It was said in a far more sinister - and totally different - context, but the old Peter Clemenza line from the Godfather nevertheless applies: “these things gotta happen... helps get rid of the bad blood.”
No, we’re not discussing a mob war or actual bloodshed, but every so often a hockey team needs to go through the sting of a ritual humiliation to be reminded that no, they don’t in fact have everything figured out.
Even Stanley Cup champions go through 10-game losing strings (2009-10 Chicago Blackhawks) or the occasional blowout where you give up eight or more goals (as the Los Angeles Kings did in 2011-12).
Viewed from the right angle, the Kings’ 6-0 dismantling of the Montreal Canadiens wasn’t just inevitable – anyone watch those four wins last week and think each of them was wholly deserved? – it may even prove to be salutary.
After all, it was 6-0 stuffing at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs that set the Habs onto an straight path last year (they immediately reeled off a 7-0-3 string).
Okay, maybe it’s not always a simple proposition to rebound, but despite Michel Therrien’s post-game comment that “there’s nothing much we can take from this game,” there are a couple of things.
Such as: being more committed to crowding the opposing net, and understanding that you can’t lose three physical battles in a row in any given sequence in the NHL and expect good results.
“We just didn’t win the battles in the crease, it comes down to that . . . we’ve got to fight for secondary opportunities,” said defenceman Josh Gorges.
He continued: “These are games are miserable. And the only thing you can do is get out of this room here, take a look in the mirror, look at yourself and say ‘did I do what I had to do tonight?’ I don’t think there’s one guy in this room that can say they did. So we get back to work tomorrow, we understand that this is how hard it is in this league... and we’ve got a big weekend of hockey ahead of us, we use this as motivation going forward.”
The Kings showed the benefits of a so-called “heavy team”, grinding the Montreal forwards down along the boards, pressing their defence into making mistakes, and generally exerting pressure on a team that had gone 11-1-2 in its last 14 games.
“This is where the character of the team comes in, not letting it slip, not letting it turn into something more,” said captain Brian Gionta. “It’s a disappointment, but at the same time we’ve still got three games this week that could be big for us, so we can still turn this week around. We’ll have a good practice (Wednesday) and we’ll need to be focused for Philly.”
The Habs play the Flyers on the road on Thursday, then carry on to Long Island for the first of back-to-back weekend games, the second of which is at home to the lowly Florida Panthers, who always seem to give Montreal fits at the Bell Centre.
It was always likely that the Habs would submit to a market correction at some point – it’s understandable that it would come at the hands of a team that has recently won the Stanley Cup, and could yet do so again in the near future.
It’s a team game, but the individual match-ups are the ingredient that gives hockey added spice.
On Tuesday night it was a tilt that featured a pair of 24-year-old, Ontario-born defencemen who play on opposite sides of the continent but share their Team Canada ambitions.
The Los Angeles Kings’ Drew Doughty already has an Olympic gold medal in his trophy room, and is considered a lock for the upcoming edition of the national squad.
Montreal Canadiens rearguard P.K. Subban has something Doughty doesn’t – a James Norris Memorial Trophy awarded to the NHL’s best defenceman – and is, by all accounts, firmly on the bubble for a trip to Sochi next February.
“P.K.’s a great player, obviously, everybody knows that, I know a lot of people see similarities in the two of us, and even though it’s a match-up between both teams, I think that in order for us to win I have to outplay P.K.,” Doughty said of his former World Junior teammate before the game. “So I’m definitely looking forward to that challenge . . . I’ve got to be the best defenceman on the ice.”
Yes, well, mission accomplished.
Doughty may have taken a tripping penalty while flopping to the ice to thwart a rush in the opening minute of the game, but it was all gravy from there.
He turned in a typically poised and assured performance, staying tidy in his own end and taking minimal risks in the drubbing of what had been the NHL’s hottest team – which left the ice to boos – his final gesture was a classy one: with a sure goal on his blade in the final seconds, he let up and skated toward the corner.
If Doughty is the yardstick against which all other young Canadian defencemen shall be judged, Subban still has work to do.
The Habs’ blueliner, despite showing a physical edge (he had running battles with the Kings’ Justin Williams and Dustin Brown), blocking several shots and rushing the puck up ice with his usual abandon, was on the ice for the Kings’ second goal of the night in the dying seconds of the first period – although it can’t be hung on him.
He was more directly victimized on the Kings’ fourth goal, allowing Kyle Clifford to go around him shortly before Tyler Toffoli beat Montreal centre Lars Eller to the slot and stuffed the puck home.
On the plus side, Subban was the more active of the two young defencemen on the power-play, peppering the L.A. net and rookie goalie Martin Jones, who stole the show enroute to logging his second straight shutout.
Though neither player was responsible for the result, Subban detractors might point to this game – a total systems failure for the Habs – and Doughty’s mature performance should they wish to pick nits.
That’s fair enough, but it need be pointed out that Subban has recently outplayed other Team Canada hopefuls in head-to-head encounters, notably Pittsburgh’s Kristopher Letang.
It helps Doughty’s cause that his team includes the unstoppable two-way force that is Anze Kopitar, and Jones, who repelled 17 first period shots, including all seven sent his way on the game’s first power-play, and 30 overall.
Where the Habs weren’t fortunate, (Alex Galchenyuk’s power-play wrist shot caught the inside of the unsighted Jones’ right pad and stayed out) the Kings were (a Carey Price rebound bouncing directly to an uncovered Jordan Nolan, who slotted the puck home).
With the clock winding down on the first period, Habs forward Daniel Brière iced the puck – a clear brain cramp from the veteran – and off the resulting faceoff Anze Kopitar fired a rocket of a shot from Jeff Carter’s perfect feed to beat Price.
There were 12 seconds left on the clock.
“We were flat right after that,” said Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec.
The Kings hadn’t played at the Bell Centre since 2010, and carried a godawful 9-50-11 franchise record into Montreal.
Doughty had said before the game that “the one thing we really need to work on is our scoring,” and that they did.
It was the first time since Nov. 7 the Habs had given up four goals and the first time all season Price had been pulled from a game.
The Canadiens would go on to allow a total of six goals on 24 shots through two periods – after allowing six on 92 total shots in their three previous games, all of which they won but just as easily could have lost.
In fairness to the 26-year-old Price, who saw his 10-game streak of allowing two or fewer goals snapped, it wasn’t all on him.
The Kings had at least one goal that shouldn’t have counted, the refs looking the other way while Clifford stood in the crease and prevented Price from adequately dealing with Alec Martinez’s shot.
Though the Canadiens played a strong first period, they ended it with a two-goal deficit.
After that, the Kings gave an object lesson as to why the West has dominated the East this season.
Martinez made it 3-0, then Toffoli chased Price, and it was left to Jake Muzzin and Williams to beat Peter Budaj – who deserved better in his first home appearance of the season – and apply heaps of salt to Montreal wounds.