Photo credit: The Simpsons
It was one of the most highly anticipated series of the opening round. Sadly, the first two games have failed to live up to the hype. Instead of looking like Cup contenders with a Vezina quality goaltender, the Los Angeles Kings and Jonathan Quick have gotten shelled in San Jose.
On Sunday night, the Kings took an early 2-0 lead in the first period. Jake Muzzin scored just two minutes in and Trevor Lewis tipped in a Jeff Carter shot mid-way through the period. It wasn’t their best period, but Quick was doing all he could to keep his team in the game.
The San Jose Sharks were excellent in the second period, opening with a goal from Mike Brown off an ugly Kyle Clifford turnover. No biggie, Kings still very much in this game. Well, San Jose’s fourth line had other plans as the rest of the Kings were sleeping and Raffi Torres scored off the rush.
To that point, it wasn’t Quick’s fault; Los Angeles was in full on collapse mode by then.
Tommy Wingels gave the Sharks their first lead of the evening with over five minutes to go in the period. Still, blowing a 2 goal lead isn’t the worst thing LA had done in the entirety of its regular season so there was a chance. Nope. The third period was the absolute most terrible, horrendous period Kings have had in a few years.
Not only did they full on turn into the Vancouver Canucks with their epic collapse, they allowed an additional four goals with one from a 5-on-3 powerplay. Who’s to blame? Quick? The defense? The forwards? The coach? Well… All of the above, really. And I don’t mean to be harsh and lament the job head coach Darryl Sutter is doing, but after six periods, I remain unimpressed with the effort Los Angeles has put into trying to win a hockey game.
The best way to describe the way this game ended… Well, to say that the Kings looked like garbage a second game in a row would be an insult to garbage. The third period started off rocky. A quick strike and the Kings gave up all hope of getting back in the game. Instead of digging in, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and applying pressure to San Jose’s defense (which is arguably far weaker in comparison to LA’s), they just… gave up. I don’t know if the players felt like they were giving up, but watching it, as a hockey fan, it was just brutal to see LA roll over and not even bother. Quick was hung out to dry and unable to handle the quality of shots sent his way. He hasn’t been as impressive as he was for the last two seasons, but these two losses certainly can’t be pinned on him alone (though he was less than stellar in Game 1).
After the fifth goal with still almost an entire period left to play, Sutter chose to leave Quick in for the remainder of the game. It’s odd because, what’s the point? Why not at least mercy pull him? He’d done all he could but with a save percentage in the .830’s and sinking fast, it seemed an unusual move.
Things got chippy towards the end and penalties upon penalties upon penalties were handed out. Dustin Brown, Kyle Clifford, Mike Brown and Andrew Desjardins were all given match penalties with 5:35 left in the game followed by a four minute double minor to Mike Richards for spearing. Sharks didn’t bother to do anything with their super long power play and were ready to celebrate early. Kings meanwhile looked like they wished they could be anywhere but there.
Tuesday will be an interesting test for the team. Their core is a hardened, tested group that went down early in the series against St. Louis a year ago and is the same core that steamrolled their way to the first championship in franchise history all the while making NHL history. Not many players have changed since that fateful June day in 2012. Dustin Penner and Rob Scuderi left while Kevin Westgarth was eventually traded. But the core who won it all and experienced euphoria is now the same core struggling to do much in this series.
As Lisa Dillman of the LA Times noted, fans have higher expectations now and certain players are simply not getting the job done.
Tweeps making off-season trades between periods of Game 2. Yes, you could say expectations are different now.
— lisa dillman (@reallisa) April 21, 2014
During the second intermission, Rich Hammond of the LA Register tweeted:
Mike Richards is now at 5 periods in this series without a shot on goal.
— Rich Hammond (@Rich_Hammond) April 21, 2014
[Loud, crackly speakerphone] Paging Mike Richards to the black and silver courtesy phone, Mike Richards. Please pick up the black and silver courtesy phone. Thank you.
For a guy who gets paid a boatload of money to be an elite (or at least a very good) two way center, he sure has been mighty invisible this entire season. Don’t worry, everyone said, it’ll be fine. He’s a big game player, a playoff player. He’ll come alive in the postseason. Well, two games in and there has been no sign of Spectacular-Postseason-Big-Game-Player Mike Richards. The biggest contribution so far seemed to be that four minute double minor he took on Sunday night. What’s interesting is that the numbers don’t bear it out. He has a +6.1% Corsi rel rating in all situations. At 5-on-5, it drops to +4.8%, but it’s still a positive number, especially compared to a guy like Kyle Clifford who is a major drag on his teammates’ possession, posting a -17.9% Corsi rel rating.
Basically, despite looking invisible, the Kings still control more shots with Richards on the ice than they do with Clifford. It’s not a huge difference, especially compared to Anze Kopitar (+22.7% at 5v5), but it proves he is beneficial. Still, it’d be nice if the eye test (aka confirmation bias) supported the numbers. He’s a highly skilled player who was brought to LA for his grit, tenacity and leadership skills. At the time, Lombardi was still putting together the pieces to make his team a contender. Having a winning pedigree and being one game removed from a Stanley Cup in 2010 made Richards an ideal piece in Lombardi’s eyes. Now here we are, two and a half years after the trade, Mike Richards looks like his career is in serious decline and fans are beginning to question if he should have a roster spot come October. Personally, I’m not willing to give up on the guy after a bad season. Some rotten shooting luck happens occasionally, but if he doesn’t show up soon in the postseason, well, it’ll be too late to say “Maybe we should’ve played someone else instead.”
As for the lineup, I don’t think Sutter has chosen the best possible combination available to him. This is a team that has the speed, will and skill to hang with the Sharks in just about any game. Perhaps they can’t compete with the Sharks’ high powered offense, but defense is supposed to win championships, right?
My ideal lineup would probably look something like this:
So all told that leaves Matt Greene, Colin Fraser and Jordan Nolan all in the press box where they belong. They have no business being on the ice and are not helping the team’s cause. With Mike Richards on the fourth line, Sutter can utilize him in short bursts and hope to get the most out of his underperforming star centerman. At least that’s the hope.
Dustin Brown didn’t have much of a response for why the Kings allowed seven unanswered goals in less than 40 minutes. He cited odd man rushes and a need for consistency throughout the entire lineup. “If their fourth line can have that big of an impact on the game, we have to have a response and we didn’t have a response from anybody, really.”
It’s difficult to judge or predict what’ll happen on Tuesday. Having a two goal lead then blowing it, while uncharacteristic (a word that’s come up a lot over the last two games), is less concerning than the poor way the entire team has been playing. They seem so off. The passes are not crisp, they aren’t connecting well, there are guys who are just flat out missing passes and the breakout is not very clean. Part of that is the Sharks’ consistent forecheck, but most of it is just the Kings’ playing poorly. The response to Game 1 was not the desired one. At least they only allowed six goals in that game and one of those was an empty net goal.
This team won the Jennings Trophy by being a good, shutdown defensive team, often at the cost of their offense. It’s unusual to see them play so poorly as a whole. While you can usually pinpoint holes in their game, in this case it’s not just one thing; it’s everything.
Some people aren’t quite ready to throw in the towel yet, though. The Kings’ mascot, Bailey, is doing his best to keep the positive vibes flowing as the Kings will need their home crowd pumped and ready to go if there’s any chance at all of winning.
No matter how many goals we lost by… It only counts as one game!!! DO NOT GIVE UP!! IT IS A SEVEN GAME SERIES!!! #believe
— Bailey LA Kings (@BaileyLAKings) April 21, 2014
— Jenice Deguzman (@dncwthmisry) April 21, 2014
TODAY IS A NEW DAY…. BELIEVE 😉
— Bailey LA Kings (@BaileyLAKings) April 21, 2014
So for those who haven’t started planning the parade just yet, there’s still a chance for the Kings to take the series in six or seven games. Hopefully at least the next two are more entertaining.