Of all the crazy things that happened in the first week of the NHL playoffs, were any crazier than what happened to the No. 1 defensive team in the league, the team with the top puck-possession stats, the Los Angeles Kings, who got clobbered twice in their first two outings?
That is not supposed to happen to a playoff-tested group that had recorded 25 postseason wins over the past two years, the most of any NHL team. But it did. The Kings fell behind 5-0 after 40 minutes in the round-one opener, which resulted in starter Jonathan Quick getting the hook in a game that finished 6-3.
Game 2 started more respectably, with L.A. holding an early 2-0 lead, before the Sharks launched the Raffi Torres Express. Torres, along with linemates Mike Brown and Andrew Desjardins, got the Sharks’ scoring started and it didn’t stop until San Jose had rattled seven in a row past Quick.
Even the winning coach, Todd McLellan, said he couldn’t see this coming, noting in an interview prior to the playoffs that the Sharks would be deluding themselves if they figured they could win 5-4 games every night against a team with the Kings’ playoff pedigree.
Instead, San Jose is winning by even greater margins.
But the two teams have a lot of playoff history, which is the card the Kings played Monday at their practice facility in El Segundo, Calif. It was all sweetness and light. The real culprit, according to Kings coach Darryl Sutter, was the mismatch at the bottom end of the roster – the Sharks’ role players outplaying the Kings’ role players. Never mind that Mike Richards, Marian Gaborik and Justin Williams hadn’t found the score sheet yet.
As anyone who’s watched him play over the years understands, Torres hits to hurt. He can be a force, and sometimes, Torres also hurts himself with the style he plays. The Sharks rested him until the playoffs, knowing they needed that element against a Kings team that used to push them around. Now, the Sharks are pushing back – and not just staying competitive in the physical battles, but actually winning more than their share. Plus, Torres and Brown are dangerously quick for fourth-liners.
The Kings lost the first two games to the St. Louis Blues in last year’s opening round, and still managed to come back to win four straight. The other mitigating factor is that every game in last year’s second-round series with the Sharks went to the home team, the Kings eventually prevailing in seven because they had the home-ice advantage.
So losing games in the Shark Tank is not exactly stop-the-presses news in L.A. To win the series, they’ll eventually have to get one victory up there, but in order to turn it into a series, the Kings will need to win their home games first.
Quick, who won the Jennings Trophy this season because the Kings had the best overall defensive record in the league, has been uncharacteristically leaky in these playoffs. His goals-against average is an off-the-charts 7.20. His save percentage is .826.
But there is little in Sutter’s coaching playbook to suggest he’ll make a substitution in goal. It would smack of panic, and the trademark of Sutter’s playoff teams these past two years is an absence of panic.
Drew Doughty was rested for the final two weeks of the regular season, permitting a minor shoulder injury to heal, and over all he’s been pretty good. But no one else has. The Kings are not getting much from Richards at the moment, but they didn’t get much from him during the regular season either. He might be better served playing down on the fourth line, where he was for most of their stretch drive. Jeff Carter is a streaky scorer, but he’s been dry as a bone since about a week after the Olympics ended.
The Kings play to win games 3-2 and 2-1, and there’s enough offensive talent in the lineup to do that. But the leaky defence, the lack of attention to detail, the inability to handle San Jose’s speed – these are all new, inexplicable developments. So they went back to the drawing board Monday to figure out what to do now against a San Jose team getting better with every passing day.
Time is not exactly on L.A.’s side.
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