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Canadiens Spoil The Party

by Gann Matsuda

March 9, 2008

LOS ANGELES — As it turned out, Los Angeles Kings rookie goaltender Erik Ersberg got his birthday present a couple of days early.

On Thursday night, he earned his first National Hockey League victory and a shutout to boot, and he was all smiles after the game.

On Saturday afternoon, Ersberg turned 26 years old, but there was to be no celebration. In fact, the Montreal Canadiens spoiled the party by handing the Kings a 5-2 defeat in front of a sell-out crowd of 18,118 fans at Staples Center.

Ersberg ended up allowing four goals on just 22 shots, but he could hardly be blamed, as two of the goals came on deflections and the other two were the direct result of defensive breakdowns by the skaters in front of him.

But it was the Kings who struck first, well, at least that is what everyone thought.

With Canadiens defenseman Mike Komisarek in the box for roughing at 9:26 of the first period, the Kings were on the power play when defenseman Tom Preissing got the puck in the slot and got off a backhand shot, beating Habs goaltender Jaroslav Halak over his right leg pad at the 10:45 mark.

But referee Ian Walsh immediately disallowed the goal, ruling that Kings left wing Kyle Calder was in the crease and had made contact with Halak, preventing him from establishing his position.

Indeed, league Rule 69.3 states, in part:

“If an attacking player initiates contact with a goalkeeper, incidental or otherwise, while the goalkeeper is in his goal crease, and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed.”

“If, after any contact by a goalkeeper who is attempting to establish position in his goal crease, the attacking player does not immediately vacate his current position in the goal crease (i.e. give ground to the goalkeeper), and a goal is scored, the goal will be disallowed. In all such cases, whether or not a goal is scored, the attacking player will receive a minor penalty for goalkeeper interference.”

However, video replay showed conclusively that while Calder had a skate in the crease, he did not in any way prevent Halak from establishing position.

“That could’ve changed the game,” said Kings right wing Dustin Brown. “I didn’t feel like they were really into it in the first period. Then they got that break, taking away a goal.”

“It was a little strange,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar. “I don’t know what the case was, maybe goalie interference. The guys on the bench said it wasn’t, but that’s what happens in hockey. I think we played pretty good after that, but we gave up a couple of easy goals that cost us the game.”

Kings head coach Marc Crawford was unhappy with the obviously blown call by Walsh, but he resigned himself to chalking it up to the kind of adversity that all teams face.

“The first call was unfortunate because I don’t think that’s the spirit of the call,” said Kings head coach Marc Crawford. “Calder did a great job in front of the net and I didn’t think he impacted the play at all. The letter of the law I suppose. He had his heel in the crease, but it didn’t impede the goaltender at all.”

“I would venture a guess that 99 out of 100 times that play is made the goal is allowed,” added Crawford. “But that’s the breaks of the game and your team’s job is to fight through any adversity.”

The Kings fought through that adversity in the first period, keeping the game scoreless. But in the second period, the Habs took a 1-0 lead on a goal by veteran defenseman Patrice Brisbois at the 5:09 mark.

Brisbois got the puck at right point and fired it off of Kopitar in the slot. The deflection fooled Ersberg, with the shot beating him between his leg pads.

The Habs took a 2-0 lead on another deflection of a point shot, this time by Canadiens center and team captain Saku Koivu, who was standing in the slot. His deflection beat Ersberg top shelf, upper right corner of the net. Koivu’s 14th goal of the season came on the power play, as Kings winger Brian Willsie went off for slashing at 6:49.

The Canadiens’ lead extended to 3-0 after the Kings line of Raitis Ivanans, Derek Armstrong (who was being double-shifted) and Willsie got caught up ice, giving the Habs a chance off the rush that they converted when right wing Guillaume Latendresse beat Ersberg with a wrist shot from the left side of the slot at the 12:43 mark.

The Kings managed to get one back at the 16:43 mark when Kings defenseman Rob Blake picked up a rebound in front and wristed it over Halak’s left shoulder with the Kings on the power play.

The goal was Blake’s 700th NHL point.

The Habs regained their three-goal lead at 3:49 of the third period, when Andrei Kostitsyn was left all alone in front of the Kings net and easily converted a centering pass with the Kings’ skaters running around in their own zone, focused on the puck instead of their defensive positions.

Kopitar scored his 29th goal of the season at the 6:29 mark, but that was it for the Kings.

Late in the game, Ersberg was pulled for the extra attacker, but Habs (and former Kings) checking winger Tom Kostopoulos scored into the empty net to give the Canadiens their final margin of victory.

In the end, defensive blunders and the blown call proved too costly.

“Adversity comes in lots of forms,” Crawford explained. “It can come in penalties, it come in injuries, it can come in top opponents, it can come in great goaltending against you and it can come in a call that goes against you. You just have to persevere and get through it and I thought we did a terrific job of that.”

“They were fortunate to have the lead they had,” Crawford elaborated. “But they’re a dangerous club on the rush, they’re a dangerous club on the power play and they scored two deflection goals—they know what they’re doing when they’re putting pucks towards the net.”

Crawford said that Ersberg was not as good as he was against Ottawa on Thursday, but he was not laying the blame on him.

“We didn’t get as strong a goaltending performance as we got the night before,” said Crawford. “That was probably the difference in the game. But what can you do. There were two deflection goals—they were good deflection goals. The third one was the breakdown we had and we gave them a chance off the rush. And then we had a mistake in coverage at the end.”

“My point being was that he was outstanding the night before and their guy gave the outstanding performance today,” added Crawford. “And they got a break.”

“They’re a good team,” said Brown. “They played a pretty good game and their goalie played really well. They got the goals they needed at the right times and we were unable to do so.”

Indeed, the 22-year-old Halak played a very solid game.

“In the beginning I was a little nervous,” said Halak. “It was my first game in two weeks, but overall, I’m very happy about the way I played and how the guys played.”

“I knew Jaro was ready to go,” said Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau. “It’s been awhile for him. Today, he came up really big on some occasions. I think especially early in the game when it was tight, he made some really big saves.”

The Canadiens were not being looked at as being one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference, but that is exactly what they are now, just one point behind the New Jersey Devils for the top spot in the conference.

“At this stage of the year, every point is important,” Carbonneau explained. “Two months ago, I wasn’t thinking too much about first place. Now we are where we are. If we can keep winning, that’s the most important thing. It doesn’t really matter where we sit as long as we make the playoffs, get into the playoffs, remain healthy and on a good run.”

“We’re getting production from everybody,” Carbonneau elaborated. “Goaltending has been a huge part of our success since the start of the year and our power play has been able to connect when we’ve needed it. Sometimes we make mistakes. We’re not a big team. We’re not an older team with a lot of experience, but the players believe in themselves and they play as a team. They enjoy being on the ice and working and we have the results.”

Despite the three-goal loss, the Kings did not play all that badly in this game.

“I thought we played a pretty good game,” said Brown. “They were opportunistic today. I think our record against top teams is better than our record against lower-end teams so far this year. We’ve got to clean up a goal or two by not breaking down defensively. If you look at this game, if we don’t give them a three-goal lead and if we get one, maybe it’s a different game.”

“I think we played a pretty good game,” said Kopitar. “We were battling hard, but we gave up a couple of easy goals that we shouldn’t and that was the difference in the game.”

Their coach saw things the same way.

“I was pretty pleased with the way we played, especially our top guys,” said Crawford. “Our top young guys have been terrific. They’re battling like crazy and that’s as a good a team as you’re going to see in the East. If we put that type of effort in most nights, we’re going to come out on the favorable side of it.”

“We have to concentrate on process and execution,” added Crawford. “For the most part, we can’t be disappointed with our execution or our process today. We played a very good game. We had a couple of breakdowns in every game. If we can limit them to the few that we gave up today, most times, you’re going to end up on the favorable side of it.”

NOTES: On the blown call by Walsh, former NHL linesmen Kevin Pollock, who is now an NHL referee, was in attendance and was seated in the west wing of the press box. He immediately bolted out of his seat and disappeared into the corridor on the play. An educated guess was that he went to the video replay officials room to review the play.

Kopitar is now tied with Brown for the team lead in goal scoring; Blake’s goal was his 159th goal with the Kings, tying him for tenth all-time on the Kings’ goal scoring list with Bob Berry, who is now a pro scout for the team; With an assist on Blake’s goal, Kings winger Michael Cammalleri has three goals and seven assists for ten points in his last eight games and has eleven assists in his last thirteen games; Patrick O’Sullivan assisted on Kopitar’s goal, giving him five goals and five assists for ten points in his last eight games; Kopitar now has four goals and nine assists for thirteen points in his last eight games, five of which were multi-point games. He also has nine goals in his last 16 games; The Canadiens last played in Los Angeles on March 6, 2004, when they defeated the Kings, 4-2.


THREE STARS (OFFICIAL)
#3 - Blake; #2 - Komisarek; #1 - Halak

ONLINE KINGDOM’S THREE STARS
#3 - Latendresse: Goal, assist.
#2 - Andrei Kostitsyn: Solid play throughout; game-winning goal.
#3 - Halak: Solid play throughout; could not be faulted for either Kings’ goal.

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
Daily News
It’s The Same Old Story For Kings

Inside The Kings
Rich Hammond’s Blog Entries Covering the Game

Los Angeles Times
Canadiens Beat Kings, 5-2

MONTREAL NEWSPAPERS
Montreal Gazette
Sloppy Defensive Play A Concern

NEXT GAME: On Monday, the Kings finish their current home stand against Canadian teams when the Vancouver Canucks skate into Staples Center. Game time: 7:30 PM PDT. 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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