San Jose and LA are in the same time zone, right? You wouldn’t have thought so during the first period of their game Tuesday night, because the Sharks didn’t show up at 7:30 to play the game. More like 8:30, or 9:00. But when they did show up, did they ever, and the result in their game versus the Kings was what some are calling the “Flop on Figueroa”—the most monumental, and disappointing, collapse in the history of the LA team.
The Sharks’ early woes didn’t just come from the lack of shots—seven in a frame where they had one power play. It was their complete discombobulation on defense. And no, I’m not positive that’s a word, but you get the idea. (Actually, it is—I looked it up.)
Thing is, the Kings, depending upon how you look at it, should either have been down 2-0 or up 2-0 in their series with the Sharks coming into Tuesday. In the former scenario, they should have been the ones playing on their heels, desperately hoping to generate something in a bid to stay alive.
They don’t have the offense of the Sharks, especially with their best scorer laid up and their other offensive leader (Justin Williams) playing hurt. They don’t have a power play that works. And their goaltending, while great at times, sometimes lags in puckhandling and misplays.
But they did win game two, and would have put game one away as well except that OT didn’t go their way. So while the series might have been 2-0 for LA, it came to the Southland tied at one apiece.
On the other hand, that game two win was uncharacteristic. The Kings scored two power play goals. They got three goals from the blueline. Why is that unlikely? Because all season, they had just 30 goals from their defense—from the top six of their D. Most nights, Doughty and Johnson fire the puck wide (the latter) or take so long to wind up that the entirety of the other squad can get in the way of the shot (Doughty).
Was it an aberration? If so, then Tuesday night, the Sharks should have roared back. It was the Kings who were doing the roaring early. But later, oh, later. Just wait for that.
They got a little help early in the form of a soft goal and a flukey one, but each was deserved in that the Kings were pressing at the time. On the first, Willie Mitchell went down the left wing and fired a shot that went under Niemi’s pad. Bad goal. But had Mitchell not been pressing the attack, it couldn’t have happened. And the fact that he was doing so with just two minutes gone in the game tells you that the Kings were not going to rely on their ready-steady brand of play.
The next goal, which came 13 seconds afterwards (one of those that happens so fast the announcer hasn’t had time to get all the names out of his mouth on the first one), was a result of hard work. The Kings sent two guys down off the faceoff, one putting the puck to the other in the front of the net. It rolled off into the corner, where the latter player, Richardson, picked it up and threw it back to the front. There Kyle Clifford got a poke at it at the same time a Sharks’ stick came in. It blooped up and over Antti Niemi with Wayne Simmonds looking on in case it needed to be poked home.
This is what this line is supposed to do, so no big surprise.
What shocked was the response of the Sharks. They played aggressively, taking chances, but getting nothing going and not testing Jonathan Quick at all.
The Kings piled on a little bit before the first period ended, with a goal that came off of another San Jose mistake. The puck was poked loose by Dustin Brown at center and grabbed by Dustin Penner. He put on a burst of speed as he crossed the blueline, just to the left edge of the slot. He probably should have shot, but he spotted Michal Handzus coming with him, passing slightly backwards to him and watching while a one-timer wrister went past Niemi. Penner made the pass with Dan Boyle trying to wrap himself him, and Handzus scored the goal with Marc-Edouard Vlasic diving to get to his stick.
In other words, it was a spectacular play by the Kings, and a completely horrible one by the Sharks.
The question you’ve got to ask, because people always ask it at this time of year of San Jose: Is this what these guys are? Is all that winning in the regular season just a party trick that they trot out to amuse guests?
The Kings came out in the second period and extended their lead to 4-0. Niemi had no stick when Brad Richardson came down the left boards and picked up a lazy clearing attempt by the Sharks’ Pavelski, then came off the boards and fired a wrister past the goalie’s right (blocker) hand. Had he had a stick, he might have gotten it. But without one, he had no chance. It marked four goals on 10 shots, and the Sharks switched goalies at this point.
Before anyone in the crowd knew what was happening, it was a one-goal game, with the Sharks having come back to 4-3. But again before the announcer could finish announcing that tally, the Kings got back to two ahead. Stoll grabbed a puck and shot into the offensive zone, firing a pass across the crease from the wall to Ryan Smythe, who was coming in full speed. He put it under Antero Niittymaki.
But that wasn’t the end, even of the period. The Sharks came back, and all along, the in-house scoreboard clock kept showing Coach Murray, his usual sombre face at times suggesting a little bit of bewilderment, at times, pure horror at what his team was doing.
To put it in short terms—the Kings just stood around and watched while the Sharks whirled around them with the puck and took shots at will.
If doing that can be explained, it’s not Terry Murray that could do it. When he came into the room for his post-game press conference, he opened with, “I’m only going to talk about this for a very brief time. You can go a lot of different ways with this, and you can give them credit.” He then talked about the effectiveness of the SJ power play, but then it got good.
“Outside of that, we did this to ourselves. Puck management, whatever you want to call it, turnovers, not getting it in deep when you’re supposed to . . . trying to do way too much. We got caught out for extended shifts in the second period. You get exhausted; you get rattled, and you start doing this uncharacteristically. So they get to play the game the way they want. They get into a track meet. That’s the game they want after getting down 4-0, and we obliged them. All of the problems came our way because of what we were doing.”
Two more went in before the end of the period. On both, the Kings were waiting and watching while their lead was demolished. On SJ goal four, three Kings were lined up in a row in front of the net while the Sharks worked the puck from their right to left, and Clowe buried it into an open side.
Goal five had Doughty draped over Pavelski, who went right through him to the net and chipped the puck over the falling goalie. There were just 31 seconds left in the period. So if you’re keeping track, that’s 4-0, 4-3, 5-3, and 5-5.
Nobody scored in the third period, though the Sharks had most of the play. They played an odd period, actually, laying back at times and pressing when they felt they could. So passive were they at points that it made watchers wonder whether they had any fear of their opponents at all.
IH asked Devin Setoguchi about that in the locker room after the game. “I think that we controlled the game in the third period. You can’t, you don’t want to get in a run and gun offense. We did a little bit in the second, and we got lucky to get in the game and score some goals, but we had the momentum. We gave up four, maybe five shots, and we had maybe 12, 13 ourselves. We played with the puck a lot in the third, and that was definitely a confidence booster going into OT as well.
Let it be noted that the Kings won the prior game 4-0, so they had scored eight unanswered goals on the Sharks before the first of San Jose’s tallies in the second.
As you’ve guessed, or heard, the Kings blew the game by allowing a goal in overtime. Otherwise, this night would be just another one, and a good one, with a playoff win. Now, it will go down in history as a Kings trivia question, along with the “Miracle on Manchester,” a win, and the “Stunner at Staples,” another win.
If this irony is not too much for you, try to digest it: Setoguchi saw a commercial about the Miracle on Manchester this afternoon before the game. “Pretty ironic that I saw that today and it happened for us,” he said after. “I saw that right when I came to the rink, and I said ‘no way—five goals’—this is definitely one of the biggest wins we’ve ever had in Sharks’ history.”
He got a pass that came up ice to Marleau from the Sharks’ end, and then was zinged across the slot and redirected in by Setoguchi. It was another example of the Kings getting caught out, not matching speed for speed, and not pressing hard enough to prevent the first past.
The Sharks, according to their coach, have learned something. “I don’t think this is something that will repeat itself,” he said, “And we have to understand that we are very fortunate to have come back from that deficit. We’re excited about it, but we also know that the mulligan that we used tonight won’t be available to us again.”
He added, “Is it lesson learned, or will we have to go through it again? We’ll find out in game four.”
One other interesting point to note: the press box was nowhere near full on Tuesday evening. That means one of two things. Either the usual come-out-of-the-woods types are expecting to be around for a second series, or they have already decided that this one is hopeless. Too bad—this game was worth watching, if disappointing from a hometown point of view.