While the common perception was that the Hawks were outplayed on Sunday afternoon despite having a far longer layoff than the put-upon Kings coming fresh off their exhausting 6-2 carpet bombing of the Ducks in Game 7 of the previous series, it doesn’t change the fact that the Hawks have a 1-0 series lead. Though given that this iteration of the Kings has already erased 3-2 and 3-0 series deficits this post-season alone, it remains up for debate just how much that will matter in the grand scheme of things.
Other than a glaring mistake or two that ended up in the back of their own net (namely Jake Muzzin’s failed pinch/kill shot on Bryan Bickell), Coach Darryl Sutter likely was pleased overall with his team’s execution on Sunday, wherein the Kings controlled long stretches of play, like the entire second period. The underlying numbers bear that out, where basically every King who didn’t see time against the Toews and Hossa line was in the black possession wise.
However, the line that saw the most time against Toews and Hossa was the trio of Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, and Dustin Brown, with Kopitar being held scoreless for just the second time in 15 games this spring. Sutter told the press today that he isn’t going to shy away from the matchup, which makes sense because he’s on the road and it might be more trouble than it’s worth with the Hawks being able to capitalize on bad changes like few teams in the league. But one can at least understand Sutter’s thought process (Hawk) in having hopefully have Kopitar play Toews to a standstill and have his other lines take advantage of the fact that Michal Handzus is still getting 20 minutes a night on purpose. And while Kopitar and Toews are about as evenly matched as can be imagined, the problem might lie in the fact that one of Kopitar’s linemates spends more time falling to the ice or sticking his knee out than actually backchecking, whereas Toews has that Horsa guy.
On Sunday the Kings’ blue line gave a spotty performance at best even with the much anticipated return of Willie Mitchell. Drew Doughty delivered as billed with his do-it-all abilities and mentality, though having to cover for a partner on walkabout probably wasn’t something that he’d prefer to have to do regularly. Even on the road, Doughty will still play near half the game in all situations, and as Sunday showed, Q won’t shy away from with Toews. Again, the logic being similar to that of Sutter’s with Kopitar, that having Toews occupy Doughnuts will free up some of the other lines to take advantage of the likes of Jeff Schultz and the defensively curious Alec Martinez.
Of course, as has always been the case for the Kings, none of it really matters if Jon Quick is only going to stop 17 out of 20 shots. While last year Quick was obviously still feeling the effects of back surgery even with the lockout layoff, he’s presumed healthy for this spin at the wheel, and a .916 even strength save percentage, particularly against the Hawks isn’t going to cut it for L.A. For all of their possession dominance, the Kings do it with a straight ahead attack that basically has them throw everything on net and crash, with only Kopitar really having a plan B. Because of that, the Kings have always needed Quick to be a mutant when they’ve had success. And though he hasn’t shown it but for a couple flashes this playoff, he still always has the potential to do so on a given game.
As for our Men of Four Feathers, Andrew Shaw will remain out of the lineup for tonight despite taking practice with the team yesterday and today. This means Peter Regin will get one last crack at proving his worthiness of a consistent lineup spot, and he’ll get to do so with Patrick Sharp on his left as a carry over from the changes made in Game 1. Sharp’s troubles have been documented, and perhaps a look at a little bit more of the underbelly of the King’s lineup from the “third” line will possibly jump start him. This leaves Brandon Saad with Michal Handzus and Patrick Kane, which gives that line an element of puck pursuit it didn’t have with Sharp, who is better at finding open space than hunting pucks down. And given the fact that at any given moment Zus is at least 6 strides behind the play, it gives Patrick Kane more options, particularly when the Kings are sending 2 and 3 defenders directly at him as soon as he crosses the blue line and looks to pull up and find his options.
On the back end, there has been no word of any lineup change after Nick Leddy had his ass stapled to the bench after letting Tyler Toffoli behind him in spite of having his most active game since his scratching in the Minnesota series. Obviously Leddy is on a short leash, and he’ll need to make the most of the favorable zone starts he gets to avoid yet another seat for the final period of the game. Corey Crawford is still doing pretty alright in net, so he’ll get the start.
With the opportunity to take a road split and home ice still on the table for the Kings, look for them again to suffocate the neutral zone rather than sending forecheckers in deep to harass the Hawk blueliners. As usual, this will mean an avoidance of stretch passes in favor or a station to station attack, as well as Nick Leddy to shake off whatever tentativeness he may have (and has shown in the past post benching) to be the one man trap buster that he’s capable of being. Take the lessons learned from Game 1 and improve upon them. Let’s go Hawks.
If you’re heading to the UC tonight make sure to pick up a copy of our gameday program from one of our vendors. We’re at the four corners of the arena. And if you’re not attending tonight’s festivities, you can pick up the digital version right here: