The LA Kings needed to shake things up going into game three with the Blues, to get some scoring, from somewhere. Their answer? Dress an additional defenseman. Sounds counterintuitive, right?
Sounds it, but it makes sense. In fact, it hearkens back to not that long ago, when the lineup of an NHL team was not 20 skaters, including goalies, but 18. In those days, that meant 16 skaters, of which 11 were forwards and five defense most nights. That, in turn, meant that the team had three lines and two extras, which is exactly what the Kings were playing with on this evening in game three of their series.
The net result, and again, remember that we’re talking about adding a defenseman to create offense, is to make it such that you don’t have a fourth line sitting around all night to get six minutes.
What you do, then, is buzz in a new line now and again made up of one or two of the reserve forwards plus some other guys. That way, you can also take advantage of the best players and double-shift them.
On this night, the Kings had two guys in that role, those being (depending on how you figure the lines) Kyle Clifford and Colin Fraser, and they employed them to try to get some action going, though mostly both the home team and the Blues were ineffective offensively, getting the kinds of chances that Bobby Ryan of the Ducks described in another context the other night as “one and dones,” or offensive chances that weren’t sustained.
For those who did not see the game, much of what passed as offense was long shots from the perimeter, followed by defensemen clearing rebounds and the opposite team taking the puck back down the ice. The only goal scored came when Slava Voynov, a defenseman, came close to the net and picked up a puck after a scramble, putting it up high and to the far side past Brian Elliott.
But for most of the night, nobody got set up. Nobody got to the front of the net with the puck. Over and over, it went off a leg or was blocked out out front. Now, you might see this as a classic defensive struggle. Perhaps the fact that nobody got to the net meant that the defense effectively boxed out the offense.
Evidence for that took the form of shots that, with a slightly better angle, might have tested the netminders. Players, however, were forced outside before shooting, or received passes when they were already on too great an angle to do anything but shoot the puck into the goaltenders’ equipment. Witness Mike Richards’ shot from the corner in period two as an instance of this.
Most passes were not into the dangerous areas. Nor was either team’s power play any good. To give just one example, the Kings had two shots on a power play in the first, but the more dangerous chance was for the Blues, shorthanded. In the third, with a 5-on-3, they passed, and passed, and passed some more. No shot was recorded.
There was also excellent goaltending on both ends. The Blues’ coach, Hitchcock, said before running off the podium as if he had to catch a bus that both guys were great, the Kings’ a little bit better than his netminder. Sutter said that everybody knew what to expect going in, and that the tightness of the games has been no surprise.
If the premier offensive players for LA got going, the score might have been much higher. But Kopitar had zero shots. Williams, who played pretty well, had two. Jeff Carter one. That’s not much production.
But you want to know about the Kings’ lines, so here you are: Brown was with Kopitar and Williams. No surprise. Carter, Richards, and Dwight King made up a trio. Somewhat unusual, but what the team has been going with against the Blues. The third three were Penner, Stoll, and Lewis. The forward who was out for the evening was Jordan Nolan, and in for him was Keaton Ellerby.
That left two forwards as that reserve; as mentioned above, they were Kyle Clifford and Colin Fraser. Here’s how they were used: Clifford and Fraser were with Williams. They were with Brown. Brown and Fraser were with Lewis. And in period two, Carter went in with the two reserves. That same trio saw time in the third. No line really clicked, though you might say that Kyle Clifford was up to his old tricks of being quietly effective as he threw a disruptive hit in period one that freed up a puck, and in period two, was on the ice for the Kings’ goal. He didn’t get an assist, but he probably set up the scramble that led to Voynov backing away from the net with the puck and firing it home.
So what’s the answer? Penner threw five hits. Clifford had five. Richards and Brown each had three shots. On the other side, Jordan Leopold and Jay Bouwmeester averaged about 18 minutes between them. So good defense met an attempt at offense, and the latter won. The series, as fans likely know, has produced one-goal margins in all three games.
As Ken Hitchcock said, “I thought we played well from five minutes gone in the second period until all the way to the end. We got a lot of good original shots. I’m not sure we got enough second and third shots to outwork this guy (Quick). We know what we were in for. They probably thought they deserved game two, and we thought we deserved game three. The series is at where it’s at. It’s probably accurate where it’s at. Our guy was great again tonight. Their guy was a little bit better.”
“It’s not much for goals . . . but the top guys can’t get frustrated, start stretching out for goals, creating turnovers, especially now.” This was Coach Sutter’s point of view. The teams meet on Monday again.
Matt Greene was not in the lineup for a reason not clear. Jordan Nolan was out, as mentioned, also, but healthy.
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