Do the math on the possibilities for the NHL playoffs in SoCal, and if everything falls right and all series go to their max, there might be 23 playoff games here through three rounds. That, of course, would assume that the Kings and Ducks each finish in the top four and that all series go to their max. Add to that four Finals games, and you’ve got 27 games, or nearly a third of a regular season, still ahead if you’re in the region.
The thing is, that’s not all that likely unless both the Kings and Ducks remedy some glaring problems in their game, and Saturday night in LA, those were on full display
Since this is a critique, and since the Kings were the home team and, further, since their game is not as full of holes as the Ducks’, we’ll go with Anaheim first.
1. Their goalie, Viktor Fasth, can’t hold onto the puck. Neither the Kings nor the Ducks generated a lot of shots, the totals being 20 for Anaheim and 18 for LA, and both Quick and Fasth made good saves. But Fasth also had a lot of pucks hit him and bounce down, go through him, bounce from his chest or arms to the ice and through the crease, and other misadventures that did not inspire confidence. The ending was that the puck didn’t go in, but that’s not entirely the point. Players have to know that a crazy rebound is not going to bite them. Those are the kinds of goals which kill spirit.
2. Their lineup relies far too heavily on offense from their top line, on this night mostly Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Kyle Palmieri. The three of them combined for nine shots, or nearly half the team’s total, but what’s more impressive, or scary, is that they sucked up an average of over 17 minutes of icetime apiece. Interestingly, the Kings’ top line, Brown, Kopitar, and Williams, saw about 20 minutes on average each. But they didn’t look tired.
The Getzlaf line did. Their passes did not connect in period three, for a simple reason—they were flinging the puck where they normally do, Duck-style. But nobody had the legs to catch up to the passes, and so turnovers resulted. Of the three, Palmieri was the sharpest late, testing Johathan Quick with a shot-rebound combination flying down the right side which looked labeled. Quick got a glove on the puck as it went toward the low right-hand corner of the net.
3. In the second period, the Ducks came on, generating offense in the form of eight shots to three for LA. But the team is back to taking dumb penalties. A four-minute high stick, a puck over the glass. In total, it was six minors for one to the Kings. Granted, at least one was a “good” penalty, when Winnik slashed Trevor Lewis’s stick to stop him from getting a rebound off of a Penner shot. But with a PK that’s 22nd in the league, this has to be improved upon.
4. The depth part of their lineup must be better. The second line could be, depending upon how you figure that, Selanne, Koivu, and Winnik. Or it might be Selanne, Cogliano, and Etem. The first combo is not clicking. The second features the speed of Etem with the playmaking of Cogliano. One more possibility is that the second line is Ryan, Etem, and Dvorak. But that’s just the problem; hence to the next point.
5. Boudreau endlessly mixes his lines. On Saturday night, Sutter did not. I take this to mean that the former is searching for combinations or trying to cover up for deficiencies, but not finding what he wants. The Kings, by contrast, have got their situation figured out. It’s Brown, Kopitar, and Williams; Carter, Penner, and Richards; Lewis, Stoll, and King; and the rest. But top those first three lines for, respectively, skill; skill, size and toughness; and speed and tenacity. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a more consistent lineup in the league.
6. Their superstar, Teemu Selanne, is sporadically ineffective. That’s better news than if he were sporadically effective, but despite a hot start and 23 points, he has scored only five times in close to 25 games. His goal totals are streaky and spotty at this point.
7. Much of their scoring is opportunistic. The Getzlaf shorthanded goal which tied the game at one Saturday night is the perfect example. Muzzin of the Kings did not clear the puck in far enough on the power play, and it bounced out and to the center ice area. It kept going, tempting Quick to come out of the Kings’ net for it. He didn’t get there as fast as Getzlaf did, and the latter wristed the puck into the net over two diving Kings’ players.
It was pretty, but it’s not the kind of goal you can count on, ever. And that’s the kind of goals that the Ducks often get. You could read that and say, “Well, often is good enough,” but the point isn’t that. It’s that you’ve got to get scoring in bread-and-butter ways. Luck eventually runs out.
So what about the Kings? Their team is much stronger than it was early in the year. Jeff Carter not only scores a lot, but he looks huge out on the ice right now, always around where the puck can find him. There are other bright spots, like the play of Trevor Lewis. He is the most visible player with only 13 points I can remember seeing in a long while. Saturday night, he was always seen, streaking down the left side mostly. He registered one assist, on the Kings’ first goal. After, he was reluctant to talk about what he does when I asked, but he told IH that his contribution is in getting the puck to the net. When the rest of the media horde caught up to him, someone said something about not hearing a lot from him. “I’m quiet,” he said. He does his talking on the ice, more like.
What about problems?
1. Jonathan Quick has to be himself every night, not some nights. Saturday, aside from the gaffe on the shorthanded goal, which came because the puck was on end and didn’t get to him as quickly as he judged that it would, he was excellent. That’s the first time in a couple of weeks that he’s been confident, large in the net, and fast in his movements. He has to shine every night for the team to do well, though.
2. They have to start hitting the net. The Ducks missed 12 shots Saturday. The Kings missed 22. They shoot wide more often than a Pee Wee team, or at least, that’s the appearance. Over the net, beside it, around it. If they could shoot under it, they might. Why is this? Impossible to say, but it’s a problem in that shots wide usually end up glancing off the glass and going out of the zone or to the other team.
3. They have to improve their power play. Four minutes of shorthanded time, consecutive, yielded a goose egg in shots against Anaheim. None. Not one. Zero shots in four minutes. Why? They don’t get set up in the zone. When they do, they shoot wide. See the prior point.
4. They have to solidify their defensive core. Sutter went a long way to stilling the chatter about Matt Greene’s return this week when he said that if Greene doesn’t get in some contact in games during the regular season, he’s not going to take a playoff lineup spot. That’s called “I’m in charge and I know what’s best.” That’s a good thing. As it is, Sutter has the luxury of scratching Alec Martinez, which he has done now for six games in a row. But this has to continue to be Sutter’s game, or the rumbles will turn into roars.
And you know what? That’s about it. Say what you want, the Kings came out to start the season flat, but Sutter’s got them past that, and they’re strong now. They may not be scoring a ton, and they did let the Ducks crawl back to life in period two Saturday, but their lineup is stable, their lines look like they work well together, and whether it’s one Jonathan or the other, they get good netminding consistently.
The playoffs are a ways off, and who knows where the seeds will end up, but it would still be nice to see the two teams play other squads, and win, in the first round. The later their match-up post-season, the more meaningful it will be.
My Country Is Hockey is my new book, if you’d please read it. And twitter is @growinguphockey, though that’s mostly nonsense.