Kings Fall Silently to Stars, 2-1
Should this season be called “Bicker With the Kings” or “Kings Squawk?”
Finally, almost mercifully, there was silence off the ice. And on it, too, as the Dallas Stars and goaltender Andy Moog stifled the Kings’ offense in a 2-1 victory Thursday night.
The Kings go into Sunday’s game at Anaheim trailing the expansion Mighty Ducks by two points in the Pacific Division. Thursday represented an ideal situation for the Kings to make up ground in the playoff race.
Instead of building on the momentum of Monday’s overtime victory over Calgary, the Kings have lost 15 of their last 19 games. At times, Thursday’s game almost lulled the sellout Forum crowd of 16,005 into relative silence.
The crowd came alive in the final minute. Moog made a save on a shot by Alexei Zhitnik with 50 seconds to play after goaltender Kelly Hrudey was pulled for an extra attacker. Then defenseman Rob Blake hit the left post with 20 seconds to play.
“It’s 30 games into the season and we’ve found excuses for every loss,” Hrudey said. “The truth of the matter is that the playoffs are becoming further away.”
But little else was new except that King Coach Barry Melrose missed the game while recovering from Tuesday’s sinus surgery. Taking over was his assistant, Cap Raeder.
For the first time in four games, there was no off-ice controversy shadowing the Kings. In Buffalo, it was Melrose saying that a trade was necessary because his team was too small to win in the NHL.
In Toronto, it was King General Manager Nick Beverley taking issue with Melrose’s comments and suggesting that his coach stick to coaching. In Calgary, forward Tomas Sandstrom was scratched for the first time in his career and he lashed out at his decreasing role, declaring he would not be with the Kings next season if things did not change.
King owner Bruce McNall has vowed to bring his disgruntled coaches and front office together and put an end to the in-fighting.
McNall said he feels like a diplomat these days, “sometimes, like Kissinger or I’m looking like Arafat or like Rabin. . . . Sometimes you have to kick start it, and we may have to do that soon. There is definitely more urgency. The good news is that we’re three games out of a playoff spot. The bad news is we’re not far from disaster.”
While an attempt at reconciliation is on the agenda, perhaps a trade is in order. It’s becoming clear that the Kings simply don’t have the necessary chemistry.
Against Dallas, the Kings were undone by a shaky start. The Stars scored 38 seconds into the game on their first shot while on a power play when Shane Churla beat Hrudey after taking a centering pass from Grant Ledyard, who had stopped behind the net after stealing the puck from Zhitnik.
The Kings made it 1-1 at 1:58 with Luc Robitaille’s 18th goal of the season. But the Stars came back with the game-winner from Paul Broten, who was alone in front, at 3:25.
With the exception of left wing Luc Robitaille, it seems as though forward Tony Granato has been the subject of trade rumors more than any other King player. Granato has scored 30 or more goals four times and is valued for his feisty style of play. The Blackhawks are the latest team interested in Granato, according to a story in Thursday’s Chicago Tribune. Granato missed his fifth consecutive game because of an inflamed disk in his lower back. He has received three anti-inflammatory shots but has not resumed skating. . . . Forward Jari Kurri did not play because of a groin injury suffered Monday at Calgary.
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