|Kings goaltender Jason LaBarbera has been royalty
for Los Angeles by earning four straight wins, with
one shutout, while allowing just four goals.
The Los Angeles Kings struggled in goal last season, but kept Jason LaBarbera in the minors because they were afraid they’d lose him on re-entry waivers. The way he’s playing now, they might have been right.
LaBarbera has given the Kings the kind of goaltending they’ve been seeking for the past few seasons. He’s backstopped them to victories in each of their last four games, allowing just four goals on 110 shots. For the season, he has a 2.06 goals-against average, a .925 save percentage and one shutout. He’s allowed the Kings to send goaltending prospect Jonathan Bernier back to juniors for more seasoning while giving L.A. fans the kind of goaltending they’ve seen only rarely since the prime of Felix Potvin several years ago.
LaBarbera says spending last season in the minors was a worthwhile experience, and this hot streak is being helped by a team that started with a lot of newcomers beginning to play together. But LaBarbera’s play has been a major factor in the Kings’ recent surge. His teammates have come to believe that he’ll make the big save when there’s a mistake, and that can change the morale of an entire team.
Five up -- Five players who’ve been hot:
Rod Brind’Amour -- At age 37, Carolina’s captain shows no signs of slowing down. He has a nine-game points streak and five goals in his last three games, including his third career hat trick in Saturday night’s win on Long Island.
Alexander Ovechkin -- Washington has been riddled with injuries, but their star forward keeps producing. He has four goals and nine points in the Caps’ last four games, including a pair of goals in Monday’s 7-1 romp in Toronto, and has 15 points in 11 games on a team that has scored just 31 times.
Chris Osgood -- Osgood’s name rarely comes up in a discussion of elite goaltenders, but all he does is win. “Ozzie” is 6-0-0 this season with a 1.50 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage. He passed the 340-victory mark last week and seems likely to finish his career well north of 400 wins.
Devin Setoguchi -- San Jose sent its leading preseason scorer down to the minors until injuries and scoring struggles forced a recall. All Setoguchi, the Sharks’ No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, did was score two goals in his NHL debut on Monday in Dallas. It was the second two-goal debut in a week: Toronto’s Jiri Tlusty did it last Thursday in Pittsburgh.
Joe Sakic -- “Old Man Avalanche” just keeps rolling along. He reached the 1,600-point mark last week by setting up the overtime winner in Calgary on Friday night, has eight points during a five-game points streak, and is on a pace that would put him close to 100 points for the season, not bad for a 38-year-old.
Five down -- Five players who have been struggling:
Sergei Samsonov -- Chicago expected an offensive boost when it acquired Samsonov from Montreal during the summer; the Hawks still are waiting. Samsonov has just two assists this season, is 0-1-1 and minus-5 in his last three games, and is looking at some time in the press box as a healthy scratch.
Rick DiPietro -- The Islanders went from Saturday to Saturday between games, and the rust might have caught up with them, especially DiPietro, who thrives on work. He stopped just eight of 14 shots in an 8-3 blowout loss to Carolina on Saturday, the Isles’ only game in a 12-day span.
Mark Recchi -- He got career goal No. 509 on opening night, but still is waiting for No. 510. Even though Recchi spends a lot of his time playing with Sidney Crosby, he has just six assists since then. In fact, he has just three goals in his last 35 games, dating back to last season.
Roberto Luongo -- Both Luongo, last season’s Vezina Trophy runner-up, and New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur, who won the trophy, continue to struggle. Luongo is just 1-5-0 in his last six games for Vancouver, and has allowed less than two goals just once this season.
Doug Weight -- St. Louis is off to a good start, but Weight has contributed very little. He has no points in his last four games and just two assists in the Blues’ 10 contests this season – unacceptable production for a projected first-line center.
Injuries and notes -- The Minnesota Wild are awash in groin injuries. Their two best forwards, Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra, both are out with strained groins, as is starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom. Center Dominic Moore is sidelined with an abdominal strain. … Washington captain Chris Clark has missed the Caps’ last two games after being hit in the ear by an Alexander Ovechkin shot last Friday. He needed 60 stitches to close the cut. The Caps hope to get defenseman Tom Poti (groin) back on Thursday after a three-game absence, and forward Alexander Semin sat out Monday’s win in Toronto after aggravating an injured ankle last Saturday in St. Louis. … Tampa Bay got its best defenseman, Dan Boyle, back on Monday. He had been out since suffering severed tendons in his wrist in a training camp accident. … Philadelphia’s Simon Gagne remains out with concussion-like symptoms, and there’s no word when he’ll return. … Boston’s Patrice Bergeron will be out indefinitely after sustaining a concussion and breaking his nose
The week ahead -- There’s lots of hockey in the New York area in the early part of November. None of the three area teams leaves the region until the Rangers visit Toronto on Nov. 10. Tampa Bay completes a swing through the New York area this week, with visits to New Jersey on Wednesday and Long Island on Thursday after a loss in New York on Monday. … The Islanders’ home game against Pittsburgh will be a special night: Hall of Famer Al Arbour, who retired in 1994, will be behind the bench for the Isles – giving him an even 1,500 games as the team’s coach. … Anaheim plays five of its next six at home, with the only road game Saturday night at Phoenix. … Atlanta completes a six-game trip in Tampa Bay on Saturday. … Calgary completes a seven-game homestand on Thursday before a two-game trip to Minnesota and Colorado. … Chicago visits Dallas and St. Louis this week before beginning a four-game homestand Sunday night. … Colorado plays the middle three games of a five-game homestand, including a rare visit from Pittsburgh on Thursday. The Penguins then go to Long Island and New Jersey to complete a four-game trip. … Dallas starts a four-game trip through Arizona and California on Monday. … Edmonton starts a four-game swing through the rest of the Northwest Division on Monday after a two-game homestand. … Toronto, which already has played nine home games, begins a four-game trip on Friday. … Ottawa starts a stretch of six in seven at home on Thursday, with the only road game on Sunday at Boston. … Philadelphia continues its eight-game road trip with five games in eight days, beginning Thursday in Montreal.