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Rookie Goalie Shuts Out The Sens

by Gann Matsuda

March 7, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Talk about a trial by fire.

That is exactly what 25-year-old, wet-behind-the-ears rookie goaltender Erik Ersberg faced on Thursday night at Staples Center when the Ottawa Senators, a team that is battling for first place in the Eastern Conference, came to town to face the Los Angeles Kings.

But Ersberg turned out to be bulletproof against the Sens, pitching a 2-0 shutout win while stopping forty shots, earning his first National Hockey League victory in front of an announced crowd of 17,580 fans.

“It feels good,” said the native of Sala, Sweden, the Kings’ first Swedish goaltender. “That was my first win, so it was really nice to get one. Finally. But wins are more important than shutouts, I guess.”

“[Ersberg] made great saves for us,” said Kings right wing Dustin Brown, who was involved in both Kings scoring plays. “They’re a high-powered offense and he did a great job. When you see him off the ice, he’s small. But the bottom line is that he stops the puck. When it comes to goaltending, that’s all that really matters.”

And of course, his coach was impressed.

“It was a great effort by our team, but you can’t start talking about this game without talking our young goaltender,” said Kings head coach Marc Crawford. “That’s a terrific performance for him. He was just a calming influence all night.”

“When they had their chances in the third where they really put on their charge, they were throwing everything at us and getting all their people into the attack,” added Crawford. “I thought he was just so calm and collected back there. It was very, very nice to see that, coming from such a young goaltender who’s never won a game in the National Hockey League.”

“It’s always wonderful to get a win, it’s always wonderful for a goaltender to get his first win and you do it with a shutout, it’s got to be even more special. Then you do it against one of the top teams in the East—that’s terrific.”

After a scoreless first period in which the Kings came out strong early, only to see the Senators assert themselves later in the period and end up outshooting the Kings, 16-8, the Kings came out of the dressing room after the first intermission and dominated the Sens in the second period.

The Kings failed to score with a two-man advantage, but right after it expired, right winger Alexander Frolov took a pass in the slot and beat Senators goaltender Martin Gerber through a screen provided by Brown. The power play goal, Frolov’s 21st goal of the season, came at the 8:10 mark.

The Kings wound up outshooting the Senators in the second period, 21-8, and the only reason the Kings failed to put more pucks in the net was the stellar play of Gerber, who robbed several Kings forwards in the period at point-blank range.

“Sometimes you run into goalies like that,” said Brown. “We did what we had to as a team and the bottom line was that we won. The key is that when a goalie is playing like that—one goal we scored on he didn’t see. That was with a screen—traffic in front. Frolov just slid it right along the ice. When you have a hot goalie, you have to make it tough for him to make saves and we did that tonight.”

As much as the Kings ruled the second period, the Senators dominated the third, outshooting the Kings, 16-3, spending what seemed like an eternity in the Kings zone.

But no matter what they tried and no matter how many times the Kings gift-wrapped point-blank scoring chances for them, the Sens misfired or were stopped by Ersberg, and then Kings winger Patrick O’Sullivan scored an empty-net goal at the 19:55 mark to give the Kings their final margin of victory.

“We kind of missed the first two periods a little bit, didn’t come out the way we wanted to and in the second, we lost a step for whatever reason,” said Gerber. “In the third, I thought we played the way we can and we had some chances, but we missed the net a couple of times.”

“Erik was a big part of our win tonight,” said Crawford. “And let’s not take anything away from their goalie. Their goalie was outstanding tonight too, especially in the second period when we were as lopsided with our chances as they were in the third.”

“It was back and forth,” Brown explained. “Ersberg was exceptional and Gerber deserved one of the stars. He made a lot of great saves. We managed to get an empty-net goal and one power play goal and that was the difference.”

“Ottawa was the number one team in the East, and we just came back from a four-game road trip,” Brown elaborated. “We wanted to come out hard and we played a pretty good game from start to finish.”

Another difference in the game was that the Kings shut down Ottawa’s top line, featuring Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza, who had seven shots and were a combined -2 on the night.

“I thought it was a very good start to the game,” said Crawford. “We had lots of energy. We had a good performance by the line that checked Spezza and Heatley—[Kings center Michal] Handzus, the young [Matt] Ellis who we picked up from Detroit, and [Jeff] Giuliano. They can really skate and they’re dogged workers and they pursued the puck extremely well tonight. They pursued it from behind well and they seemed to stymie that line often.”

“[That line] maybe got chances from outside, but they rarely got anything that resulted in rebounds or three and four chances off of a play,” added Crawford. “That’s a compliment to our goalie because he smothered a lot of rebounds. Also, I thought our coverage was good and our back-side pressure was good as it’s been in a long time.”

“Their top guys—you could see their frustration,” said Brown. “They didn’t get much. A lot of their chances were from their second, third and fourth-line guys. That was a challenge presented to one of our lines and they did a great job.”

In the Senators’ dressing room, the mood seemed rather glum.

“It’s disappointing,” said Senators defenseman Chris Phillips. “We’re working hard and you get some energy going, and you think you’re going in the right direction. But we didn’t show that tonight.”

“Most of it is mental, playing the way you have to play,” added Phillips. “When you get to this level, everybody’s got, for the most part, the same ability. A few guys are the cream of the crop, but it’s mostly mental, playing the way you have to play within the structure of the team.”

“This is a disappointing loss to say the least,” said Senators head coach Bryan Murray. “You have to give them some credit, but we didn’t start very well. We never got it going in the first, didn’t play hard in the second at all and we put ourselves in a box a little bit.”

“We played so hard in the third period and had many chances, but we can’t find a away to score a goal.”

To be sure, Murray found no fault with his goaltender.

“I thought he was spectacular,” said Murray. “He did make saves. He has been outstanding. We’re just not doing anything to help him.”

Did the Senators think the Kings were going to be a pushover? Indeed, there was some indication of that after the game.

“You look at the standings and you should come out on top, but that’s the quality of the players in the league,” Phillips explained. “If you take that for granted, this is what happens.”

“When one team plays bad it always makes the other team look better,” Phillips elaborated. “But for the most part, they kept it pretty simple. They have a lot of speed, they get the puck deep and forecheck hard. They forced us to make mistakes and they capitalized. They played their game to a tee tonight.”

The Sens also took notice of the rookie goalie at the other end of the ice.

“He played well, especially when we did get some shots, some rebounds and some traffic,” said Phillips. “He hung right in there.”

Back to the big story...Ersberg was mobbed by the media after the game and the soft-spoken netminder, who looks like he is closer to eighteen years of age as opposed to 25, said that he is just happy to get a chance to show what he can do.

“It’s been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” Ersberg said about playing in the NHL. “It’s a great opportunity to play in this league and show what you can do. It feels good to get some games up here. I’m happy for every game I get. That’s why I came over here—to play in this league. When you play a couple of games, you want to get more.”

With the victory, Ersberg is now 1-1-2 on the season with a 1.68 goals-against average and a .952 save percentage.

Perhaps the biggest reason for those stellar numbers is the fact that Ersberg has been a puck magnet—he has rarely given up a rebound.

“I try to challenge guys,” Ersberg explained. “I’m not so big, so I have to take away more of the net, move fast and take away rebounds.”

“When you contrast him to [Kings goalie] Jason [LaBarbera], who’s a big goalie who tries to block a lot of shots, [Ersberg is] more of a positional guy who’s got a great feel for the puck and does draw it into his body,” said Crawford.

Making pucks stick to him as if he had some kind of adhesive all over him certainly helps his team in a big way.

“It makes it a lot easier,” said Brown. “One, we don’t have to clear the rebounds and two, we get a lot of whistles, which allows us to get the right people out there in the right situations.”

The win ended the Kings’ five-game losing streak and puts them in much better spirits heading into a tough game against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.

“It’s great that [Ersberg] had the outstanding outing tonight,” said Crawford. “We’ll try and build on it again for the next game. But it’s a chance right now for him to enjoy the victory and for the team to enjoy the victory.”

“We played well on the road trip and we lost a bunch of games by a goal,” added Crawford. “Tonight, to find a way to get a great goal by Frolov and then to put the puck into the empty net to salt it away—it’s a nice feeling for our team and a nice feeling for our fans.”

NOTES: In the second period, O’Sullivan took a knee-on-knee hit in front of the Kings’ bench when Senators defenseman Anton Volchenkov appeared to intentionally stick out his left leg in order to avoid being beaten to the inside.

O’Sullivan was tended to on the ice by Kings trainer Chris Kingsley while Brown went right after Volchenkov, who was not penalized on the play. Brown received a roughing minor, giving the Senators a power play.

O’Sullivan ended up walking to the Kings dressing room under his own power and returned to the ice later in the period.

“I thought it was a penalty,” Crawford explained. “Sometimes, they don’t see them. Thankfully, Patrick isn’t hurt. Usually on those things, you’re always fearing the worst. No damage was done. We came out of it no worse for wear.”

Senators leading scorer and team captain Daniel Alfredsson was scratched from the lineup due to back spasms.

“He’s a great player, but they have more good guys there,” said Ersberg. “Maybe that helped us a little that he wasn’t in the lineup.”

The Kings are now 9-1-1 against the Senators at home. The Sens last came to Staples Center on October 15, 2003. The Kings are 17/17 in penalty-killing over their last five games.


THREE STARS (OFFICIAL)
#3 - Anze Kopitar; #2 - Gerber; #1 - Ersberg

ONLINE KINGDOM’S THREE STARS
#3 - Brown: Physical play, provided the screen that Frolov used to score in the second period and contributed an assist on O’Sullivan’s empty-netter.
#2 - Gerber: Best player on the ice for the Sens. Made some amazing saves that left the Kings forwards that he robbed dumbfounded.
#1 - Ersberg: Gerber was great, but Ersberg was better. One has to wonder if he really does have some kind of adhesive all over him!

For more information, including more interviews with the players and coaches, we invite you to check out:

OFFICIAL SCORING AND STATISTICS
NHL Scoresheet
NHL Superstats
NHL Play-By-Play

WIRE SERVICE REPORTS
Associated Press Report From ESPN.com

LOCAL NEWSPAPERS/SITES
Inside The Kings
Matthew Kredell’s Blog Entries Covering the Game

Los Angeles Times
It’s A Big Night For Ersberg, Kings

OTTAWA NEWSPAPERS
Ottawa Citizen
Kings Blank Sens

Ottawa Sun
Senators Sacked By Sad-Sack Kings

NEXT GAME: On Saturday, the Kings host the storied Les Habitants, the Montreal Canadiens. Game time: 1:00 PM PST. Televised in the Los Angeles area on FSN Prime Ticket.

Gann Matsuda, who has been writing about the Kings since 1986, is the News Editor for the Online Kingdom and covers the Kings for Hockeytalk.biz. He is also the publisher of Frozen Royalty, a blog covering the Kings.

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