Waking up with the Kings: May 24
-There were plenty of reasons to be encouraged by the Los Angeles Kings’ performance in a 3-0 win over the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center on Thursday in what represented the club’s strongest 60-minute performance of the postseason. There was naturally some push-back by the Sharks during stretches of the third period, but it’s really not that possible in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for one team to completely suffocate another for a full 60 minutes, and when San Jose applied pressure, goaltender Jonathan Quick was at his best in stemming any teal-tinted momentum. Had Los Angeles hit more nets early in this game – Slava Voynov, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter shot wide and had quality opportunities deflected – the Kings could have built up their lead through the first 20 minutes.
-The quick start that the team had been searching for materialized in the win. Do you remember Dustin Penner’s comment about Mike Richards last spring that “he arrives at every part of the ice in ill humor”? That appeared to be the mantra of a determined Kings team that played with a chip on its shoulder in a first period in which they were credited with 24 hits. In a game in which the Kings had the puck on their sticks for more time than the Sharks did, they out-hit their opponents 51-24, according to the Staples Center statistician.
-Los Angeles showed in Game 5 that the best defense is strong possession and offensive-zone time, and for the first time in the San Jose series they were able to control the time of possession and forecheck more functionally than the Sharks for significantly longer stretches of the game. It helped that the Kings’ best players were their best players in the win, while the same couldn’t necessarily be said of the Sharks’ top guns – for what it’s worth, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Joe Thornton, Dan Boyle and Logan Couture were a combined minus-11.
-While Colin Fraser was able to establish the team’s physical identity early with a hard hit on Brad Stuart just over two minutes into the game, Matt Greene rallied the team with several quality hits that served notice to the Sharks that they were going to have to fight for every inch of the ice. He cleaned up after a giveaway by Jake Muzzin early in the first period, deflecting a Joe Thornton feed away from the slot and simultaneously sending TJ Galiardi to the ice with a heavy open-ice hit. It was easily Greene’s best performance in an injury-marred season and an encouraging sign for a Los Angeles defense that is trying to clear lanes and make life easier for Jonathan Quick. Dustin Brown and Robyn Regehr should also be recognized for their contributions in making Game 5 tough sledding for a San Jose team that has been pushed to the brink of elimination.