The Kings have trouble aiming the goal.
Pheonix Copley salvaged his season by winning 12-of-14 decisions after his December 1 promotion from the NHL, putting up numbers that were about average for an NHL goaltender but looked like precious gems for the Kings, who stayed afloat while Cal Petersen was on his way to Demoted and Jonathan Quick showed signs of age and constant shaking.
The whole team played better against Copley than they did Quick, presumably unconsciously, and their diligence reduced the shot risk Copley had to contend with. Copley was never the long-term fix in the net, but his teammates rallied around the little guy who came out of nowhere to replace two-time Stanley Cup champion Quick and give them a respectable goal when they needed it most.
That happy bubble burst Thursday. Copley gave up a streak of unforced goals and was replaced by Quick in the second period of a 4-0 loss to the Dallas Stars in the Kings’ final home game before a six-game trip starting Saturday in Nashville.
Copley scored four goals on 17 shots, and the final goal—a curling goal by former King Jr. Jason Robertson of Arcadia at 7:27 of the second period—was enough to convince coach Todd McClellan to pull him on. Swift stopped all seven shots he faced. But that involved just two shots going into the third period as Dallas, who shot to a three-goal lead at San Jose on Wednesday, made sure modern history didn’t repeat itself.
McClellan considered switching goalies after the Stars scored three times in the first period, but wanted Copley to get more ice time in the goaltender’s first game in eight days, which was also the team’s first game after the four-day break. That fourth goal, celebrated by the large Robertson family in a pavilion high above the ice, was the breaking point for the Kings, who were eliminated for the third time this season and for the first time at the Crypto.com Arena. They won’t play at home again until February 11th because they have to clear the arena for the Grammys and then get the NHL All-Star break and a week off.
They are still in third place in the Pacific Division and only two points behind leaders Seattle. But they’re also just one point ahead of Edmonton, who sits first in the West Wild Card. And the Kings’ goal difference dropped to negative seven, which could play a role in breaking the tie in the standings and determining who gets into the playoffs, or who ends up in any playoff position.
“Do we have a problem aiming at the target?” McClellan said, repeating a reporter’s question. “We have goalkeeping moments but we have [defense] Moments and forwards don’t get in our way.
“Phoenix has obviously played well for us lately. It wasn’t his best night. Probably his poorest.”
Copley, on his account, admitted his shortcomings. He said rusting from inactivity is not the cause. “Just a hard effort on my part. I think it’s always a little tough but that’s no excuse.
His teammates weren’t much help, and made a bunch of small mistakes that added up. “We made ourselves miserable early in the game and tried to find our game as the game went on,” said McClellan.
They lost battles. You haven’t won the decisive encounters. It didn’t get any deeper, which led to a Tyler Seguin goal from over the right circle at 6:54 of the first period. Seguin went to the top shelf for an unassisted goal at 17:20, and Esa Lindell found the top left corner at 18:44 to silence the crowd and give the Stars a 3-0 lead.
“Things may not have been clicking as well as they were, but the effort was there,” Copley said. “It was just an execution.”
The Kings, who hit 34 shots on Dallas goaltender Scott Wedgwood, haven’t consistently matched the Stars’ intensity. “It was just a bounce here and there that we needed. We didn’t win it tonight either,” Kings captain Anze Kopitar said. “We definitely have to play better in order to win games.”
In search of the silver linings, McClellan said he views Quick’s relief efforts as some solace. “I played my quickie really well. “He didn’t get a lot of action but he was in the game, made some good touches on the ball, and some stopped right away at the penalty kick,” said McClellan. “If there’s something positive, he’s got some good minutes and he can feel good about himself.”
The Kings’ upcoming six-game, 12-day trip is oddly structured, with matches in Nashville, Chicago and Philadelphia for the first four days. They will have two days off before they play back-to-back games in Florida on January 27 and Tampa on January 28, and finish in Carolina on January 31. This will require some careful timing for goalkeepers. .
“Common sense is we can’t run one man there. We know that,” McClellan said. “So, they’re both going to play in those situations. Then we will have more time. We rest. We get practice. We’ll see where the team is.”
They will not go far if they do not solve the goal problem.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.