What Kings-Ducks Teaches

The Kings-Ducks series was more than great hockey. It was a series of lessons about how sports works and what can happen when a team gets clicking. With that in mind, here are some lessons the so-called “Freeway Faceoff” teaches us.

First, that a coach’s confidence means everything. The other night after the game in LA, Coach Boudreau of the Ducks shrugged at the podium and said something like, “There’s a game seven to be played and one team is going to win it.” Sutter of the Kings, meanwhile, said something to the effect of, “I don’t look at the past. I look to the next game. It’s game seven,” when asked about the hype surrounding the series. He has never for a second thought that his team wouldn’t win. Put another way, losses are just a distraction to be brushed aside until the time comes for the puck to drop again. Boudreau was the weaker coach, and he lost.

Even after the deciding game, Boudreau, who is a decent man and a good coach, far easier to deal with than Sutter and more forthcoming with details, seemed not to have enough anger at what had happened, which was that his team had been trounced. “We’ll get over it because you have to get over it . . . and when training camp comes along, you have to make amends for last season. Right now, it’s a bitter pill to swallow that we lost that game, but we’re going to get over it.”

He later added, “Sure we didn’t do the things we wanted to do, but I want to give the LA Kings a lot of credit. They played like Stanley Cup champions. If they ever played like that in the first period in any of the other six games, I think we would have been individually and collectively blown away by what they were doing. It was like we were standing still and they were driving by us.”

That’s gracious and all, but it’s the sound of the demoralized and defeated, not just politeness. In fact, it flips the script for the usual post-game talk. The winning coach is the one who is supposed to talk about how great the losing team is, though in his heart, he’s thinking, “The heck with you guys. We’re better. We just proved it.” But you can’t just stand there and take this kind of defeat. I’m not suggesting Boudreau not be gracious, but he’s got to sound like it hurts more, like it matters.

Second, that while shots on goal numbers don’t always matter, when the shots are precise and based on dominant position against the other team’s defensive strategy, they sure do. The Kings often win this stat and lose the game, as I detailed a couple of days ago. But on Friday, every shot counted. They eventually got 30, scoring six goals, none into an empty net.

Third, that in the playoffs, nothing trumps goaltending. Jonas Hiller was pulled off the bench in period two of this game after Gibson had stopped 14 shots and let four goals sneak by him. Why was he there in the first place? Because that’s what Boudreau does. He panics, puts in a rookie, and loses in the playoffs. Just a couple of examples–Kolzig for Huet, and Theodore for Varlamov. These courtesy of Doug Stolhand of the Puck Podcast (@puckpodcast). In both cases, pulling the veteran cost him a playoff series. But here he is, doing it with Hiller. And by the time he’s put him back after passing him over for two guys, Andersen and Gibson, there’s no way the guy’s going to be a rock, and it’s too late anyway.

Quick, meanwhile, was excellent in every respect. When the Ducks were trying to mount a comeback in period two, for instance, Perry crashed into him and knocked him over, but Quick got up and cooled off immediately. Then Getzlaf, Perry, and Silfverberg came at him, and again, he stoned them. Corey Perry had a chance in the slot on the power play, and Quick stood strong with a glove save. And when the Ducks had a couple of goals to make it 5-2, Perry, Getzlaf, and others were turned aside, sometimes singly, sometimes in crashing groups, by Quick.

By the way, Boudreau said after the game that he didn’t really want to pull Gibson when he did, but that in a normal situation he would have pulled him after goal three. But he didn’t want to do that to this guy, because he made some big saves to keep it close. “But when they got the fourth, I did it to protect him; even the first five minutes of the second period they had two two-on-ones. I don’t know why. I guess we were trying to get all the goals back in the first few minutes, but I decided it was safer for him to pull him.” He then said he credited Hiller for what he did. “He could have thrown in the towel and said ‘the hell with it.’”

Fourth, that symbolic actions translate into the real, and that can kill you. Corey Perry was awarded a penalty shot in period one. Before he took it, he changed sticks, and then seemed to mope in the offensive zone waiting for the signal to go. His shoulders were slumped. He picked up the puck with no speed. He then went right down the middle and got to the net, where Quick poke-checked him and dislodged the puck. The air went out of the building. Perry explained that “Could be 2-1 or, you know, and all of a sudden on the next shift they come and score, and it’s 3-0. And you know obviously it’s not what I would have envisioned. But you’ve got to give a lot of credit to him. He made a poke-check and caught me off guard. I had a move in mind, and I knew what he’s going to do, and I just didn’t expect that poke-check right away.”

Amazing the confidence that a guy like this has, because it sure didn’t look like he had a plan. It looked like he had no spirit, lagged in, and let Quick get the better of him.

Williams said, “Every game has its own story line. Would it have been different if he scored? Absolutely. It’s a one-goal game after that, and they would try and calm themselves down a little bit. But after that we got another goal and kind of took the wind out a little bit. Things bounced the right way for us tonight.” That last was said with a bit of a chuckle, not of disrespect, just of knowing.

Williams explained the Kings’ attitude by saying, “We have the inner arrogance, the quiet confidence, or whatever you want to call it. I look around and I trust everyone that they’re going to do their job and get it done. Nobody has to be great, but everybody has to be good. We were all good tonight.”

Fifth, the team that manages the emotions better will win every time. Williams again: “Game seven, there are a lot of nerves, very tense, and we channeled those nerves very well at the beginning of the game, and we capitalized on our chances. If we wouldn’t have capitalized on them, it would be a different score.”

Kopitar added to that: “We talk about starts all the time. Sometimes it’s better than others, but we knew in here that to close off this series, it was going to take, we would have to play our best game. And I think we did tonight.”

Boudreau said something the same, talking about the young guys who are often used as an excuse, but saying that that’s false. “They had young guys too, Pearson and Toffoli, and every team has young guys, but hopefully we’ll be better for it next year, but you can’t make that excuse.”

Cogliano said, “It was a collective effort. I don’t think you can blame it on the young guys or the goalie. I think from the top down, we didn’t, we just didn’t do it.”

Finally, you’ve got to be realistic when assessing your team’s performance, and here is where Boudreau gets it right. He described the first period saying, “It was like men against boys, quite frankly. They were bigger, stronger, faster, more determined. Everything we said that we didn’t want to do, we did. And uh, then when you get behind, all of a sudden you start getting mad, whether it’s at the officials or whatever, you’re off your game. When you start playing well, in the second, Quick was there to make the big saves then they needed them.”

But why, if you know all this after, don’t you know it before? And why, if the entire focus of your life is doing a job that lasts three hours, broken into twenty-minute segments, that are themselves broken into 50-second integers, can’t you execute?

The Anaheim team had a good season, but the just don’t have that hardness in the playoffs like the Kings have. Sutter gives that to his guys. Boudreau needs to figure out how to give it to his, and soon.

For fans, it’s one thing to lose a game off of a Patrick Kane type magic goal (i.e., in beating Minnesota). It’s another to lose on a bad bounce or fluke in OT. That’s life. But to see your team lay an egg like Anaheim did Friday is a recipe for disaster.

The other side of the Kings’ win was that Selanne played his final game. After, he spent considerable time reflecting on the game of hockey and his place in it, his most telling comments being, “I’m most proud of being able to play for so many years, competing against these young guys. The passion and the fans always brought me back, and I can still play, but it’s time.”

LA now heads to Chicago, but not until Saturday afternoon. They’ll skate in LA Saturday and then fly later in the day. The stupidity of the schedule then has them waiting around for game 2 until Wednesday night after playing Sunday at mid0-day. The next LA home game is next Saturday.

Please tweet me @growinguphockey to let me know you’re reading, like the story or hate it!


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