 101 points--surpassing his previous career high of 100--and 47 goals in 48 games, leaving him 3 goals short of becoming the sixth player in NHL history to score at least 50 goals in 50 games.
Would Nicholls like the line to stay together? “Oh, sure,” he said, “the opportunity to play with Wayne is a great thrill. I think (Coach Robbie Ftorek) wants us to play together. He tried us some against the Islanders (Thursday), but nobody went on the other side of the blue line to help the defense. We can’t do that. But if we take care of our own end, I think we can be a good line.”
Nicholls made exceptional plays on three of the Kings’ goals. He got up after being knocked down by a defenseman to take a pass from Gretzky and beat rookie goalie Peter Sidorkiewicz with a slapper from the right circle. The goal, at the 3-minute mark of the second period, tied the score at 2-2.
Then, in perhaps the most spectacular play of the night, he picked the puck cleanly off the stick of Dineen and fed it to Gretzky, whose skimmer from the left circle beat Sidorkiewicz at 14:01.
Fifty-six seconds later, Nicholls fought off Sylvain Cote’s check to advance the puck behind the net to Gretzky, who threaded a pass to Robitaille that resulted in the left wing’s 32nd goal and a 4-2 lead.
But the Whalers came back, which means there’s no guarantee that line will remain intact.
“We didn’t get the W,” Ftorek said.
NHL CAREER SCORING LEADERS
The top 10 career scoring leaders in the National Hockey League since 1927.
Player G A Pts 1 Gordie Howe 801 1049 1850 2 *Wayne Gretzky 616 1155 1771 3 *Marcel Dionne 731 1039 1770 4 Phil Esposito 717 873 1590 5 Stan Mikita 543 977 1520 6 John Bucyk 556 813 1369 7 Gilbert Perreault 512 814 1326 8 *Bryan Trottier 482 834 1316 9 Alex Delvecchio 456 825 1281 10 *Guy Lafleur 527 744 1271