In the last meeting between the league’s top rated offense and top rated defense, it was the offensively gifted team that scored three times in the first 20 minutes and cruised to a 3-1 victory on December 15.
The Los Angeles Kings will get another opportunity to nullify the league’s most dominant offensive unit when they visit United Center on Monday for their second meeting with the Chicago Blackhawks in 15 days.
Nullify? Maybe that’s not the most accurate word choice when describing efforts to counter a team that has scored 17 times in its last three games. “Limit?” Perhaps. “Contain?” Sure. The Kings held the Blackhawks below their seasonal average two weeks ago and will need to do so again on Monday, lest they fall victim to a team riding the crest of an impressive offensive surge.
“They pretty much do that against everybody, so I wouldn’t say we ‘fall victim,’” Darryl Sutter said of the team’s recent offensive success. “You allow three goals, you get beat.”
Allowing three goals will require the Kings to avoid the minor penalties that have plagued the team in December. The Blackhawks are 16-for-47 on the power play this month, propping their seasonal percentage up to 24.8%, the second best rate in the league.
Chicago averages 3.73 goals per game, which is over half a goal better than the league’s third best offense.
“I think they thrive off their top players,” Dustin Brown said. “Their top players have been awesome all year and you’ve got to make it difficult on those guys, and that going to take five-man units sticking together out there.”
Though the Blackhawks relied on their top players in their earlier win over Los Angeles – a game in which Jonathan Toews was dominant and Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp scored two of the team’s three goals – the Kings have banked on standout play from their own top players during their recent lift in the standings. The team’s top line can’t be faulted at all for their performance in Saturday’s loss to Nashville.
“Line was good last night. Quite a bit better than they were the last two games,” Darryl Sutter said of Dwight King, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. “Jeff was hopefully starting to feel it a little bit more. Kopi’s game doesn’t change. I know in my mind the games that he’s struggled this year, and one was the last time in Chicago. He’s human.”
The Blackhawks’ key names up front have keyed much of the team’s success, though the team’s deep blueline has clearly played an integral role. Darryl Sutter has previously praised the depth of the team’s defense, while Brown has spoken of Duncan Keith’s success in dictating the pace of the game. A recent article by Sam Fels of The Committed Indian also describes how the forwards’ speed on the backcheck affects the team’s defensive positioning and helps to create opportunities in the other direction.
From These Pictures of Q on December 19:
The Hawks speed isn’t just being able to streak up the ice to score, beating defenders to the outside, and tearing through the neutral zone. Where their speed is truly devastating is actually in reverse, on the backcheck. They Hawks can squeeze teams so quickly, and it’s why their defense can stand up at their blue line and basically give the opponents about 10 feet to play in. All the Hawks D can be so aggressive because even if they miss there’s a retreating forward right on the puck-carriers’ ass. It’s how they cause so many turnovers in the neutral zone and turn it around so quickly into odd-man rushes for themselves. Essentially the Hawk forwards push the opponents into the jagged rocks of the defense at a speed faster than the opponents want to play and they have to make decisions quicker than they want. It’s the base for the Hawks’ entire game.
In addition to fending off Chicago’s backcheck, Los Angeles will be tasked with making life difficult for Keith and Brent Seabrook on the forecheck.
“They balance each other out very well,” Brown said of Chicago’s top defensive pairing. “They both are pretty good skaters and both move the puck really well. But one’s more of a positional guy and one’s kind of a ‘bang you.’ I think, when you’ve got two guys like that have played together for so many years, it’s almost like second nature how they support each other, knowing where each other are.”
The Kings may be the league’s stingiest team, though Sutter stated after Saturday’s game that “I thought our defense was very average again.”
By utilizing seven defensemen in a game in which Drew Doughty logged 26:58 of ice time, there was not a surplus of minutes to go around. Jake Muzzin and Matt Greene recorded their second lowest ice time totals of the season, while Alec Martinez drew a season-low 10:27.
“Well, we dressed seven, and only five played,” Sutter said.