One Trick That Doesn’t Work

You’d kind think that when essentially the best defensive team in the league (Los Angeles, with 148 goals against, lowest by one in the league ahead of Boston) met a team in the top ten in the league in offense (Washington, with 204 goals scored) that the results would be a group collapsed into their own end while the other hammered away.

Or you might have expected that the defensive team would open it up for once, taking chances. Or perhaps that the offensive team would play down to the defensive team’s preferences.

None of that happened with the Great Eight and company in LaLaLand on Thursday night. In fact, the shot totals of the two teams through two periods were 31, which is below average by a third. By the end of the game, the numbers were 28-22 LA, which again is below average and far off some performances the Kings have put up of late—in five of their last six games, they’ve been within a whisper of 40 or over it, and in one instance they had 50 (versus Edmonton).

Perhaps part of what was going on was the lack of penalties called on the teams. Washington, for all their offensive capabilities, scores a heck of a lot of its goals with the extra man. In fact, they are first in the league in that category, with the highest percentage on the man advantage of any NHL team at 24.2%. They have 61 PP goals, leading the next nearest team by five (Pittsburgh, with 55 goals) and outpacing the least capable power play squad in the NHL, Florida, by a factor of close to two and a half (Florida has just 25 power play tallies). League goals leader Ovechkin, who came into the night with 46 markers, has 20 power play goals. The closest to that in the NHL is Chris Kunitz of the Pens with 13, and then a gaggle of guys at 12, 11, and 10 fill out the top ten, ending with Crosby on the official NHL stats sheet.

Through two periods and heading to three, the Caps had been in the box for two minors, and the Kings one. Was that the message to the Kings players before the game? “Stay out of the box” would be simple advice to give.

IH asked Coach Sutter about that very thing after the game, and his response was lengthy. “We talked about it. They score such a high percentage of the goals on [the power play] and they have Backstrom and Ovechkin who are so, so dynamic on it. They get a lot of their points on the power play, so you find the balance between finishing checks and taking, ah, penalties unnecessarily.”

In fact, Ovechkin did try to work his magic on that one try his group had. He was on the point as the PP started with Stoll of the Kings on him. He then set up low on the left for a one-timer, and he got one puck fed to him by Nicklas Backstrom, but it wasn’t quite in the right spot, and he got off a shot, but not a deadly one, more one that went off the heel of his stick.

In the third, the Washington team had one more opportunity, but once more, they failed to score again. And again, the puck came out to Ovechkin, but he was slow to jump towards it, and the shot he did get off, a weak one, hit a Kings player’s stick and was easily pushed out of the zone.

So with that part of the game shut down thanks more to clean play than blind referees (more than one person has said, even on TV, that the standards seem to be slipping as the league heads towards the playoffs—whether this is just “old think” is up to readers to puzzle out for themselves), the teams had to play even-up.

In that game, you might think that the Kings’ defensive style would get them in trouble. Ovechkin, in fact, has all the capability he needs to to get guys running around. And he did threaten. In period two, he took a puck out of the right corner and headed across Quick’s crease, trying to wheel it past the goalie and shoot back into the open net. The keeper followed the puck with his stick, putting the stick right on the rubber, in fact, and he knocked it away before Ovechkin could get off a shot.

After the game, he said, “Especially when I have the opportunity to shoot the puck, I look where it goes. If you look at the goalie, it’s too late. I have to score, five-on-five.” He was just a tad off on his timing, which is what I think he’s explaining there. As for the Kings, he commented, “First ten minutes you see how they play. But in the second we had great chances to score, but we didn’t.”

Of the 13 shots through two frames by the Caps, Ovechkin had 3, exactly what Dmitry Orlov had registered. By the end of the game, which went to a shootout and saw the Kings ahead 2-1, he had those same three. So a fruitless night, capped off by a shootout try that was saved by Quick.

And so what would the Kings do on offense against a gifted offensive team? Now there’s the question. In fact, they can open up, and they often do, and when they do it’s through no shortness of speed.

Carter, Kopitar, and Doughty had their chances. But it was one happy newcomer, Marian Gaborik, and one crusty old-timer (exaggeration, yes, but all in good fun), Dustin Brown, who were showing that they had their legs on this night.

Gaborik was flying, especially early. His best play of the night, perhaps, came late in period one, when he flew down the ice and into the corner, turned up the puck on a surprised Caps defenseman (John Carlson) and fed it to Kopitar in the slot on the same side. The goal that resulted was Kopitar’s 22nd.

After the game, Kopitar said, “When he’s parallel to a guy, with his speed, you can kind of chuck it up the ice, and you know he’s going to get there. That’s something that we’ve been talking about, to put it into an open area for him to skate into it. Those kind of plays, he’s got to get familiar with us. We’ve got to get familiar with him. We’re working on it.”

That getting Gaborik idea? Looking like a smarter and smarter decision every day.

So back to the question of what happens when an offensive and defensive team meet? If this game is any indication, then the answer is that the team with no defense gradually watches the other side take over.

In the third period, the LA team did that. It’s just that this wasn’t enough to win it, until the shootout, as mentioned.

Unfortunately for them, the Caps had one play, which they used over and over, and it finally worked, near the end of the going. That play? Get a guy in front and feed him from just out of range of the defensemen. That happened when Kuznetsnov fed one into the slot to Joel Ward, who banged at the puck, got it back, and roofed it over Quick. That tied the game at unos with just about seven minutes to go.

After, Ward talked about his game. “They play a good physical defensive game . . . . You’ve got to get up on the play, get pucks in deep and stay with it. That’s what we kind of did. . . . We got at least a point out of it.”

Speaking about his goal, he commented, “I kind of had a feeling the puck was coming, and I just tried to get some separation from the Dman in front. I took a whack at it. The puck was laying there, and I was battling with the Dman. I just kind of kicked it up from my skates to my stick and tried to scoop it in.”

Kings Notes

Sutter got his 500th win as an NHL head coach.

Williams played in his 200th straight game as a King.

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