Friday, April 6, 2012
Kings: No longer in control of Pacific Division destiny
By Dan Arritt
Kings (40-27-14, 94 points) vs. San Jose Sharks (42-29-10, 94 points) at HP Pavilion, 7:30 p.m.
Five storylines to track:
1. Scene setter – Before we get to the antics from Thursday night, here’s the playoff scenario heading into the final regular-season game. The Phoenix Coyotes beat the St. Louis Blues on Friday night, 4-1, moving into the driver’s seat for the Pacific Division title. Phoenix is one point ahead of the Kings and Sharks, meaning a victory Saturday in Minnesota -- a game that's scheduled to start about 2 1/2 hours before the Kings and Sharks -- will clinch the championship and give the Coyotes the No. 3 seeding for the playoffs and the all-important home-ice advantage for the first round. If Phoenix loses in regulation, the winner between the Kings and Sharks will clinch the division. And if the Coyotes earn one point by losing in a shootout or overtime, the Kings can clinch the Pacific by winning in regulation or overtime. In that same scenario, if the Kings lose in a shootout, then Phoenix would win the title. With that in mind, expect the Kings to make the rare decision to pull their goalie in overtime, giving them the best chance to avoid a shootout.
2. Sticks and stones – San Jose winger Ryane Clowe apparently saw the video. Clowe, who leaned forward from the bench Thursday night and poke-checked the puck away from Jarret Stoll while Phoenix was killing a penalty late in the third period of a tied game against the Kings --and somehow got away with it -- came clean to Bay Area reporters following practice Friday afternoon in San Jose. “It was definitely a brain cramp,” he said. Twelve hours earlier, he had feigned ignorance following his team’s 6-5 shootout victory at Staples Center, which kept the Sharks in the hunt for the Pacific Division crown, “I have no idea what you’re talking about … you’ll have to show me on video.” The league looked at the video as well, and decided no punishment would be meted out. That doesn’t mean there won’t be any retribution, whether from the Kings or the some extra-tight officiating against the Sharks.
3. Power-play surge – Aside from the spontaneous cheating by Clowe, the childish denial, and the egregious missed call, perhaps the biggest problem is the Kings would've gone on a 5-on-3 for about 40 seconds, had the play been witnessed by an on-ice official. The Kings had just scored on a two-man advantage about 50 seconds earlier to tie the score, 5-5, their fourth power-play goal of the game. They had not scored four power-play goals in the same game in three years, and the unit seemed as if it could do no wrong against the Sharks. Once again, don’t be surprised if the Kings get a few more opportunities with the man-advantage.
4. Quick U-turn? – On the night he was named the team’s most valuable player for the season, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick had perhaps his worst game since Game 3 of the Western Conference playoffs last season, giving up a season-high five goals before getting beat in the shootout. Quick has melted down late in the last two seasons. At the end of 2009-10, he gave up three or more goals in seven of his last nine regular-season starts, then allowed 21 goals in a six-game loss against Vancouver in the first round of the playoffs. Last season, he allowed 11 goals his final four starts of the regular season. The Kings lost three of those games, keeping them from earning home-ice advantage in the first round against San Jose. He then gave up 20 goals in a six-game loss to the Sharks, including six goals in Games 3 and 4 at Staples Center.
5. Before the poke – Lost in the hullabaloo surrounding Thursday night’s game were a few other accomplishments that made it seem like a “full-moon” night. Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell, who will turn 35 later this month, had a career-high three assists, Anze Kopitar notched his 50th and 51st assists of the season, which is also a career high, and Justin Williams scored two goals in a game for the third time this season. Then there was Drew Doughty and Matt Greene earning fighting majors for the first time this season, and Gordie Howe hat tricks for both Clowe and San Jose captain Joe Thornton. Unfortunately, Clowe’s antics buried all those storylines.