When skill players are checked into submission or fall into slumps, coaches urge them to try to score “greasy” goals, to rely on effort and tenacity around the net instead of attempting tic-tac-toe passing plays.
Though the Kings have gotten substantial contributions from their top two lines this season the Chicago Blackhawks took those two trios out of the game Saturday. That forced the Kings to muck and grind and manufacture chances, but in the end they simply lacked the depth and finishing ability to match the potent Blackhawks.
Although center Jarret Stoll scored his first goal in 18 games, the Kings fell to the Blackhawks, 2-1, Saturday at Staples Center in the opener of a four-game homestand. The Kings have won only one of their last four games and have scored seven goals in that span.
Holding the Blackhawks to two goals is an accomplishment, since Chicago leads the West with 79 goals in 24 games. But the Kings could muster only one goal against Corey Crawford and for the first time this season absorbed a regulation loss after allowing two goals or fewer. They’re 8-1-1 in those games.
“Anytime in this league if you can keep a team to two goals or less you’ve got to like your chances for a point. Hopefully a win. It wasn’t the case tonight,” Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi said. “Their goalie played well and we missed a few big chances.”
Stoll’s line, with Kyle Clifford and Trent Hunter on the wings, produced eight of the team’s 27 shots and was responsible for quite a few of those scoring chances. Coach Terry Murray double-shifted Anze Kopitar to play with those wingers, and Hunter had an empty net with about 21/2 minutes to play but couldn’t lift the puck over Crawford.
“Obviously, it’s not going our way right now. We’ve got to fight through it,” Kopitar said after being held without a point for the third time in four games. “You’ve got to work harder to get it back on track.
“There’s only one way to turn it around, and that’s with hard work.”
Andrew Brunette had given Chicago a 1-0 lead on a wraparound that eluded Jonathan Quick at 3:08 of the first period and the Kings seemed primed to match that when they got a three-on-two break about eight minutes into the second period. Passing the puck once too often proved to be their downfall, and it allowed Patrick Kane and Viktor Stalberg to break the other way on a two-on-none.
The Kings got lucky when Stalberg shot wide of the net, but they should have made more of their chance at the offensive end and they knew it.
“Extra passes are not a good thing for us right now,” Coach Terry Murray said. “We want to get pucks to the net. We have to score some greasy, ugly goals, as they say, and that might be the crack in the door that we can kick open and start to feel more comfortable scoring goals.”
Stoll did bring them even at 12:02 of the second period, capping a strong shift by forcing a turnover and flicking a fluttering shot over Crawford’s arm from the right circle. It was only the second goal this season for Stoll, who scored 20 last season.
However, the Kings were on even footing for only a few minutes. Jonathan Toews, who scored five points Friday to spark the Blackhawks to a comeback victory over the Ducks at Anaheim, won a faceoff from Mike Richards in the Kings’ zone and got the puck back to the point. Duncan Keith’s shot was deflected by Stalberg and off the end boards; the carom came to Toews, who was alone by the left post.
The game was far from over, but for the Kings’ offense, it was lights out, not red light on.
“After that we had four or five tremendous looks,” Murray said. “We’re just having a tough time finding the back of the net right now. There’s not a better look that you could hope for in a couple of those situations, and it’s just not going in. So you’ve got to keep pounding away at it.”