Johnson: Flames ground up and spit out by defending champs
Calgary played right into Los Angeles’ hands during 3-1 defeat
In his morning address to the media mongrels Wednesday, the inimitable Darryl Sutter was asked about the possible dreaded Stanley Cup hangover his out-of-sorts L.A. Kings might be experiencing.
“Well,” replied the man who used to rule this roost with the Flames, “I know what a hangover is. And I didn’t have one.”
Late last night, his counterpart, Bob Hartley, probably needed a few good stiff drinks.
At the top of their game, the Kings simply wear away on teams, grind them down, into sawdust, insidiously, relentlessly. Pushing, prodding, pounding, carving out an inch of territory, then a foot, then enough room to snap off a shot or work a game-changing play.
Unlike the shoddy mail-in effort Monday in Glendale, Ariz., Hartley’s Calgary Flames actually showed up for their business appointment Wednesday. The effort was marginally better, if at times intelligence was lacking. AWOL captain Jarome Iginla, so inconspicuous against the Desert Dogs, was there. And, once again, so was waiver-wire goaltending stop-gap Joey MacDonald.
But the chasm between first-class and steerage was apparent.
L.A. was simply too much to handle.
“We didn’t move,” grumbled Alex Tanguay, in the wake of a 3-1 loss. ”We’re not a team that’s got size, like that team. We’re not a team that’s got a whole of toughness, like that team.
“We’re a skating team. That’s the way we were built. In order for us to be successful, we have to be first on the puck, we have to get in on the forecheck quickly, we have to be working out there as hard as we possibly can.
“When we don’t, we get picked apart.”
The Kings may be struggling to replicate that punishingly efficient style they parlayed into a championship in June, but if they do crack the Top 8 — and really, scrolling down that lineup, is there any doubt? — look out.
By the time Jeff Carter put the outcome beyond all doubt 9:27 into of the third, snapping home a pass from linemate Mike Richards, the home side had been shackled to a single shot. There may have been only one point separating the two sides in the standings, but the gap is far wider than that.
The Kings have struggled to ramp up that grinding game on a consistent basis this season, but they were flush with confidence after polishing off the Edmonton Oilers 3-1 a night earlier up at Rexall Place and felt comfortable enough give de facto No. 1 Jonathan Quick a night off and use backup goalie Jonathan Bernier.
For extended stretches of the middle period, L.A. began to impose the attributes that made them such a force throughout last spring’s memorable Stanley Cup march.
Using their size, strength and they began to wear insidiously away on the Flames. If it wasn’t Dustin Penner, as big as a Winnebago, ruling the boards, it was cantankerous captain Dustin Brown lowering a shoulder into an unsuspecting Curtis Glencross and sending him spinning or Trevor Lewis bowling over MacDonald.
MacDonald needed to be sharp to hold his mates in contention. His finest moment undoubtedly came when Brown, picking out his options from the corner, found Kopitar heading to the promised land at the top of the Calgary crease and stuck the puck right on his tape.
But MacDonald, fighting through the traffic, stopped the chance and then nimbly scooped an airborne puck out of mid-air to end the threat.
“He,” said Tanguay, nodding over at the 33-year-old, “was great tonight.”
Had to be. Following a sustained burst of early pressure from the Kings, minutes that seemed to drag on like hours, Anze Kopitar, smooth as a shot of Bailey’s Irish Cream on a cold winter night, rounded the net and picked out beelining Dustin Brown out of the crowd.
The Kings’ captain sizzled his fourth of the season, high blocker, before MacDonald had a chance to draw breath, much less twitch a muscle.
At that point, L.A. had seven of the eight officially registered shots.
Gradually, the wildly tilted ice began to level out somewhat and the homesteaders equalized thanks to a commendable dose of patience from Iginla. Protecting the puck and biding time behind the L.A. net, he finally spotted T.J. Brodie funnelling right down Main Street. Brodie dipped a shoulder, slipped past Dwight King and slotted behind Bernier at 14:51.
That held up a mere 29 seconds, though, L.A. centre Trevor Lewis feasting on the rebound of a Carter shot, picking as spot high over MacDonald’s right shoulder again.
Don’t look now, but the Let’s-Do-Lunch boys from SoCal are now only one point out of a playoff spot. The Flames, meanwhile, fell two games below .500, and slipped into 14th place in the West.
“I don’t think we played a very solid game at all,” griped Tanguay. “For most of the game they played to their strengths, they played to their size, they held onto the puck.
“Yeah, they’re a good team, A very good team. Obviously. But ... I think we played right into their hands.
“We’re at 15 games, almost a third of the way through the season. If we don’t figure this out, and quickly ...”
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at email@example.com
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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