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Kings hold closed-door meeting after latest embarrassing loss

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This isn’t quite the start the Los Angeles Kings were hoping for.

A crummy record out the gate (2-5-1) was exacerbated further by an embarrassing 5-1 defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Sabres in their own backyard on Saturday — their fourth straight loss.

Seemingly a breaking point, the Kings held a 20-minute closed-door meeting after the game (general manager Rob Blake included) to try and get a handle on why they’ve been so lousy.

The problems in L.A.? Well, they run deep.

Ilya Kovalchuk‘s addition to the lineup over the summer and the return of Jeff Carter after missing most of last season hasn’t translated into higher numbers on the Kings’ side of the jumbotron so far.

L.A. sits 29th in the league in goals-for with 15, keeping company with fellow Pacific Division misfits in the Edmonton Oilers and Arizona Coyotes, who sit below them.

Stopping pucks has been an issue, too. The Kings have allowed 28 goals in eight games so far, fourth-most in the league. Jonathan Quick‘s layoff due to injury didn’t help matters, but consider that the Kings allowed the fewest goals of any of the 31 NHL teams last season.

You can add in the fact that Los Angeles is in the bottom third in the league in terms of power play (10.7 percent) and penalty kill (71.4 percent).

It’s not good enough.

“We’ve accepted being OK and it’s not OK . It’s not working,” defenseman Jake Muzzin told the Los Angeles Times. “It would be a long year, and guys would be moved if this continues. It’s not what we want, so we’ve got to take a look in the mirror and turn this ship around.”

If the Kings were losing to top teams, that would be one thing (and they played the Toronto Maple Leafs and lost that game, so there’s that). But some of their losses have come against teams that were supposed to be disasters this season.

– 5-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators
– 7-2 loss to the New York Islanders
– 5-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres

That’s four goals in three games against opponents they should, at the very least, put up a fight against.

Add in the 4-1 loss against Toronto and they’ve been outscored 21-5 during their losing streak.

Kings head coach John Stevens doesn’t have the answers, either.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t have an answer at this second,” Stevens said after the game. “I thought after the way we played the other night we’d have come and ripped the doors off the hinges tonight. We have great fans here, and guys love playing at home because of the support we get at home here. I don’t have an answer right now.”

Where’s the fight back?

“It’s missing,” Stevens said.

Stevens might want to sort that out soon. His job could be on the line. But while he has a job to do, so do the guys on the ice.

Anze Kopitar had 92 points last season. He has two goals in seven games thus far.

Adrian Kempe has a single goal.

Tanner Pearson has an assist.

Quick has a .793 and .840 save percentage in his two games since returning from injury, respectively.

Score more, defend better and stop more pucks — the Kings simply need to be better.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Myers’ frustration boils over after penalty-filled period vs. Predators

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Tyler Myers simply had enough.

And as the Jets took their eighth straight minor penalty of the second period on Thursday night against the Nashville Predators, Myers let his frustrations be known as he mockingly clapped at the referee while fellow defenseman Jacob Trouba was getting hauled off for slashing.

The parade to the penalty box didn’t sit well with anyone on the Jets, even if several of the calls were self-inflicted wounds.

Winnipeg clearly felt slighted, regardless. Four-letter pleasantries were flying everywhere on the broadcast.

Dustin Byfuglien didn’t take too kindly to the penalty box cam, hitting it with his stick while it was focused on him.

Myers’ transgression landed him a 10-minute misconduct.

The Predators couldn’t convert. Not on a single one of their power play attempts (which totalled nine by the time the game was through). The Jets, who struggled last week in Dallas after taking too many penalties in a 5-1 loss, killed off each and every penalty they took, deserved or not.

That’s quite the feat from both teams.

The Predators went on to win the game 3-0, exacting a little revenge after the Jets ended their season last year in Game 7 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Some of the mayhem seen in the second period was almost expected. The hate that began during that seven-game series and finally resurfaced in the second period with the Jets down 1-0.

A high cross-check and a late hit finally made it all boil over.

Blake Wheeler fought Mattias Ekholm. Nikolaj Ehlers dropped the gloves with Colton Sissons.

In a game where the team making the least number of mistakes would likely triumph, it was the Jets who caved first and they paid for it.

Luckily, there’s more to come this season. One of the league’s fiercest rivalries happens to be between two of its best teams. Winnipeg and Nashville will meet three more times before the season ends, and both teams are expected to end the season near the top of the Central Division.

There will be some time to cool off before they meet again in January, but it’s unlikely their hate for one another will subside much at all by then anyway.

In the meantime, the Jets need to figure out their discipline issues.

Three of their four games have featured many visits to the box. Winnipeg has been shorthanded 20 times in four games thus far. They’ve killed off 85 percent of those, sure, but if you’re taking five penalties on average per game, that nice penalty-killing rate won’t be so nice after a while.

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Predators seek revenge vs. Jets after playoff failure

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Revenge may not taste as sweet as, say, getting it in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but beating the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday night is probably the next best thing for the Nashville Predators.

Nashville certainly hasn’t forgotten about getting crushed 5-1 in Game 7 by the Jets in the second round this past spring. Pekka Rinne hasn’t erased the memory of getting chased inside the first 11 minutes of the first period. They likely haven’t forgotten that Winnipeg beat them three times in their own barn in the series.

Nashville was primed for another run at Lord Stanley and the Jets were coming off their first playoff wins in franchise history. Despite similar records in the regular season (the Predators held a three-point advantage 117 to 114 on the Jets), Nashville was pipped to take the series from their young pretenders in the Central Division.

Of course, history now shows that wasn’t the case. The high-flying Jets proved to be too much for the Predators, with their vaunted defense and Vezina-winning goaltender Rinne, who had a disastrous .848 save percentage in the series.

And so instead of challenging for the Cup, the Predators were sent off on an early summer few saw coming. Despite the Presidents’ Trophy, their season ended in utter failure.

Thursday night in Nashville is a chance to re-assert themselves, a chance to make the first statement on this young season and begin to piece together some redemption.

For Winnipeg, it’s their opportunity to establish a new pecking order in the Central (if that didn’t already happen in May) and show the Predators who the new top dogs are.

For both teams, it’s a good test to see how each other stacks up against, well, each other. If there’s a repeat of last year in the standings (a one-two finish in some fashion), there’s likely going to be that inevitable meeting in the postseason once again.

Both teams enter the game with similar lineups to the one they iced nearly five months ago. Two Vezina-caliber goalies will duke it out. Winnipeg’s mighty offense against Nashville’s envious backend.

Mark Scheifele (and Tyler Myers) vs. P.K. Subban.

They also have identical 2-1-0 records early in 2018-19, adding a little more to the psychological melting pot. More importantly, and forgetting about last season, the game is two points in a Central Division that appears as if it is going to be extremely tight come April.

It’s not a must win in early October, but two points now could hold significant bearing come April nonetheless. And let’s not pretend that there aren’t some bragging rights on the line. These are two very prideful teams. Egos are at stake. Competitiveness oozes.

The Preds won’t be lacking in motivation after getting blanked by the Calgary Flames 3-0 on Tuesday.

The Jets, meanwhile, are riding high after dominating the Los Angeles Kings in their home opener that same night.

Both teams are healthy.

Enjoy.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Pacific Division continues to get hammered by injuries

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It would appear that injuries are pilling up on Pacific Division teams to start the season, and it’s a who’s who when it comes to names.

The latest is a lower-body injury for Los Angeles Kings starting goalie Jonathan Quick, who is listed as day-to-day with the ailment.

The injury reportedly happened at practice, and backup Jack Campbell has already been named the starter for Los Angeles’ game on Sunday against the Detroit Red Wings.
Campbell has proven to be a capable replacement, going 2-0-2 with a 2.48 goals-against average and .924 save percentage in four starts last season.

The Kings are already without Dustin Brown, who sustained a broken finger in the preseason and needed surgery to repair it.

Bonus for Peter Budaj fans, he’s back in the NHL.

The injury bug has taken a chunk out of the San Jose Sharks, too, after Joe Thornton was placed on injured reserve on Sunday after flying home from the team’s Eastern Conference road trip.

Jumbo Joe, 39, is dealing with swelling in his right knee, which was surgically repaired after he tore his ACL and MCL last season. Thornton has had catastrophic injuries to both of his knees now in the past two years. Despite his age, he’s been averaging around 16 minutes a night with the talent-laden Sharks this season.

The Anaheim Ducks received more bad news on Sunday after it was revealed that Ryan Getzlaf is day-to-day lower-body injury after leaving Saturday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes. Getzlaf joins a growing list of walking wounded in Anaheim, with Corey Perry, Patrick Eaves, Ryan Kesler and Ondrej Kase all sidelined.

Despite what seems like some big holes in the Ducks’ lineup, Anaheim is 2-0 to start the season. John Gibson grabbed his first shutout of the campaign in a 1-0 win Saturday.

The Coyotes have been woeful to start the season, having yet to register a goal in their first two games.

Injuries have played a role in that, too, of course.

Alex Galchenyuk, Christian Dvorak and Jakob Chychrun are all stuck in the infirmary for the Coyotes.

The Calgary Flames are without Travis Hamonic after a fight resulted in a facial fracture for the defenseman, who is now week-to-week as he recovers.

Cody Eakin and Alex Tuch remain sidelined in Vegas.

Really, the only team to come through relatively unscathed here is Vancouver.

It’s been a tough opening week on the west coast.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Jake Allen needs to be better, but so do Blues

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There are few scenarios where Jake Allen‘s start to the 2018-19 NHL season could have gone much worse.

Allen has been slaughtered through two games, allowing 10 goals on 55 shots for a .818 save percentage and a whopping 4.91 goals-against average. Those aren’t NHL numbers. Hell, they aren’t AHL numbers either, or ECHL for that matter. Beer league goalies are stopping more pucks.

Getting the Bronx cheer in the first game of the regular season may seem harsh, but it’s not as if Blues fans are really overreacting.

Fans don’t forget and while Allen’s 2017-18 season was forgettable, it was unforgettable to fans who are keenly aware that he’s carrying a $4.35M cap hit over the next three seasons and hasn’t lived up to that kind of dough yet.

Against the Winnipeg Jets to open their season, some of the goals that found their way past Allen weren’t necessarily his fault. Allowing a breakaway on the power play was a breakdown out of Allen’s control. Allowing Kyle Connor to latch onto a puck out of the penalty box and then pass to Blake Wheeler, who wasn’t really defended, wasn’t Allen’s fault. Not stopping a Patrik Laine blast on the power play that was deflected by his own defender? Yeah, not Allen’s fault.

One could make the argument that the Winnipeg game was less on Allen and more on St. Louis as a whole. Allen played well for the first two periods and then the wheels on the Blues bus fell off in the third. The Blues allowed 13 high-danger scoring chances in the game. Winnipeg took advantage. C’est la vie.

Saturday’s game was a little different in that regard. St. Louis tightened up a bit defensively and didn’t allow as many good looks on Allen. Still, there were breakdowns and Allen became the victim.

The Blues spotted Allen a 2-0 lead, one that was relinquished. They then fought to get back a 4-3 lead after falling behind 3-2. That also wouldn’t last. Then a Jonathan Toews breakaway sealed the deal in overtime.

Allen’s numbers need to improve, one way or another. He’s 60 percent on high-danger shots through two games and 85 percent on medium ones. His 5-on-5 save percentage is .844. These aren’t good numbers. It’s a very small sample size, but you can see where improvements need to be made.

Odd-man rush or not, that’s a juicy rebound. Too juicy.

For what it’s worth, Blues coach Mike Yeo wasn’t pinning the blame on Allen after Saturday’s loss.

[Under Pressure: Jake Allen]

“We start playing. That’s it, right now,” Yeo said via NHL.com. “Let’s quit playing shinny hockey and let’s start playing real hockey. It’s correctable. It’s just a matter of us figuring out how long we want it to take before we decide if we want to be a good team or be a team that plays the game without purpose and as far as doing the little things and things it takes to win hockey games.”

That truth of the matter here is Allen is going to take the brunt of the blame at the moment. His poor year last season didn’t do him any favors, and an outsider looking at St. Louis’ first two games would suggest that the goalie needs to stop the puck a little more.

The Blues need Allen to stop the pucks he should and some of those that are high-percentage goals most of the time. St. Louis went out and tried to bolster their team during the offseason, but at the end of the day, if goals keep going in, it won’t matter how many improvements they made in front of Allen.

At this point, both Allen and the Blues need to be better. St. Louis has converted on just two of their 16 high-danger chances this season.

Time will tell if one or the other emerges as the real problem. In the meantime, you’d have to imagine that Chad Johnson, who was acquired in the offseason to play second fiddle to Allen, sees some time going forward.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck