Saturday, November 28, 2009

Stat Check: Kings v Blackhawks

Normally I do my Stat Check feature as a Twitter exclusive, today it was too long, so here goes:

* Between the Pipes - With the Hawks playing Huet last night in Anaheim there's a good chance the Kings will face back-up goaltender Antti Niemi. Unfortunately, that might not be such good news. Huet is 1-2-0 lifetime vs the Kings. And Neime? Well, after giving up just 2 goals and stopping 22 others vs the Kings last season, he earned his first NHL victory.

* More on the Netminders - Goaltending has been strong for the Hawks this season, as they currently lead the league with the fewest shots allowed per game at 24.2 (LA is second at just 26.3.). However, last night Chicago gave up a season high 34 shots to the Ducks and have now been outshot in three of their last five games. While goal differential isn't as important in the NHL as it is in international play, entering tonight's game the numbers for the season are quite glaring. Chi-town's team is +23 for the season (scoring 23 times more than their opponents), while LA is -3.

* Split Decision - The two teams split the four game series last season, each winning their pair on home ice. Earlier this month the trend continued in the first match up this season when the Kings lost to the Hawks in Chicago.

* Bucking the Trend - When teams play the second game of back to back nights the odds strongly favor the more rested team...unless you're the Blackhawks. Last year they finished will above .500 in those second games and this season they're an astonishing and 4-0-1 in the second game. Time to erase that zero tonight?

* Balance of Power - Chicago has the fourth best powerplay on the road, LA has the third best powerplay at home. Both teams average about 12 penalty minutes per game. Pretty even so far. Then comes the penalty kill. Chicago is 21st on road, LA is 28th at home. Evenly miserable?

* Olympic Preview - Several players on both teams will be seeing time for their respective countries in Vancouver next February. Interestingly enough, Duncan Keith (Chi) and Drew Doughty (LA) could even be defensive partners.

Finally, its my birthday so I'm feeling a little froggy today. How about a prediction:

Kings win 4-2. Brown and Stoll each have a three point night.


Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?

Living in Southern California we're blessed with the best of everything. Warm weather about 11 months a year practically provides us a mini vacation every weekend. However, the majority of people still take their actual vacations during the summer months. Depending where you go, staying connected to the real world can be a bit of a problem. Yet, hockey fans usually don't worry too much during that time period because after all...there isn't much NHL news between the three day weekends in late May and early September - sans around the first of July when free agency begins. So, if you took off with the fam' in early August, you may have missed one of the more disturbing hockey related stories of the summer.

Los Angeles is a hodgepodge of people. Some are transplants, coming from big cities like New York and Chicago. Others are natives, born and raised here in the most beautiful city in the world. True Angelenos don't have much experience with taxis and subways - unless you've done some traveling. Even then, a few days in a city with public transportation wouldn't make you an expert. So, lets quickly review proper taxi cab etiquette...

Beating up a cabbie over your fare is not acceptable!

We've all heard the stories about young athletes being pampered, not aware of how things are in the real world. Well, it happened once again. Stupid teenager, out drinking until the wee hours of the morning, thinking he was invincible, believing he was more important than the average person. Such was the case on August 9th when Chicago Blackhawks superstar Patrick Kane was arrested in his hometown of Buffalo, NY. Seems him and his cousin decided it was OK to beat up 62-year-old cabdriver Jan Radecki.

What, you thought when you paid $15.00 for a $13.80 cab fare the driver was supposed to give you exact change? This brilliant line of deductive thinking came from a guy the Blackhawks said "is a big part of our organization and a team leader." Really, a leader?

Kings GM Dean Lombardi has repeatedly talked about the importance of character when building a team. Sure, there is no denying Patrick Kane is an incredibly talented hockey player. The goals, the Calder Trophy, the phenomenal plays - you can take it all. I have no tolerance for guys like Kane. When you're blessed with what he's been given and the money to go along with it, you flip the guy a $20, maybe even two $20s, and say "Thanks for the ride, be safe out there."

No, I don't expect players to be saints. I'm sure the big stars of the prior generation - Messier, Gretzky, Robitaille, Roenick, Chellios, etc. - I'm sure they all weren't perfect every minute of every day. Dumb enough to punch an innocent man in the face, grab his throat and smash his glasses? I think not.

Money can't buy you love...or so the saying goes. Apparently, it also cant buy you class either.


NOTE: Tonight's Kings game versus the Chicago Blackhawks is not sold out. Better yet, CLICK HERE to get discounted tickets. Simply use offer code "WCC" to get savings of up to 60% off. Buy 'em now. Puck drops at 7:30, be there!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

I'm Thankful For -

In my cliche article of the week, I'm thankful for the following things about the game of hockey:

* The Stanley Cup - of course the Cup! It is without a doubt the single best trophy in all of sports. Seriously, you get to keep it for a whole day. What could be better? It also comes with it's own superstitions too - don't touch it if you haven't won it. Don't look it straight in the eye. But, best of all, your name gets engraved on it forever. Someday people, someday, there will be a Cup celebration in Los Angeles. There has to be, right?

* Game Sevens - The playoffs could have made the list on their own. Eight teams in your conference, all battling it out for a chance to simply play for the aforementioned Cup. That's why we're all here. Yet, it's more than that. It's about those game sevens. When a series is tied 3-3 you're almost guaranteed magic. Whether its a double overtime game or a dramatic game winning goal in the final minutes, it's always something. My favorite series of all time was the Leafs-Kings from '93...and yep, it had the best Game 7 of all time too, with Gretzky putting the team on his back, scoring a hat trick and carrying LA to the finals.

* The Jerseys - no other sport makes such a fashion statement with their uniforms. The colors, the logos, the's all there. And people get it into it - a far greater percentage of the fans show up wearing jerseys at a hockey game versus any other professional sport in North America. Fans also love to debate which teams have the best jerseys and the worst jerseys. By the way, the Blackhawks jersey is still the best. Worst of all time? Has to be the Kings 'Burger King' jersey. You could go with the Ducks green 'Wild Wing' jersey, yet - does it really even count? Their entire team merchandise was an embarrassment long before then. It's a frickin' movie, not a hockey team! Ok, I've purged.

* The Sticks - some might say it's an extension of the previous point and just lump it into a general category labeled the equipment. For me, they each deserve their own section. Like the jerseys, the sticks are so varied. And unlike the equipment of any other sport. Think about it, would it really be that exciting to see a Hall of Fame display in Cooperstown with 200 bats? They would all look extremely similar. In hockey you have many different manufactures, different colors, different styles...all unique. Then you have the way guys tape them - some go with white tape, some black. Some like tape from top to bottom, others have just a little on the blade. Again, no other sport has equipment so personalized to the individual player.

* Road Trips - traveling to see your favorite baseball or football team just doesn't bring the same intimacy of seeing a road game in hockey. Perhaps it's because those games are played in such larger venues, I don't know. All I can say is I've been to over 20 NHL arenas to see the Kings play and without a doubt, each one has special memories - regardless of the final score that night. Most fans welcome you with open arms, even when you fly the enemy colors. It's like a giant brotherhood. Funny thing though, the tougher the town is supposed to be (i.e. New York, Detroit, etc.) the nicer the fans are. Weird. Worst place to see a game, San Jose. Best place to see a game, MSG.

What hockey things are you thankful for?


Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What Shoulda Been...

History often repeats itself and it seemed destined to do so again this week. In a story that seemed eerily familiar to one from 20 years ago, the Kings-Oilers game tonight in Alberta should have been a well publicized homecoming for the boy who once proudly wore an Edmonton jersey. A man who now suits up for the Kings. The boy who was drafted by his by his childhood team and went on to become Captain returning as Captain California.

For more than a decade Ryan Smyth was the Oilers. While his teams didn't bring the on ice success of the ones Wayne Gretzky played for, Oiler fans didn't love him any less. Eventually, more than a decade apart, each guy left town and the city was ripped to it's core. Men, women and children openly wept. Both player's connection to the city transcended the sport and the entire experience of being a fan.

For Gretzky, coming to LA was a fresh start. Something Smyth echoed in several interviews himself earlier this summer. With the wound left by the trade of August 9th, 1988 still fresh and open, as anger and hurt raged on, #99 returned home to Edmonton on October 19th for the first time as a King. Back then, to properly put that game into perspective, Oilers public relations director Bill Tuele said "It's a bigger ticket than the seventh game of the (Stanley Cup) final."

LA lost to the Oilers 8-6 that night. A week or so later the rematch was in LA, also won by the Oilers 5-4. Fortunately, the Kings ultimately won the war that season, beating the defending Stanley Cup Champion Oilers in the first round of the playoffs. An epic seven game series that was a cornerstone of what used to be one of the best rivalries in hockey.

Like most good stories, it wasn't completely written in that first chapter. The Oilers will be forever be known as the roadblock for the Kings in the playoffs; beating them in 1990, 1991 & 1992. It was the '90 series that cut deep, as the Oilers extracted revenge on the Kings with a 4-0 series sweep. The following year wasn't much better though. The Oilers dumped a bunch of salary that season and the Kings went on to win their first (and only) Smythe Division title. Didn't matter though. Come playoff time the scab Oil team beat the high salaried Kings.

During those early 90s the Kings were collecting former Oilers like a teenage nerd and his bug collection. The SoCal Oilers eventually featured guys like Kurri, Coffey, McSorley, Fuhr, Huddy, Conacher and so many more. Just think about if they woulda been able to get just one more, Mark Messier. What coulda been. Ah, I digress...

Then there was the hatred. The list began with names like Muni, MacTavish, Anderson, Tikkanen, Beukeboom, Steve Smith, Buchberger...and it went on and on. They would constantly start problems after Fuhr or Ranford covered the puck. Oh, Ranford...RAN-ford, RAN-ford, RAN-ford - that chant would ring in your ears for days after some games.

Even with their disdain for the Kings though, the city of Edmonton still had love for the Great One as the years went by. I was privileged enough to watch Gretzky's last three games in an LA uniform in person. That's not something I share in common with most other Kings fans, as those three games were on the road - the middle contest being in Edmonton. The Trade had taken place eight years earlier, yet is was still fresh on the minds of most that night. What a thrill it was to see Wayne work his magic in that building, even if outside it was hard not to feel conflicted. After all, it isn't very often you take a road trip and see the captain of the visiting team immortalized in a huge statue outside the home team's arena. Awkward and surreal.

For much of the last 10 years the feud between the two teams has slowed to barely a simmer, with each side retooling several times. But, perhaps this coulda been a bigger game if Craig MacTavish were still coaching. The once nasty player, referred to by Kings fans as 'McToilet', had gone from being one of the last players to skate in the NHL without a helmet to an angry and bitter coach. He was let go this summer. Oh it was fun to watch him lose.

Summer before last a trade between the two teams seemed to stoke things along ever so slightly. It certainly wasn't as big as The Trade, yet it's still important to both teams suiting up tonight. In the summer of 2008 Lubomir Visnovsky was sent to the Oilers in exchange for Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene. Sure, it would be nice to have the talented and offensively minded Lubo on this year's Kings team. However, if we could rewind the clock and the deal was on the table again - make the trade or don't make the trade - Dean should do it all over again and twice on Sunday.

Then there's Patrick O'Sullivan, the guy that shoulda been a star for the Kings. It didn't work out that way and he's now in Edmonton. Lately he's been popping off at the mouth about everybody and everything, including taking jabs at the fans in Los Angeles. In an ironic twist, a few games after he was quoted as saying how much better it is to play in the hockey rich Canadian city versus the laid back LA, he was taken to task by former Kings goalie Kelly Hrudey and Mike Milbury for his poor play (article here), to which he responded with "I don't care what (he) has to say. He's on TV for a reason." Probably shoulda just kept his mouth shut to begin with.

Where does all this take us? Is there enough juice flowing between the two teams for a rebirth of the rivalry? Without Smyth in the line-up tonight, it's doubtful.

Interestingly enough though, the link between Smyth, the Oilers and the Kings started way back during the 1994-95 season. Long since forgotten by all but the most ardent fans is the fact that Rhyno played his first pro hockey game back at the Forum - no not in Montreal, Los Angeles. Kings-Oilers at the Fabulous Forum. Full circle indeed.

Now as a member of the Kings, Smyth was set to return to the building in Edmonton where he previously was royalty of a different sort. It shoulda been something special.

For now, it will have to wait. An upper body injury has forced him to miss the next few weeks.

Kings-Oilers. It will mean a lot to some tonight, more to others.

It woulda meant much, much more with Rhyno in the line-up.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Manchester Mondays

In a new feature here on we're going to take a look at the Kings top prospects playing down in the AHL for the Manchester Monarchs. This will be a semi regular feature, usually appearing on Mondays the Kings have off.

Manchester is currently tied for the Eastern Conference lead, with 27 points. Their 12 wins in 21 games is second best to the Hershey Bears - who have won 13 in just 19 games. Hershey seems to be picking up right where they left off, winning last season's AHL championship (the Calder Cup). Washington Capitals first round draft pick John Carlson was playing for the Bears until recently, when the rookie defenseman was called up to the NHL. Meanwhile, the Monarchs have had their own rookie to feel good about, 2008's fifth round selection by the Kings, Andrei Loktionov.

You may remember that name from back in September. He had a superb rookie camp and I wrote about him multiple times, in articles HERE and HERE (click them and read up!). The 19 year old is off to a fast start in Manchester, with 17 points in 20 games while maintaining a plus 6 rating. Prior to this season he played with the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. In just 51 regular season games he had 66 points and was a plus 28 last year. He didn't lose any ground in the playoffs either, tallying 33 points (tops for OHL rookies) in 20 playoff games - helping Windsor to win the Memorial Cup Championship. This kid is no joke, having played in the Russian Super League during the 2007-08 season and for Team Russia at the 2008 Under-18 World Championships. Earlier today he got 'the call' and is currently packing his bags to join the Kings for their two game Canadian road trip starting Wednesday in Edmonton.

Also called up to the big club today was Brandon "Bugsy" Segal. It will be interesting to see what type of game the right winger adds to the Kings team. Plenty of organizations have certainly given up on him to a certain degree. After originally being drafted by the Nashville Predators in the fourth-round back in 2002, he's spent time in the Anaheim Ducks and Tampa Bay Lightning organizations. Back in July he was picked up by Dean, Hex and the gang after having a brief taste of the NHL last year - debuting in a March contest between the Lightning and Penguins.

Casual LA fans are probably most familiar with goaltender Jonathan Bernier and defenseman Thomas Hickey. If nothing else, you've heard their names. Both are former first round draft picks and guys the Kings are betting big on in the coming years. Bernier has been playing lights out hockey almost all year for the Monarchs. However, he isn't expected to get a call up anytime soon. The team has given the reigns to Quick in LA and wants Bernier to get one more year of seasoning in the minors.

Another name you might recognize is Oscar Moller. The 5'10" center played his way on to the team coming out of camp last season. He played decently for the first few months and then was lent to Team Sweden for the World Junior Championships in late December. While wearing the 'C' for his native country he was having a great tournament, earning a silver medal for the second straight year. However, upon arriving home it was announced he had a hurt shoulder and never really found his groove again. He's playing on the Monarchs top line this season, along side Loktionov and Bud Holloway. Terry Murray told me (in an article here) he just doesn't see him having a spot on the Kings this year. However, that was before Teddy Purcell began his disappearing act, so...who knows.

His linemate, Holloway, played half of last season here in SoCal, splitting time between the Monarchs and the Ontario Reign. Ditto for goalie Jeff Zatkoff. With an injury to Bernier a few weeks ago, Zatkoff saw some additional playing time; as he is primarily the back up to JB this season.

If you're bored, click here to see how Kings whipping boy John Zeiler is doing this year in Manch.

There have been plenty of injuries to go around, as is par for the course in the game of hockey. Trevor Lewis injured his right shoulder soon after arriving back in Manchester, following his early season stint with the Kings. Richard Clune, who many thought would start the year in LA, seems to have been battling one injury or another all year. And Justin Azevedo has also missed a few games lately too.

Which brings us to Kevin Westgarth. Given the ineffective play of Ivanans for the Kings this year, I'm still not sure why Westie hasn't been called up yet. He has the physical part of the game like Ivanans, while also bringing much, much more energy to the ice. Back in September (in an article here) I talked with Kings GM Dean Lombardi about the possibility of having both Westgarth and Ivanans in the Kings line-up for certain games. Dean said he was "tired of the Kings getting pushed around the last few years - especially against the Ducks." With the two teams meeting for the first time next week, is his evil dream about to become a reality?

That's life on the farm. Now back to your regularly scheduled program.