Rafi Torres Gets Two, Unable to Overcome L.A. Kings, Lose 4-3

Rafi Torres got two goals (5th and 6th) by the end of the second period but it was not enough to overcome a strong Kings team and lose a tough game 4-3. There is no such thing as a moral victory, but the Coyotes should take sole solace that they played without starting goalie Mike Smith (on IR-groin) and Adrian Aucoin (IR-lower body) and Centers Marty Hanzal (upper body)  and Boyd Gordon (lower body).

This forced the recall of Patrick O’Sullivan from Portland, who made the most of his chance by getting as assist on Rafi’s second goal, a breakaway thanks to O’Sullivan hitting him with a two line pass on the stick tape. The injuries also moved Paul Bissonnette in the lineup from the pressbox and Lauri Korpikoski over to center from his usual wing. And Goalie Curtis McElhinney was called up from Portland, sending Justin Pogue back.

So how did the banged up Coyotes play? There are the three keys to the game that dictates if they will win or not. Those three keys are:

  1. Score First. The Kings scored first, forcing the Coyotes to play from behind the entire game. Coyotes never had a lead that they could milk thanks to a punishing forecheck.
  2. No early penalties. They boys did stay out of the box early and didn’t allow a PP goal, but they missed Hanzal and Boyd on the face off.
  3. Neutral Zone Clears. This courtesy of Tyson Nash. He said the team worked on this and breakouts at the morning skate and all Tip kept yelling was to get the puck out of the neutral zone, no turnovers. During the game, they boys did a good job of clearing the puck and not getting caught trying to get a line change while the Kings are coming up ice.

The Kings have a top line of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Dustin Penner. All three got points in the win. Anze Kopitar, who will kill you with his puck handling and great hands. He is not a power forward who will dig it out from the corner or  move players in front of the net. Instead, as he showed in the third period, he skated between and around four Coyotes and got off a hard wrist shot through traffic and right on Barbs. It was saved, but showed what Kopitar can do when given time or space. The Kings got first period goals from Rob Scuderi (4:09 into the game), Rafi tied things up about 90 seconds later, and then Brad Richardson gave the Kings a lead going into the first intermission.

The second period was highlighted by Rafi’s breakaway goal. At this point I must admit I have been very critical of Torres, even suggesting he be trade bait with Kyle Turris. I wrote a column about it. I was wrong. He plays a valuable role on this team, has bought into what Coach Tippett preaches as the type of system that must be displayed (defense first, strong forecheck, goal contribution by 3rd and 4th line). Rafi had brought his big hits and scoring touch. He now is playing more defense than he has in his career.

The third period saw the L.A. Kings break the tie at 1:48 as Willie Mitchell walked into a wrister halfway between Jason’s left and the face-off circle. It screamed over his shoulder as he was in the butterfly. Jason was forced to try and lift a trap to stop it, but he needed traps the size of Lee Haney if he was going to have a chance. The fourth goal for the Kings was a wrister by Captain Dustin Brown that was to the left of Jason. He slowed the puck down but it trickled through the five hole. This gave the Kings a two goal lead and was the game ender for Jason. He knew he should have stopped the puck. Curtis McElhinney came in as the Kings were rolling. They peppered him, ringing two off the post and bar on the same cycle but couldn’t get one by him.

For the Coyotes, Mikkel Boedker took the puck up ice, skated into the offensive zone, put the puck on Jonathon Quick, who let out a big rebound right onto the stick of Daymond Langkow. Langkow put it into the back of the net and brought life back to the Coyotes.  Unfortunately, it was all the Coyotes could muster and ended up losing 4-3. Even after pulling the goalie, they coudn’t get the puck going in the cycle to create something of an offensive chance.

What was good for the night?

  1. No Power Play goals were scored by the Kings even though our faceoff stars Hanzal and Gordon were out of the lineup.
  2. Neutral zone clears. I’m going to add defensive zone clears as well. I think the Coyotes lead the league in failure to clear the puck out of their zone when on the PK. Last night, much better job.
  3. 3rd and 4th line scoring contribution. Even when not scoring, they were pressing the play and forcing the Kings to play the Coyote way.
  4. Derek Morris played tough and physical. He looked ten years younger as he was at both ends of the ice making plays.
  5. Late in the third, Langlow was something like 10 our of 12 on the face off. Clearly an under-appreciated role he was asked to play.

What needs improvement?

  1. Goal Tending. Jason has a 0.863 save percentage. It needs to be above 0.900 if you are to considered a 1A goalie. He does pull the back game of a back to back series with tired skaters in front of him and made some great saves last night (diving glove save in the third with a wide open net comes to mind). It is the Dustin Brown goal that hurts him. Between the five hole after he got a pad on the shot. It should not have went in. McElhinney is 9-11 in Portland. We will see if he will stay for awhile until Mike Smith is healed.
  2. Power Play. It is not the first time you have seen the opponent’s penalty killers line up on the blue line. On one power play in the third, the only time the puck was in the King zone was on the initial face off. Teams are moving to this. Stand four on the blue, deny the entry pass and make you chip and chase.
  3. Scoring early. Coyotes win when they score early and get out to a lead. They don’t win when chasing.

In conclusion, the boys have some things to work on before the Boston Bruins come to town on Wednesday to play a sold out Jobing.com. A picture of Rafi from the season opener and one of O’Sullivan. To celebrate his return.