May 28 morning skate notes
Staples Center will host a National Hockey League Game 7 for the first time in its existence on Tuesday night as the Los Angeles Kings will play in their first Game 7 in 11 years and their first Game 7 at home since they eliminated Edmonton after rebounding from a three-games-to-one series deficit in 1989, Wayne Gretzky’s first postseason with the team.
Though the Kings’ last Game 7 victory came in the 1993 Campbell Conference Final – a 5-4 win over Toronto that will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Wednesday – there are four players who have played in the ultimate game of the postseason – a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final.
Matt Greene (2006: 3-1 L at Carolina), Jarret Stoll (2006: 3-1 L at Carolina), Justin Williams (2006: 3-1 W vs Edmonton) and Rob Scuderi (2009: 2-1 W at Detroit) have all played in a one-game playoff for the Stanley Cup.
There were a few butterflies for Justin Williams prior to icing the 2006 Cup-clinching game with an empty-net goal.
“Well, sure. I mean, that one was for the Cup,” he said. “It’s a little bit more elevated, and every round is tougher as you get going. So this is to advance and keep our dreams alive of repeating as Cup champs. They’re a great hockey team, and we have to be at our best.”
Scuderi articulated the level approach that seemed to be a common consideration from all corners of the team’s room.
“I think every game’s important in the playoffs, and you kind of build up as you go. But when you’ve played in the first few, it just kind of becomes a routine,” Scuderi said. “I guess I’m fortunate that I’ve played in a couple [Game 7s] already – maybe it’s different for the guys who are in their first time – but once you get into the first few shifts it’s just like any other game, and you try to do the right things and just focus on your next shift.”
STOLL STANDING BY
Jarret Stoll took part in the team’s morning skate once again, though he will not play in Game 7 and will continue to be evaluated by the team’s medical and training staff due to a concussion suffered in Game 1. Should Los Angeles advance to the Western Conference Final, there is a possibility he’d be able to return to the lineup. Though he participated in faceoff drills on Tuesday and considered his progress as “day-to-day,” he is still not ready to take any contact.
“I’ve had a couple of these – three or four of these before – so it’s not a first time, and there’s no sense trying to be a hero when you’re talking about your brain,” he said.
It’s a challenge for the competitive Stoll, who will watch the game from a suite inside Staples Center in an effort to “get a sense of the atmosphere and the game.” Though he also watched from a suite in San Jose, during previous injuries he has watched from inside the team’s locker room.
“You want to help out. You want to help your team any way possible. It’s just one of those things where it’s one of those injuries where you’ve got to be smart with it.
“No matter what the situation is regarding this whole situation and Game 7 and all that, I think smarter is better in this case. Hopefully the boys can pull out a win and I can get back out there.”
Drew Doughty ranks third in the playoffs in time on ice with an average of 28:04. It’s a step up from the 26:23 average ice time he received in the regular season
According to Darryl Sutter, who was asked about Doughty’s conditioning and ability to weather heavy minutes, it’s part of the general postseason trend that top players see several extra minutes of ice time per season.
“Drew’s played a lot of minutes this year. He played a lot of minutes in the playoffs last year, too, but again, with Drew that is a factor going for [him]. He’s still one of the youngest players on the ice. Quite honest, he’s going to become a better player as he gains more experience. Quite honest, he hasn’t had a lot of this experience. But what you also have to look at – and not necessarily with Drew – but playoff games are on average right now two minutes longer than regular season games when you do it. So the reason that they are two minutes longer is cause your top players are probably playing that much more during the games. If he is a 24-minute guy during the regular season or a 25-minute guy, if you do it there’s probably 11 or 12 defensemen that are 25-to-32. Well, those guys, that’s where they fall in in the regular season, too, in that order, but the games are two to three minutes longer, so it’s natural that the more that you play, that those guys are going to play a little more.”
Joe Thornton played 22:01 in Game 6, a remarkably high number, even for a first line center in an elimination game. Anze Kopitar ranked second amongst forwards with 20:57 of ice time.
“Actually, they were trying to match Joe against Mike. So, quite honest, with faceoffs, we didn’t have Mike out there that much. So Joe was coming on the fly more than anything else, or when it was later in the game, when those just guys are just playing. If you look at it early, it wasn’t that matchup, or those minutes that affected it. And, quite honest, he plays primarily the whole power play. So that’s going to affect that too. Counting the five-on-three – I’m not sure what the minutes ended up being – but I’m going to bet that of those…even though it shows one-of-five, probably eight minutes I’m going to bet he’s in that six-to-seven, so it probably moved him up two to three minutes, too.”
Sutter was much less loquacious when asked if Tyler Toffoli would be reinserted into the lineup.
“I haven’t thought about it,” the coach answered.
Though Toffoli was effective earlier in the series, it’s not the safest bet that he’ll return to the lineup for Jordan Nolan, who took his spot in Game 6. Because of line adjustments, Toffoli was relegated to fourth line duty and registered only one shot on goal in a team-low 7:01 in Game 5.
San Jose also returned Adam Burish to the lineup in Game 6, adding a physical, forechecking element to the team’s forward depth. Though both Toffoli and Nolan participated in warm-ups in Game 6, Nolan received the green light largely because of his ability to counter the Sharks’ added ruggedness with Burish in for the first time in the series after breaking a hand in the Sharks’ Game 4 clincher over Vancouver.
On the other hand, Toffoli played the best hockey of his young NHL career in Game 2 and is an offensive-minded option for a team that ranks last among active teams by averaging two goals per game through 12 playoff games.
Toffoli and Nolan left the ice at the same time at the morning skate, so little indication was given early in the day. Expect both players to take part in warm-ups and a final decision to be made closer to game time.