Enough is enough...
The Kings sleepwalk their way into a 5-1 deficit against the Nashville Predators, who I really think could knock out the Chicago Blackhawks this time around, especially if the 'Hawks continue to go with Corey Crawford in net. You want to talk about a joke, Crawford is the leading vote getter in the All Star Game coming up at the end of the season, and the guy isn't in the top 12 of goaltenders in the league!
But enough of Chicago and Nashville...let's discuss the Kings goaltending as of late. Neither Jonathan Quick nor Martin Jones could make a save leading to a 7-6 loss on home ice. We finally see a game in which the Kings score a bit and then find another way to lose, which has been a pretty common occurrence once again this regular season.
I am not worried about Quick, although I am worried about Jones and how his recent play has maybe hurt his trade value. It is obvious that Jones will be dealt at some point. There is no reason for a contending team to hang onto a 23 year old goaltender when Quick, at age 28 is going to be "the guy" for years to come.
Today was Jones' first action since the bad game in Montreal on December 12, when he allowed 6 goals on just 18 shots while the Kings dominated the Habs only to be shut down single handedly by Carey Price. Most of the goals he allowed that night were pretty soft. This afternoon, Jones allowed four more goals, two of which were bad and could not keep his team in the game despite the miraculous late three-goal rally in the final minute and a half.
I have to place some blame on Darryl Sutter again because of this. There is no reason to keep Quick in net night after night on a team that never plays up to par until late in the season. In fact, each time Marian Gaborik sits out due to whatever garbage excuse he has, Quick should also get the night off. Just a thought. Jones needs to play and be somewhat fresh not because Quick needs some rest come playoff time, but to keep his trade value as high as it can be.
Dean Lombardi needs to pick up that other difference maker like he did in Jeff Carter in 2012 and Gaborik last season. Jones will be a big part of that deal I would imagine, and there are plenty of teams around the league who need their goaltending position solidified. By not playing Jones at all between December 13 and today (via relief duty) is not good. Granted the Kings schedule has been ultimately "team friendly" (unlike Toronto's for God's sake!), but Jones I would argue should have been in goal Tuesday in Edmonton. Now with the team not playing at all until Thursday, you can bet your life's savings Quick will be in goal again, and should be. Perhaps I am overreacting to this, and still a lot of teams are seriously interested to listen to offers with Jones involved.
One last note on the Kings, is that Sutter should think about splitting up his top defensive pairing in Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin. Muzzin has not had a very good season, not being ready at the beginning of the season and has clearly lost a step and even some power in his shot. This afternoon, before the late rally, Doughty was a -4 and Muzzin was a -3. So much expected and so little from guys who just recently signed huge contract extensions. I would argue that Doughty was the Kings' best player last season, but has been nowhere near his potential this season. A mere 4 goals and some rather poor defensive positioning, especially as of late is not good enough from someone who is perhaps one of the top four defensemen in the world.
Moving onto the Toronto Maple Leafs, our BELOVED Maple Leafs...
I am pissed off...not so much with the team. They are obviously tired and black and blue. This schedule has been absolutely brutal! Three games in four nights, from the Boston harbor, to frozen north Minnesota then to central Canada in Winnipeg...AND playing a Jets team who has not played since Wednesday! And that game was at HOME mind you! Who in the hell makes these schedules? Just to compare a bit...since the LA Kings faced off with the Leafs in Toronto on December 14th (which I was able to witness again, great time, great game and great town!) the Kings have played nine games including just one back-to-back situation with just one of those games against a team on the opposite side of the Mississippi River (STL). In contrast, the Leafs have played 10 games, but have played all over the continent and have had six of those contests be in back-to-back situations. In the past 10 days, the Leafs have been from south Florida, to upper northeast all the way to Central Canada (and four of those games have been back-to-back).
I am not sure how other team's schedules have been, but I doubt they have been as bad. We do know about the Jets however, having not played since Wednesday night, which was a home game against the Islanders. Since then, the battered Leafs play in Boston that night, then too Minnesota and finally Winnipeg where the Jets have been waiting for them for three damn nights. All I am saying for those Jets, YOU BETTER WIN THIS GAME! If not shame on you! Good God!
Meanwhile, the Leafs have been killing penalties the entire 2nd and 3rd period thus far. This brings up another part of this "rant". Wednesday night, the Boston Bruins play a very dirty, physical game. Nazem Kadri is crushed from behind, head first into the boards by Matt Bartkowski. No call. Joffrey Lupul is used as a landing strip thanks to Milan Lucic who clumsily lands onto Lupul after stomping over him with his skates. There were several other little plays, like Brad Marchand's dirty little hook that brought both Dion Phaneuf and goaltender Jonathan Bernier down. No call there either. After all that, with three Toronto regulars now injured week to week and Lupul out for at least a month, the Leafs only get a grand total of two power plays! So basically, Boston plays dirty and gets away Scott free! I am glad they lost again today...On top of this, Nashville gets away with seven men on the ice, just seconds before scoring the third goal of the opening frame. The Kings NEVER get away with too many men on the ice, and here the Preds somehow get away with more than six on the ice even on a power play! Wow...You really know things are not going you way when that stuff happens.
Still there are some things bothering me about this team. David Clarkson is absolutely useless. I am tired of him tripping over his own feet. He cannot get the puck deep into the zone and instead gets a stupid penalty last night in Minnesota. The team signed him for seven years for times like this. The Leafs are bruised and battered, have some key players missing and what do you get from guys who are supposed to be the leaders...? Nothing! Instead, the team gets very little contributions, and no response. I bring Clarkson to the forefront because he is one of the reasons why the Leafs are struggling mightily in recent games.
James van Riemsdyk continues to play lazy hockey. He doesn't want to work hard in his own zone and barely works in the offensive zone. Tonight, he helps set up a nice goal by Mike Santorelli, then is standing watching on a goal against just seconds later. The big playmaker, giveth and taketh away very quickly. I would much rather hang onto Phil Kessel than JVR. At least you know Kessel is going to be a force to be reckoned with on most nights, although #81 has been very quiet tonight, which shows his character a bit more too. When the team is banged up like the are now, and worn down, where is #81?
I cannot say much more about the other so-called leaders on the team. Even Daniel Winnik has been playing poorly of late. He is obviously worn down as well. So, if you had to make a decision on who to keep between Winnik or Santorelli, the answer has become a little more easier.
I really do not see much from the youngster Carter Ashton. I am not sure if he is anything more than just a forth liner. He is not a playmaker. He is expendable in my opinion. I would, however, like to see more from Greg McKegg and Trevor Smith. Smith should be the #4 center every night.
Tonight was another rough night for Roman Polak, who was swapped for another really soft defenseman in Carl Gunnarsson. Polak has not been the guy I thought he would be. He is physical at times, but sloppy too much in his own zone. His incredibly soft play along the boards next to a falling down Ashton let to the Jets first goal of the game. I thought that trade hands down was a huge win for the Leafs, but I am disappointed so far. His struggles as well as Phaneuf's and Gardiner's need to be resolved soon. I do not see much of the current blue line sticking around much longer. Although, as I have said before, I would hate to get rid of Gardiner. He has perhaps been the best Maple Leaf on the ice throughout this long road trip. He at least tries to make positive things happen. You cannot just give up on a 23 year old, not even when he isn't doing well. It will come back to bite you down the road...(remember guys like Viktor Stalberg and Anton Stralman? Toronto could use both of those guys right about now).
I just hope Kadri and Holland can get back into the lineup soon. I do not see this team having much success with so many decent guys out of the lineup on a team that really lacks character and leadership.
More so of the team, I am tired of seeing other teams take runs at guys and line up guys and just punish them with some really hard hits. Some of which have been clean (the Scottie Upshall hit on Richard Panik) and others dirty and dangerous (Bartkowski on Kadri), but the biggest issue is that NOBODY in blue and white respond to any of them. Someone has to either dish out a good hard hit, I don't even care if it is borderline dangerous, but someone has to send a message to the other team that you are not going to get away with this anymore. From a team standpoint, is not right to allow teams to line up anyone on the ice and crush one of your men and then get away with it. Someone has to send a message, and again I bring up Clarkson. It was him to thought it necessary to jump the bench and attack the Buffalo Sabres in the 2013-14 preseason and miss 10 regular season games. He was again suspended for another "dangerous" hit on a St. Louis Blue. So where is that hard end type of play this year, especially when the team needs a little bit of it? At least that way, Clarkson would have some value to the team. However, he has absolutely none. It is hard to pick on one or two guys, but this is an ongoing issue all the way up and down the lineup.
Thank God both of these teams are off until later in the week!
Ending on a good note, both teams are in very good shape still. They both get some much needed time off and have some home games coming up later this week. Toronto has gotten through their longest road trip of the season and by far worst portion of their schedule. Things did not go so well, but it is still early January and there is a lot of time left to regroup, perhaps the team makes a deal and figures out some things in the near future. The California trip comes in another week, but the Leafs have done very well in California in recent trips, including having won the last three games in LA dating back to 2009. This time, I will finally get a chance to see my first Kings game at Staples Center on the 12th against the Leafs. Looking forward to that, of course getting away from sub zero temperatures here in miserable Chicago and into some sunny upper 60's lower 70's weather on the beaches of LA. By that time, I hope both teams will be somewhat rested and ready to go. Toronto is going to need both Holland and Kadri on that Pacific trip coming up soon.
(I just heard the Jets now have five games in seven nights, and Paul Maurice did not have kinds words to say, well enjoy it, Toronto just had to go through it!)