The last time the Hawks skated on Staples Center ice, Marian Hossa was burying a one-timer off a Michal Handzus pass after the Kings’ 74th moronic change of that series and the Hawks saw out the rest of the frame to take a stranglehold of the Conference Final. That game saw Duncan Keith suspended for Paul Bunyan-ing Jeff Carter’s face, and saw Johnny Oduya play the game of his life. What we wouldn’t give for Oduya to find anything close to resembling that sort of form.
What the Hawks will find tonight is an utter mess on the other bench. The Kings are 2-7-1 in their last 10, have dropped out of the Pacific Division race and have lost touch with the Sharks for home-ice in the first round. They’re lucky the Canucks have also been a toddler-drawing lately, otherwise they would find themselves in the wild card spots. But if they don’t pick it up soon, the Coyotes or Canucks could start putting their hot, stinky breath on the Kings’ necks (there’s an image).
What’s the problem for the Kings? Goals. Or lack of them. They’ve been shutout in three of their last five games. They have 10 goals in their last nine games. The last time they scored more than one in a game was January 21st in Columbus, a game they also lost. Jonathan Quick hasn’t exactly been exemplary, though he’s probably very close to stabby when looking at his support. Sadly, he might not get much more help when he suits up for the US in Sochi. Quick got lit up by the Penguins, and gave up two goals on only 13 shots against the Flyers. His only win in the last eight was when he had to shutout the Sharks in San Jose. He has no margin for error.
And this really shouldn’t be for the Kings, and I find it a little curious there isn’t more grumbling about the job Darryl Sutter is doing. While he would mumble something unintelligible about it being “a 3-2 league,” the Kings can’t even get to 3 without MI6’s Q giving them special weapons. The Kings play just about as unimaginative as possible. Crash below the goal line, shovel puck back to point, try and rugby scrum the puck in. Repeat.
And there’s enough talent here to be expansive. Doughty and Voynov are swift puck-movers from the back who could really push. Alec Martinez could be as well on the bottom pairing, but he finds himself in the pressbox enough of the time. Up front, Kopitar, Richards, Carter, Stoll, Williams, Toffoli are not exactly bereft of skill. The Kings could open it up, they just don’t. And this year, they’re not getting out of the Pacific when the Sharks and Ducks can light it up.
The Kings could still be dangerous in the spring, of course. Quick is always a problem, and just like 2012 everyone up to and including Dwight King and Kyle Clifford could get hot and Dustin Brown coming back from the dead. But it would take all of that for the Kings to make noise. Everyone on this team has to score at the same time or they’re just about as blunt of an object as there can be.
That doesn’t mean tonight will be a cakewalk. There’s always the nervousness about the arrival of the Hawks snapping a team into life no matter how badly they’re playing. Of course, the Kings don’t need anything else to provide extra spice when they see the Hawks, especially after already losing to them twice this year. They’ll be under specific instructions to get after Oduya and Seabrook who have not always held up under intense physical pressure this year.
For the Hawks, Bryan Bickell looks to be back in ahead of Michal Handzus, joining Saad and Shaw on the 3rd line. In theory, this should be a productive line and probably will be more so than it gets credit for tonight. Corey Crawford should be back in net after a pretty sterling performance in San Jose.
The Hawks don’t have time for sympathy. With an even bigger tester on Wednesday down I-5 and a suddenly hot Phoenix team looming to end this portion of the season, points tonight look pretty paramount. Score first and all the jitters for the Kings should rise. Get to two and the Kings might not feel like they can catch you with the way they’re going. But a flat start could see the Kings settle, and that’s what you don’t want.
Time for the Hawks to finish strong into the break. Their passing has to be better than it was Saturday night and you better believe the one thing the Kings can and will do tonight is not allow the Valhalla passes the Hawks have leaned on at times. But as the Hawks have done in the two meetings so far this year, when they build through the neutral zone with speed and short passes, they can get at Mitchell, Greene, Muzzin and Regehr with speed and also force Voynov and Doughty into turnovers under pressure. They know the plan, they just have to execute it.
Announcement: Killion and I are coming out for Wednesday night’s game against the Ducks. We’ll be at The Globe Pub for it, Irving and Damen just off the brown line Irving stop (though if you’re a soccer fan, you already know where The Globe is). Yeah, it’s a school night, but it’s Hawks-Ducks. It’ll be worth the hangover at work. So come on down.