It’s getting close to game time in LA. The traffic is starting to pick up, and people are getting frantic to get out of their offices in hopes of arriving at home or Staples Center on time. Most will miss it by fifteen minutes. That’s just how it goes out here. Most times, “I caught traffic” is not questioned as an excuse.
The LA Kings have no worries, though. They’re safely in the bowels of the building trying to figure out how to deal with an off-time of 6pm at a start. The NHL, it seems, thinks people back East are interested in watching the game. And hopefully, they are.
So what do the Kings do in their final mental preparations for the game tonight? Or this afternoon, depending upon your cultural orientation. (In my house, afternoon ends when it gets dark, and dinner is eaten late. The idea of a meal being on the table at 5:30 or 6pm just doesn’t compute.) It’s very simple: pretend the person of Duncan Keith does not exist.
In other words, if the Kings spend any brief seconds thinking, “Oh, the Hawks don’t have Keith,” then they’re taking away from their advantage of, in fact, playing a Hawks’ team which doesn’t have Keith. Their offense will undoubtedly find themselves more free without facing Number 2 on defense. Their defense will likely find themselves more able to handle the Blackhawks players because there won’t be any Keith to feed them long passes out of the zone. There won’t be any Keith to rush the puck straight up the ice, forcing the Kings to decide whether to close on him and risk an outlet pass that springs a Kane or a Sharp.
It will be easier to play against the Blackhawks tonight, just as it was when suddenly, in Anaheim, there was no Scott Niedermayer. But thinking about that ahead allows the enemy to get into the head when he has, due to his suspension, no way to get onto the ice.
It’s like the boxer who thinks he has a plan, but whose plan is to counter what the other guys do. Sure, there are counter-punchers out there, but they are few, and oftentimes, the idea that you’re going to wait and respond, or key off the other guys’ shots, ends up meaning that you yourself don’t get an offense going. And when that happens, as often as not, to quote a favorite cartoon, you get it, “Pow, right in the kisser.”
Well, Jeff Carter got it in the kisser, and whether you agree with the suspension or think it unfair; whether you buy Keith’s explanation that he either didn’t mean it or meant to do to Carter what Carter did to him and hit him on the hand is irrelevant now.
The fact is, the Hawks are without Keith, and the sooner the Kings forget all about that, the better off they’ll be.
Instead, what you can expect is what I’ve been saying all week is the only way to beat these guys, and the method the Kings have used all playoff long when they’ve been successful, and that’s to get Chicago to play their game. Play short. Play with puck possession game. Don’t stretch the rink, but shrink it. Don’t expect breaks, but take them when you get them. The rest of the time, control the puck, wait, wait, wait, and pounce in those moments when someone isn’t paying attention. That’s what’s worked for LA, and most of their goals have been scored from a fan-shaped area fifteen feet in front of the net.
If they play for that kind of scoring, rather than saying, “hey, since they don’t have that guy, we can play a more aggressive offensive game,” they’ll win. If the logic is that the play should open up because the Keith threat doesn’t exist, then the Kings will be doing exactly what they shouldn’t, which is to let Keith beat them from the pressbox, or wherever he sits all night tonight.
The anthem will be sung by Davis Gaines. He’s amazing, but Pia Toscano has been a bit of a good luck charm. No word on why the change.