QUEBEC CITY, Canada — Excuse-making is being raised to the level of an art by the Kings these days, sharpened by a quarter-season slide down the Smythe Division.
Injuries have been the most convenient alibi. A bad travel schedule on commerical airlines comes up from time to time, too.
After Tuesday's 3-2 loss to the Quebec Nordiques before 14,843 at Le Colisee, there were fresh excuses to accompany the old standbys.
Both the ice and officiating were given equal time after the game by the Kings. CoachBarry Melrose quickly warmed up to the topic of bad ice, eventually getting there near the end of a long answer to the first question of his postgame interview.
"We did a lot of good things tonight in a tough building," he said. "The ice was horrible, just horrible. I had better ice when I was 12 years old. . . . It was awful. You have that in March in Kelvington, Saskatchewan, before they had artificial ice. It was ridiculous.
"You get your uniforms soaked playing in that wet stuff. You can catch cold, pneumonia. They should give you wet suits when you come here."
Said left wing Mike Donnelly: "The puck just stopped sometimes. It has an effect on the game. It's got to. I think we're a good skating hockey team. But we're not looking for excuses."
The Kings (24-22-6) don't need to search for excuses. They can summon forth a handful at a moment's notice. For instance, there was the prominent mention of a missed call at the end of the game.
In the waning seconds, with goaltender Kelly Hrudey pulled for an extra attacker, the Kings were pressing in the Nordiques' zone for the tying goal. With five-tenths of a second left, Wayne Gretzky attempted to get off a shot from the edge of the circle near the right boards. Before Gretzky could shoot, defenseman Adam Foote threw his stick at the puck.
Gretzky made a quick move around it and directed the shot at goaltender Ron Hextall. But the puck hit Donnelly, who was stationed at the right crease. In one quick motion, Donnelly swiped at the puck and put it underneath Hextall's arm.
By the time Donnelly started to make the shot, the green light went on--signifying the end of the game. The play was reviewed by the video replay judge, who immediately ruled it no goal, saying the green light went on before Donnelly scored.
Still, the Kings were protesting, to no avail, the stick throw by Foote. But the referee and the two linesmen all were watching the goal.
Gretzky, in particular, was visibly angry. After his teammates and Melrose headed to the locker room, he stayed and argued. Finally, Gretzky gave up and left the ice for the locker room. At least he tried to do this. A fan jumped down from a television position about 10 feet above the corridor and he tried to get Gretzky's autograph before a security guard yanked the fan away, according to several King players.
Even after the game, Gretzky was still irritated about the non-call.
"It definitely wasn't a goal (by Donnelly)," he said. "But as clearly as it wasn't a goal, just as clearly the guy threw his stick. It definitely (should have been called) a penalty shot. I don't understand, we have rules and we don't have rules."
Nevertheless, the Kings put themselves in the position of having to scramble. They went the game's first 10 minutes without a shot on goal. Charlie Huddy finally ended the drought at 12:52 with a 160-footer when the Kings were killing a penalty. It was their third shot of the period.
Actually, the Kings seem to be faring better when they've had to kill penalties. Both goals on Tuesday were short-handed, Luc Robitaille's 34th at 5:42 of the second period and Tony Granato's 19th of the season at 6:55 of the third.
One of the few highlights for the Kings was Hrudey stopping Mats Sundin on a penalty shot at 8:02 of the second period. Hrudey came out to challenge Sundin and then backed up in the crease and closed his pads, knowing Sundin was going to try to beat him there.
Hrudey figured this out only when Sundin went to consult with Hextall.
"I had no clue what he wanted to do," Hrudey said. "If he wouldn't have talked to Hexy, I would have had no idea."
Hrudey then laughed, saying: "I've only stopped about two of the 900 penalty shots I've faced. . . . In the two games I've stopped them, we've lost. Maybe I've got to keep letting them go in."