Charlie Simmer, one-third of the famous Triple Crown line, was in town to be honored on Kings’ Legends night. Luc Robitaille was there, on the ice, to make the presentation. Bernie Nicholls was watching from the press box. Altogether, the three ex-Los Angeles Kings accounted for 1,485 NHL regular-season goals.
Too bad they couldn’t be pressed into service for Saturday’s date with Flames, which featured the Kings’ 30th-ranked offence against Calgary’s 26th. Anyone surprised that it was 0-0 after 40 minutes?
It took a goal from ex-King Mike Cammalleri, set up by another ex-King, Tom Kostopoulos, 4:03 into the third period to break the scoreless deadlock and eventually propel the Flames to a 1-0 nail-biting victory before a sold-out crowd of 18,118 at the Staple Centres.
On the play, Kostopolous - probably Calgary’s best forward on the night - made a centering pass from the right corner that caromed off goaltender Jonathan Quick, and landed right on Cammalleri’s stick. Cammalleri didn’t think twice, and fired a shot from point blank range that beat Quick for the game winning goal.
It was the eighth time this season that the Kings have been shut out and the second game in a row. Their last goal was three games ago, an empty-netter by Justin Williams.
Suddenly, the urgency for the Kings to land the Kings a Rick Nash or a Jeff Carter would seem to be heightening with every passing day, as the Kings’ fan base is up in arms after a massive seasons-ticket hike this past week.
The victory vaulted the Flames into a tie for eighth place in the Western Conference standings with the Kings at 65 points apiece, the first time since last March that they’ve actually been in the playoff picture.
The Flames have now picked up points in eight consecutive games (5-0-3), despite an injury list that includes five regulars up front: Curtis Glencross, David Moss, Lee Stempniak, Blair Jones and Mikael Backlund.
The Kings out shot Calgary 28-18 but goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff was exceptional again. He has now won 25 games or more in seven consecutive seasons, and last night’s victory was the 303rd of his career, moving him past Turk Broda and into a tie for 24th on the all-time wins list with Olaf Kolzig, with Billy Smith in reach at 305.
“He makes saves that you expect him too and once in a while, when we have breakdowns that we don’t like, he makes ones you don’t expect him to,” said Cammalleri. “What else can I say? We love our goaltender.”
Kiprusoff made a number of exceptional saves, perhaps none better than one on Mike Richards seven minutes into the second period, when Kiprusoff looked down and Richards appeared to have the whole net to shoot at. But Kiprusoff dove across the crease, flashed the leather and made a brilliant glove save to deny the scoring chance.
The Kings love theirs too - in Quick’s 26 losses this year, they have scored just 29 goals. In all, Quick has allowed two or fewer goals 34 times this season.
“It’s been the same thing for this team all year: finding ways to score goals,” said Kings’ captain Dustin Brown. “We’ve been shut out twice in back-to-back 1-0 games at home against teams that are two points behind us in both cases. I don’t want to say we didn’t work hard, we did, but we’ve got to find ways to score goals.”
Brown’s reference was to a 1-0 loss two nights previously to the Phoenix Coyotes, a team they’ll play again next week, this time in Phoenix.
“It’s definitely frustrating,” said Brown. “I think it’s been frustrating all year for the players in here, the lack of scoring. Tonight we had some really good chances…That save on [Dustin]Penner in the first was a world-class save, so it’s frustrating…We had chances in the front of the net tonight. It’s just frustrating.”
That’s four frustratings, in case you’re keeping score.
The Flames have had an all the scoring eggs in one basket run of late, with the line of Jarome Iginla, Alex Tanguay and Olli Jokinen combining for 27 points in the previous seven games, but they were held off the score sheet last night.
Cammalleri, meanwhile, has come back to haunt the Kings twice in the past three weeks. The last time Calgary was in town, he scored the shootout winner. But Kostopolous has seen his role change, and he is now playing in the top six on the line that also includes Blake Comeau, and he's been good for Calgary.
"Yeah, it was a big win," said Kostopolous. "Everybody's happy but we've got to get back on the plane and get home. We have a big game against Edmonton. They've been playing well and every game is such big points, so it will be a crucial game Tuesday."
It will for the Kings too. When Darryl Sutter took over as coach back in December, he called the NHL "a 3-2 league" - responding to a question about the team's lack of scoring. They've been scoring even fewer goals as the season winds down.
“I think we really have to bear down on the opportunities that we get,” said Sutter. “You don’t get a lot of opportunities. We don’t give a lot, so you have to bear down on the ones you get.”