Los Angeles Hockey: Jaroslav Halak

Kings: Sweep smell of victory fills the air

May, 5, 2012
5/05/12
11:53
PM PT
Drew DoughtyHarry How/Getty ImagesDrew Doughty has been receiving high praise from the opposing coach as well as the public.
Western Conference semifinals

Game 4, Kings vs. St. Louis Blues at Staples Center, noon (Kings lead series, 3-0)

Five storylines to track:

1. Broom town -- Sure, the Kings are up 3-0 for the second straight series, skating on home ice with another chance to sweep one of the top teams from the regular season. But a different aura surrounds this Game 4. It’s a sense of confidence, of domination and, yeah, the Blues are proving to be a lot more inferior than the Canucks. The St. Louis defense has more holes than an old pair of jeans, and goalie Brian Elliott is nowhere near the final obstacle that Cory Schneider proved to be in the Vancouver series. Throw in an offense that has been completely flummoxed by Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and the recipe is ripe for a fourth straight victory.

2. Popular demand -- Kings defenseman Drew Doughty went to the Angels game Friday night, not to root for the home team but to support his beloved Toronto Blue Jays. Apparently, he and teammate Trevor Lewis were big hits with the crowd, going so far as to say it was the most attention they’ve received in public. The Kings have become part of the raging sports landscape in Southern California, right along with the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers and, to a lesser degree, the Angels. The volume should only increase if the Kings can advance to the Western Conference finals for just the second time in franchise history. That could go a long way toward keeping the Kings in the mainstream sports conversation beyond this spring.

3. Earning his keep -- St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock had the highest praise for Doughty following practice Saturday. He said the 22-year-old blueliner has been the best player in the series, a compliment that goes a long way considering how well Quick has played. Doughty had a backbreaking goal in the third period of Game 3 after earning a pair of assists earlier in the contest. The regular season didn’t unfold for Doughty quite the way many expected. He remained unsigned during training camp while negotiating the highest-paid contract on the team, and came up far short of the offensive numbers he produced two years ago, a watermark his representatives used in negotiations. It’s amazing how easily those shortfalls can be forgotten in the haze a standout playoff performance.

4. Power please -- The Kings ended an 0-for-30 skid on the power play in Game 3, getting a second-period goal from Mike Richards. They’re 4-for-42 overall in these playoffs, a percentage that normally wouldn’t hold up this long into the postseason. But the Kings have made up for some of their special teams futility by going 32-for-35 on the penalty kill and scoring four short-handed goals. A power-play goal or two in Game 4 could go a long way toward getting the Kings back on track, and maybe even help clinch this series.

5. Changing Blues -- The Blues can’t replace Elliott because their backup, Jaroslav Halak, is sidelined because of a sprained ankle, so they’re benching defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo and replacing him with Ian Cole, and scratching winger B.J. Crombeen in place of Ryan Reaves, who’s best known in L.A. for dropping Kings forward Kyle Clifford in a one-punch fight last season. Let’s face it, the Blues don’t have that golden ticket waiting to be found. Vancouver swapped goalies after the first two losses against the Kings, and that did little to stem the tide.

Kings: Playoffs veer to St. Louis for Game 1

April, 28, 2012
4/28/12
12:25
AM PT

Western Conference Semifinals

Game 1

Kings vs. St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center, 4:30 p.m. PT

Five storylines to track:

1. Back at it – After seven days off for the Blues and six for the Kings, the playoffs finally resume for two teams that haven’t been past the first round in the last 10 years. The long break shouldn’t benefit one side over another, but it will be interesting to see if it disrupts any of the rhythm both developed while winning their openers in five games. The first period should be a good indicator of any mothballs that have built up. A slow start by either team could be enough to put them behind for good in what should be a low-scoring game and series.

2. Road Warriors – Dating back to the 2010 playoffs, the Kings don’t have home-ice advantage for the fourth straight series. That’s not such a bad thing, however, considering how the Kings have played on the road. In the last three seasons, they are 7-2 in road playoff games, compared to 2-6 at Staples Center. Kings coach Darryl Sutter made it clear after practice earlier this week that he would still rather be sleeping in his own bed this weekend, and he knows the longer the series drags on, the more of an advantage the home team has. The Kings have managed to steal away home ice in the opening two games the previous two seasons. If they can do it again Saturday, the Kings will rest better no matter where they're sleeping.

3. Penner’s promotion – Kings left wing Dustin Penner has joined Mike Richards and Jeff Carter on the second line, giving L.A. a trio with considerable experience in the postseason. Penner can help erase all the bad thoughts from the regular season with some offensive contributions. He really has no reason not to succeed. If he moves his feet and keeps up with Richards and Carter, he should get a handful of scoring chances. What he does with them could go a long way toward determining how successful the Kings are in this series.

4. Third is a charm – While the top two lines for the Kings figure to get all the attention from the Blues, the third line might be in the best position to steal a victory or two. Jarret Stoll is coming off his overtime game winner in Game 5, his second goal in the Vancouver series. Trevor Lewis also scored against the Canucks and his takeaway set up Stoll’s golden goal. Dwight King should also feel more comfortable on the third line after trying to keep up with Richards and Carter for most of the series.

5. Bring on the back up – For the second straight series, the Kings will probably see a lot more of their opponent’s back-up goalie than the No. 1 netminder. Jaroslav Halak is expected to miss the first two games with a sprained ankle, but Brian Elliott might be the better of the two, just as Cory Schneider of Vancouver looked to have a leg up on Roberto Luongo in the first-round series. Elliott owned a paltry 1.56 goals-against average in a part-time role this season, and won all three starts against the Sharks in the first round.

Kings: Breaking down the second round series vs. Blues

April, 27, 2012
4/27/12
11:43
AM PT
The Kings and Blues are scheduled to kick off their Western Conference semifinal Saturday at 4:30 p.m. PT at Scottrade Center in St. Louis. Here’s a breakdown of what to watch for as the series unwinds.

KINGS OFFENSE vs. BLUES DEFENSE

Kings coach Darryl Sutter called the NHL a “3-2 league” when he was hired in mid-December to replace Terry Murray, a reference to the typical final score. This might be a 2-1 series, however. St. Louis was No. 1 in the league in goals-against average during the regular season, allowing an average of 1.89 goals a game, while the Kings were 29th in the league in scoring at 2.29 goals a game. The Blues are led on the blue line by 22-year-old Alex Pietrangelo, who had a breakout regular season with 12 goals, 59 points and a plus-14 rating. The Blues will be without No. 1 goalie Jaroslav Halak for the first two games after he injured his ankle in Game 2 of their first-round victory against the San Jose Sharks. That’s hardly a big blow for St. Louis, which features a quality backup in Brian Elliott, who won all three first-round starts and had better overall statistics than Halak during the regular season. The Kings may have finished second-to-last in the league in scoring, but they averaged 2.78 goals over the final 23 games. The top line of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams scored 22 goals or more apiece during the regular season and combined for five goals and eight assists in the first-round victory against the Vancouver Canucks. The Kings also feature plenty of firepower and postseason experience on the second line with Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner.

The Edge: Blues

BLUES OFFENSE vs. KINGS DEFENSE

The Kings were no slouch on defense either, allowing an average of 2.07 goals during the regular season, second best in the league behind the Blues. The Kings and St. Louis also allowed the fewest goals in the first round of the playoffs (eight). The backstop for the Kings is goalie Jonathan Quick, a Vezina Trophy finalist who led the league and established a franchise record with 10 shutouts during the regular season. He also blanked Vancouver in Game 3. The Kings feature a nice mix of offensive-minded defensemen, led by 2010 Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty, and defensive stoppers Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi and Matt Greene. The Blues will counter with a deep forward corps that features nine players who scored 10 goals or more in the regular season. The player to watch for St. Louis is center Andy McDonald, who missed 51 games with a concussion and six more with a shoulder injury, but flashed his talent in the first-round series, accounting for four goals and four assists in five games. Six of his points came on the power play. McDonald did not appear in any of the four games against the Kings this season.

The Edge: Kings

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Kings: Second-round playoff primer

April, 23, 2012
4/23/12
1:12
PM PT
QUICK FIRST LOOK:

Opponent: St. Luis Blues

Regular-season records: Kings, 40-27-15, 95 points (8th in Western Conference); Blues 49-22-11, 109 points (2nd in Western Conference).

Playoff Schedule: TBA

Previous meetings this season:

Oct. 18 @ Staples CenterKings 5, Blues 0

After opening the regular season with two “home” games in Europe and two more on the East Coast, the Kings played their Staples Center opener and it turned out to be one of their best home performances of the season. Offseason acquisition Simon Gagne scored two goals and returning veterans Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jarret Stoll had one each. Jonathan Quick also notched the first of what would be a franchise-record 10 shutouts during the regular season.

Nov. 22 @ Scottrade Center – Kings 3, Blues 2

With a new coach behind the bench for St. Louis, the Kings earned the same result, getting a late goal from defenseman Willie Mitchell to topple the Blues on their home ice. The victory came during the hottest stretch of the season for Mike Richards, another offseason acquisition who was counted on to get the Kings deep into the postseason. He scored his seventh goal in seven games and assisted on another. He finished with nine goals in November before a concussion on Dec. 1 slowed his production significantly. Kings back-up goalie Jonathan Bernier earned the victory in a rare start.

Feb. 3 @ Scottrade Center – Blues 1, Kings 0

This time it was the Kings that had a new coach behind the bench, Darryl Sutter, who was hired in mid-December to turn around the struggling team. St. Louis goalie Jaroslav Halak was coming off a nine-day break for the All Star Game and he out-dueled Quick, who had made his first All Star appearance five days earlier and was beginning a six-game, 11-day road trip. The loss marked one of nine times during the regular season that Quick gave up one goal or less and didn’t come away with the victory.

March 22 @ Staples Center – Kings 1, Blues 0 (SO)

Once again, goalkeeping took center stage as Quick stopped 35 shots to tie the franchise record for shutouts in a season, and the Kings won their season-best sixth consecutive game to put themselves in prime position to reach the playoffs for a third straight season. Jeff Carter, acquired in a trade-deadline deal a month earlier, scored the deciding goal in the shootout. Quick ended up allowing one goal in three starts against the Blues during the regular season.

Playoff fact: The Kings and Blues have twice met in the postseason, in 1969 and 1998, with the Blues sweeping both series.

Kings: Willie Mitchell notches game winner vs. Blues

November, 22, 2011
11/22/11
8:10
PM PT
Kings 3, St. Louis Blues 2

Eight keys to the game:

THE FACTS: The Kings battled back from a slow start Tuesday night at Scottrade Center in St. Louis and received the game winner on a rare goal by veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell with 5 minutes 49 seconds remaining in regulation.

THE STAT: In his most flawless game in a Kings uniform, Mike Richards assisted on the first goal to tie the score, 1-1, then scored early in the third to give the Kings a short-lived 2-1 lead. Just as impressive, Richards won his first 15 faceoffs before losing his final draw with 1.5 seconds remaining. Richards has seven goals in his last seven games.

TURNING POINT: Less than two minutes after the Blues tied the score, 2-2, on a goal by Vladimir Sobotka with 7:32 left in the game, Mitchell received a pass from Simon Gagne near the point and shot it toward the St. Louis goal. The puck deflected off St. Louis center Scott Nichol in transit and flew past goalie Jaroslav Halak with Kings forwards Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams providing screens. It was the 25th goal of Mitchell’s 12-year career and his seventh game winner.

HOT: Kings backup goalie Jonathan Bernier got the nod over Jonathan Quick and he kept the Kings in the hunt after allowing a goal on the first shot of the game. In just his fourth start this season, Bernier stopped 23 shots, none better than the one he turned away from Patrik Berglund after he took a pass while alone in front of the net with 4:40 left in the second period.

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Kings-Blues: By the numbers

October, 18, 2011
10/18/11
11:30
PM PT
Reporting from Staples Center ...

9 -- Number of Kings players who registered at least one point in the home-opener. Simon Gagne led the charge with two goals and an assist, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll each posted a goal and an assist, and Justin Williams added two helpers. Said Stoll: “We’ve got depth, but we’ve gotta contribute and play well. If we use our depth we should win some games. The attitude is right. We’ve gotta keep pushing forward.”

1 -- Number of power-play goals for the Kings, who converted on a two-man advantage. The Kings are now 5-for-20 on the power play this season.


3 -- As in plus-three, Jack Johnson’s plus-minus rating in the game. Johnson was minus-21 last season and minus-78 for his career coming into the game.

4 -- Number of goals on the season for Kopitar, who leads the team in points with nine.

5 -- Number of games this season in which Kopitar has registered a point. Four of those are multi-point games.

5 -- Length of the winning streak Blues’ goaltender Jaroslav Halak posted in five career starts against the Kings. Halak had a 1.20 goals against average against L.A. before Tuesday's defeat.

7 -- Number of consecutive games the Kings lost to the Blues before Tuesday's win. L.A. lost all four regular-season meetings against the Blues last season.

15 -- Number of career shutouts for Jonathan Quick, who notched his first of the season. Quick is now one shutout behind Jamie Storr for second overall in Kings history.

19 -- Number of minutes played by 21-year-old Slava Voynov, who made his NHL debut filling in for injured Drew Doughty. Coach Terry Murray praised the rookie, saying “Voynov, for a kid who played his first game was pretty collected, pretty poised, and I thought he made some good decisions with the puck.”

18,118 -- Number of fans in attendance for the Kings’ first sellout this season and 19th consecutive dating to last season. Gagne talked about the importance of winning the home opener, saying “It’s what we wanted. The first game at home in front of your fans. We want to show what type of team we are and it’s good to get the first win and get a lot of goals for the fans.”

Kings: Quick lets one slip away in 2-1 loss to Blues

January, 18, 2011
1/18/11
8:02
PM PT
St. Louis Blues 2, Kings 1

Eight keys to the game:

THE FACTS: The Kings lost for the ninth time in their last 11 games, allowing the go-ahead goal to the Blues with 6 minutes 47 seconds remaining at Scottrade Center in St. Louis.

THE STAT: The Kings went 0-for-4 on the power play with only five shots on goal. They’ve not scored a goal in their last 13 man-advantage situations, covering the last five games.




TURNING POINT: Erik Johnson took a seemingly harmless wrist shot from the top of the right face-off with 6 minutes remaining in the third period. The puck seemed to hit goalie Jonathan Quick in the mid-section, but somehow made its way through his legs and trickled past the goal line for a 2-1 lead. After starting the season 10-1, Quick has now lost six of his last seven starts and possibly his No. 1 role.

HOT: The seat of Kings coach Terry Murray after another frustrating loss to a Western Conference opponent, dropping his team to 12th in the standings.

NOT: Blues defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo must be the unluckiest guy in St. Louis. He returned against the Kings after missing the last two games after getting hit in the face with a puck. Lo and behold, he got hit in the face again when he poked the puck away from Drew Doughty and it came up in his face. He skated off with a towel soaking up the blood and did not return. Kings forward Brad Richardson was also cut above his upper lip after colliding with the stick of St. Louis goalie Jaroslav Halak.

GOOD MOVE: Kings defenseman Matt Greene had one of his better overall games this season, blocking six shots, recording four hits and assisting on the lone goal, scored by rookie Kyle Clifford. Greene was originally credited with his first goal in the last 61 games, but it was later awarded to Clifford on a deflection.

BAD MOVE: Doughty took an obvious retaliatory slashing penalty with 15 seconds remaining in the second period. The Kings managed to kill the penalty, but with the score tied, 1-1, it was a bad time for Doughty’s emotions to get the best of him.

NOTABLE: The Kings are now 0-3 against St. Louis, and a combined 0-9 against the Blues, the Coyotes and Blackhawks, all of whom lead the Kings in the conference standings.

UP NEXT: vs. Phoenix, Thursday at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Kings: More breakdowns as St. Louis jumps ahead, 3-1

January, 13, 2011
1/13/11
9:30
PM PT
After the 2nd period:

St. Louis Blues 3, Kings 1




The good: The Kings erased a 1-0 deficit 5 minutes 37 seconds into the second period. Roman Polak was in the penalty box for hooking birthday-boy Kyle Clifford and just as Polak stepped out of the gate Alec Martinez fired a shot at the St. Louis goal, which got a piece of Michal Handzus’ stick and was deflected past goalkeeper Jaroslav Halak. Handzus has goals in back-to-back games for the first time since last February and four points in the last three. The Kings limited the Blues to one shot on goal the first 11 minutes of the period and killed their only power play so far.

The bad: One of the reasons the Kings got off to such a great start this season was the play of goaltender Jonathan Quick. He was among the top three goalies in the league in wins, save percentage, goals-against average, you name it. But his play has really flattened out in the last month, the main reason why he wasn’t selected to the All-Star Game. The Blues’ second goal was a prime example of the struggles he has faced recently. Even worse, the go-ahead goal came against St. Louis’s fourth-line players, who have spent more time in the AHL than the NHL this season. Chris Porter took a seemingly weak shot at the goal and the puck hit Quick in the chest and caromed out front, where Ryan Reaves beat Trevor Lewis to the loose puck and poked it back in for a 2-1 lead. Drew Doughty, the other Los Angeles player who seemed a lock to make the All-Star Game coming into the season but was passed up, was burned on the second goal as Brad Boyes won the puck against the boards, skated around Doughty and passed to Alexander Steen, who beat Quick for his 15th goal of the season.

The in between: As was mentioned after the first period, there’s a lot of empty seats around Staples Center, but they still managed to muscle up some loud boos as the period wound down. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in the Kings' locker room right now. What does coach Terry Murray have to say to get this team to play with some fire, even desperation? Dodgers manager Don Mattingly dropped the ceremonial first puck, maybe he can provide some advice.

Kings: Two teams heading in same direction (hint: it's not up)

January, 13, 2011
1/13/11
6:34
AM PT
St. Louis Blues (20-16-6) vs. Kings (23-18-1) at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m.

Five storylines to track:




1. Singin' the blues – The Kings have been playing must-win games for all of 2011, but this one is an ultra-must win. The top eight teams in the Western Conference standings are beginning to separate from the bottom seven, and the Kings, losers of six of the last seven games, are among those on the outside looking in. They’re in ninth place, three points behind eighth-place Colorado and just a point ahead of 12th-place St. Louis.

2. Old is new – Line changes happen with the Kings about as often as the Zamboni comes out, but the latest top line shuffle is something to keep an eye on. Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams have reunited with Anze Kopitar up front. They had some great games together early last season but got dismantled by injuries. Kopitar hasn’t scored a goal in the last eight games and Williams has just an empty-netter in the last five, but maybe Smyth will rub off on them as he has six goals in the last seven.

3. Coming to the defense– Rookie defenseman Alec Martinez received the stamp of approval from coach Terry Murray this week. Martinez had a costly third-period turnover Monday night that led to the winning goal in a 3-2 loss against the visiting Maple Leafs, the second time in a week that his late turnover led to a tie-breaking goal. "This is part of the growing phase that young defensemen are going to go through, as they try to take the game on their own shoulders in tough situations," Murray said. Might be something to watch if Martinez is squeezing his stick a little tighter.

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