Dustin Brown thinks it’s a matter of emotion. And maybe there’s something to his argument. The way the Kings play when they’re successful takes commitment.
But Darryl Sutter disagrees. He doesn’t think his team’s problems have as much to do with emotion as they do with a different “personnel.”
“We’re not the same team,” Sutter said after last night’s 4-0 loss to Washington, per L.A. Kings Insider. “It’s a quite a bit different team.”
The biggest difference is on the blue line, where Willie Mitchell is no longer and Slava Voynov may or may not be again. The result is Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin logging around four minutes more per game — Doughty’s averaging 29:20, compared to 25:42 last season — and Brayden McNabb playing, period.
Because make no mistake, the Kings are in trouble. Nobody’s counting them out — never count out the Kings — but according to Sports Club Stats, their chances of making the playoffs have fallen to 30.9 percent.
The Kings play Thursday in Florida and Saturday in Tampa Bay before finishing off their five-game road trip Monday in Columbus.
Islanders drop third straight as Panthers halt slide
The Islanders got on the board first with an impressive passing play between John Tavares, Josh Bailey, and finally Anders Lee.
Lee would score again in the second period, but he was the only Islander capable of solving goalie Al Montoya tonight. The Panthers backup kicked out 32 of 34 shots in his first victory in nearly a month. He has a 2.88 GAA and .896 save percentage in 15 contests this season.
His efforts contributed to the Islanders dropping their third straight game. This is their third three-game losing streak of the season and they’ve bounced back before, but this one is a bit more troubling. The Islanders are missing a key forward in Kyle Okposo, who reportedly has a detached retina, and they need to demonstrate that they are capable of overcoming this level of adversity.
For the Panthers, this is a step in the right direction as they try to cling onto their fading playoff hopes, but they have a lot of work ahead of them. The Washington Capitals also won tonight in the battle for a Wild Card spot, so Florida only gained on the idle Boston Bruins. Florida is seven points shy of the playoff spot.
With the Panthers down 4-3 midway through the third period, Florida forward Dave Bolland flicked the puck towards the net. It certainly wasn’t the most dangerous shot we have ever seen or the most difficult Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist faced tonight, but he deserves style points for the way he handled it:
Lundqvist turned aside 33 of 36 shots in a 6-3 victory over Florida. It was his 334th career win, which put him ahead of Nikolai Khabibulin and gave Lundqvist sole possession of 20th place on the NHL’s all-time list. Hall of Famer Gump Worsley is just two victories ahead of Lundqvist.
Rick Nash became the second player this season to reach the 30-goal mark and he did so in style.
With his New York Rangers trailing 1-0 and down a man near the midway point of the first period, Nash claimed the puck in the Rangers zone and took off on the breakaway opportunity. As the Panthers’ skaters played catch up, Nash outmaneuvered Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo:
He’s the first Ranger to net at least 30 goals and four shorthanded markers in the same season since Theo Fleury did it in 2000-01, per the Rangers’ Twitter feed.
This is Nash’s eighth 30-goal season, but it’s the first time he’s reached that milestone in a Rangers’ uniform. His first campaign with them was the 48-game lockout shortened season and he struggled in 2013-14 with 26 goals and 39 points in 65 contests.
A year ago, goaltender Braden Holtby’s future was cloudy as he struggled to get through the 2013-14 campaign. Although he was just 24 at the time (he turned 25 in September), it was far from certain that he was still the Washington Capitals’ top long-term option between the pipes. Now he’s got a 2.22 GAA and .923 save percentage in 43 games, which not only gives him a firm grasp on the starting job, but also puts him in the running for a spot on Team Canada and the upcoming 2016 World Cup.
As things currently stand, Carey Price looks like a heavy favorite to serve as Canada’s number one goaltender. He was dominant in the 2014 Winter Olympics and has stayed sharp this season with a 2.03 GAA and .933 save percentage in 39 contests. Holtby and Price were locked in a goaltending battle on Saturday and while Montreal ultimately beat Washington in overtime, Holtby still turned aside 29 of 30 shots.
“With Carey over there, I think he’s a guy that I’ve looked up to in the past,” Holtby told NHL.com. “He’s a very, very elite-level goaltender. When you’re in our position you appreciate greatness, and he’s obviously great. It’s fun to play against guys like that, challenge yourself, and next game we’re going to try to make it a different outcome.”
Canada’s other two goaltenders from the Winter Games might not be back for the World Cup. Florida’s Roberto Luongo will be 37 years old at that point and Arizona’s Mike Smith has suffered a hard collapse this season.
Instead Holtby’s main competition might be Chicago’s Corey Crawford and Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury. Both have far more playoff experience than Holtby, which might be a major factor given the nature of the World Cup. Although Fleury doesn’t have the best of reputations when it comes to high pressure games, he has won a championship and seemed to rebound last year after several rough playoff runs in a row. With that in mind, how each of the three goaltenders do in the next two postseasons could have a significant influence.
Other noteworthy contenders include Winnipeg’s Michael Hutchinson, Philadelphia’s Steve Mason, and St. Louis’ Brian Elliott.