LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles Kings’ brand of hard-hitting, in-your-face type hockey didn’t give the Canadiens much of anything to work with on Thursday night.
Playing their fourth game in six nights, Michel Therrien’s troops dropped a 3-2 decision at the STAPLES Center to a club that relishes making their opponents pay at every conceivable opportunity to throw their weight around. That proved to be the difference in the Canadiens’ second contest in Southern California in as many days, as Darryl Sutter’s squad didn’t let up in the physicality department all night long.
“Tonight was definitely the toughest situation. I think we really left it all out there last night [in Anaheim]. We played a very strong game against a very physical team. It was an emotional battle. Then, we came in tonight and we were very slow off the start,” said captain Max Pacioretty, referencing the Kings’ establishing a 2-0 lead just over three-and-half-minutes into the game on goals by forwards Anze Kopitar and Tanner Pearson.
“They’re one of the best teams in the league for a reason. I can’t remember a time when I had the puck and I didn’t get hit tonight,” added Pacioretty, whose squad was outhit by a 39-24 margin on Thursday night. “Their D-men really play the right way. You don’t notice them that much because of it. They step up and do what’s best for the team. They make the hit, take the hit, and get rid of the puck. That’s very tough to play against. I think that’s Western Conference hockey.”
Milan Lucic and Luke Schenn – both of whom are quite familiar with the Canadiens from having spent time in the Eastern Conference – dished out a team-leading six hits each during the tilt. Greg Pateryn and Mike Brown responded for the CH with five hits apiece, but the Canadiens simply couldn’t match the way the league’s most physical and defensively savvy team went about its business following a three-day break.
“They came out hard. These were three physical games. They were really physically demanding. Tonight, there was no space out there. You know why that team has had so much success both this year and in the past. They just take away your time and space. Going up against Kopitar and [Drew] Doughty, it felt like there was no room out there,” admitted Pacioretty, who registered two of the Canadiens’ season-low 15 shots on goal on Thursday night. “You’re going along the boards against them and you know you’re getting hit. We countered that with some physical play, but like everybody knows, they’re a physical team.”
P.K. Subban can certainly attest to that, having spent just under 29 minutes on the ice playing against the likes of some of the Kings’ toughest customers.
“You’ve got to give them credit. They play a hard, heavy game. They forecheck hard. They make it tough on you coming out of your zone. It was tough for us to come out of our zone tonight,” shared Subban, who scored his sixth goal of the season late in the first period, before reaching the 50-point plateau for a third consecutive year by picking up an assist on Lars Eller’s tally with 5:54 remaining in regulation time.
Like Subban, Therrien was quick to give the Kings’ credit for playing a style of hockey that steadily grinds opponents down as the game goes on.
“We can’t really take anything away from our team. We didn’t match their energy level. It wasn’t the same. Without looking for excuses, you can’t forget that we’ve played four games in the last six nights and we were playing a team that hadn’t played since Sunday,” said Therrien, who will lead the Canadiens into Winnipeg on Saturday night to wrap up their current four-game road swing. “When you’re playing a team like that and you’ve got the same energy level as they do, they’re already tough to play against. They’re the best defensive team in the league and I felt that the energy level just wasn’t there for us.”Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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