Monday, January 23, 2012
Kings: Kyle Clifford earns Gordie Howe hat trick
By Dan Arritt
LOS ANGELES -- Nobody seems to remember the last time a member of the Kings scored a goal, recorded an assist and engaged in a fight, all in the same game.
But it might be a while before anyone in attendance Monday night at Staples Center forgets the Gordie Howe hat trick delivered by second-year forward Kyle Clifford.
Clifford, 21, led the charge against the Senators, assisting on the first goal and scoring the second, which turned out to be the first game-winner of his career in the 4-1 victory against visiting Ottawa.
The Gordie Howe hat trick is not an official NHL statistic, but 10 teams keep track for their own records, none of them the Kings. Howe, the Hall of Fame right wing known for his scoring and fighting, only had two such hat tricks in his career.
Clifford’s night started off with a lengthy scrap with Ottawa enforcer Zenon Konopka and only got better from there.
“It’s good to see him get a Gordie Howe hat trick,” said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. “The last time that he had a fight in here, we didn’t play as well right after. We talked about it. A kid like that goes to war for you, you better respond in an emotional way for him.”
Clifford, whose fourth line had seen their ice time reduced in recent games as the Kings manufactured just four goals in the previous five games, said he thought he last accomplished the rare tripleheader while playing at the junior level.
“I guess I would have to look back at the stats, back in the glory days,” he said.
The accomplishment was nice, but Clifford was most pleased that his contributions led to a victory, especially heading into an eight-day layoff for the All Star break.
“It’s always nice scoring, but it’s even greater winning,” he said. “When the buzzer goes off at the end of the game and we have more goals than them, it’s always positive.”
Playing alongside Colin Fraser and Kevin Westgarth, the trio met the Senators with a physical attitude right from the opening drop. Clifford fought Konopka on his first shift of the game, then later assisted on Willie Mitchell’s goal with 4:21 remaining in the opening period.
Clifford made it 2-0 midway through the second period when he, Westgarth and Fraser converged on a loose puck in the crease and Clifford got to it first, slapping it past Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson.
“We’ve had chances all year just around the net,” Clifford said. ”We’re really bearing down and our will to score is paying off.”
Sutter was asked what the difference was with the fourth line against Ottawa compared to recent games and he pointed to the addition of Westgarth and the subtraction of Trent Hunter, who watched the game from the press box as a healthy scratch.
“They’re all guys that have to play hard and bang, and if they don’t they’re not very effective," Sutter said. "It's simple."
Westgarth, the team's heavyweight enforcer who had a dinner bet with Clifford to see who would get the first Gordie Howe hat trick, will be happy to pay up, likely with a porterhouse steak.
“It’s going to be a nice little dinner,” Westgarth said. “I don’t feel bad about buying him that one at all.”