The Los Angeles Kings have set the standard for hard-to-play-against, grinding out 24 playoff wins over the last two springs. But does it matter today, if the Kings can’t score?
They won it all with relative ease last year, salting in enough goals with the blood ‘n’ guts, four-wheel-drive hockey that head coach Darryl Sutter favours. This year they’re still hard to play against, but dead last in scoring among teams that advanced to Round 2.
Either you’re on the record (as I have been) against low-shots, low-chances – and as such – low-scoring hockey. Or, the style L.A. plays is your cup of tea. There’s no right and wrong here. It’s a matter of taste.
Today, however, even the biggest fan of Kings hockey would admit, the limits of the L.A. style have been stretched. L.A. has reached critical mass on the stingiest offence in the playoffs. It’s time to score, or time to go home.
“You’ve got to find a way,” goalie Jonathan Quick, pulled from a playoff game for the first time since the 2010 playoffs, told reporters in Chicago after the loss. “(The Blackhawks) did their job at home. We’ve got to go home and do our job now.”
You can have your Corsi number, your Fenwick number, your PDO – whatever. In the end, there is only one number that truly matters in a team sport, and it is found on the scoreboard after 60 minutes (or more) of hockey.
“It wasn’t (Quick)’s fault. That’s for sure,” Kings winger Dustin Penner said. “He’s the main reason we’re here. We felt bad as a team. That’s on us that he got pulled. It had nothing to do with him.”
Quick wasn’t quite himself in Game 2, but there isn’t a goaltender alive that could support a pop-gun offence like this on a round-by-round basis.
“Scoring one goal again on the road, that’s something we’ve got to push through,” Jarret Stoll told the Los Angeles Times after a 2-1 loss in Game 1. “Our offence has to be better. Myself, everybody included. We’ve got to get more chances, more shots, more toward their goaltender. We didn’t make him work as hard as we wanted to tonight.”
In Game 1, L.A.’s only goal came off a generous giveaway by Chicago goaltender Corey Crawford. The Kings mustered two shots in the first period, and just 22 shots on goal all night long.
Los Angeles peppered 31 shots on net in a 4-2 loss in Game 2 Sunday, despite playing without the injured Mike Richards. But the first goal (by Jeff Carter) didn’t come until after they had fallen behind the Blackhawks 4-0. Tyler Toffoli scored in garbage time, a tally that had no bearing on the game.
So, what’s the difference between this year’s Kings and the 2012 Stanley Cup champs? In terms of dominance, the two aren’t even close:
— Last season, L.A. took a 3-0 lead in each of four playoff series. This season they trailed St. Louis 2-0 in Round 1, and face the same deficit after two games of this Western Conference Final versus Chicago.
— Last season, Los Angeles was an incredible 10-1 on the road during the playoffs. This time around, the Kings are 1-7 on the road.
— A year ago the Kings averaged 2.85 goals per playoff game. This time? They’re down to 1.93.
Now, they’re in tough against a Chicago team that knows how to win, and has done so as recently as 2010.
“This time of year you try to carry momentum as long as you can. Every game presents different challenges,” Patrick Sharp said postgame. “We felt great about coming back in that Detroit series. Game 7 was a huge high for us. That seems like a long time ago now. We’re past that and we’re focused on the Kings.
“We’re happy to win the first two games at home. We know how well the Kings play in their building. The series is just getting started really.”
Corey Crawford has outplayed Quick thus far. The workload has not been equal however, and if that doesn’t change, either will this script.
“I feel like I’ve been pretty strong, pretty consistent this year,” Crawford said. “I’ve taken pride in that this year, to have the same game every night, give our guys a chance.
“With a team like this, you know, we have such a great offence, just give our guys a chance and make sure it stays within a goal or two, and we’re in good shape.”
Staying within a goal or two of the Los Angeles Kings has not been an issue this spring. The tightrope, it seems, is wearing thin in L.A.
It’s time to get on the score sheet, or get on a golf cart. Publish or perish, as it were.