CHANGE A COMIN’
Winds of change appear to be sweeping through the Kings lineup, though the direction they’re blowing remains unclear. Los Angeles did not participate in line rushes at the morning skate, and a drill involving forward combinations was the hockey equivalent of a random number generator.
Remaining on the ice for a brief session of extra work – not the firmest of indications towards the lineup later this evening – were Matt Greene, Kyle Clifford, Tyler Toffoli and Colin Fraser, who had officially been recalled from AHL-Manchester earlier in the day. Three of the four will not participate in Game 3. Expect Jordan Nolan to draw back in, and it seems like Tanner Pearson is a decent bet to play his first game of the series.
In other words, the “Level of confidence in projected lines” portion of this afternoon’s preview will not draw a passing grade.
Colin Fraser joined his teammates for the morning skate after arriving late last night from Manchester, where he had spent much of the post-trade deadline portion of the season. In 10 games after he cleared waivers and was assigned to the Kings’ American Hockey League affiliate, he recorded three goals, three assists and a plus-three rating.
“I played a regular shift, the PP, the PK, the whole nine,” Fraser said. “I’d like to say I’m Anze Kopitar down there, without the skill level.”
Fraser also missed five weeks of AHL action after breaking his hand on a sharp-angle shot with less than five minutes remaining in a 7-0 win over Bridgeport on March 14. Having broken his hand earlier in his career, he immediately knew that it wasn’t a typical ding or bruise.
In the rehabilitation process he traveled back to Los Angeles for treatment several times and maintained his level of fitness by skating regularly – often in bag skates – before he rejoined the Monarchs. Fraser got into one game with Manchester after the injury and recorded an assist in the team’s regular season finale against Providence.
“I was saddling up for a Calder Cup run,” he said of his late season mindset.
“It’s funny. I think back to when I was 20, I remember it was Shawn Thornton and he’s in Boston now, but I thought he was an old guy and I think he was 28 maybe at the time. Here I am, I’m the old guy, at least in the American League. It’s a lot younger league even than when I played, the development league or whatever you want to call it. It’s fun. I had a lot of fun. It was nice to know you were playing every night and to get a regular shift and to contribute more than, I guess, six or eight minutes. Your role kind of changes a little bit and it was fun…But at the end of the day, hockey is fun. So it was nice to play.”
Because of the advantage forged by San Jose’s role players through the first two games of the series, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Fraser, a pest-type player who knows his role well, enter the lineup. Still, he hasn’t played an NHL game since February 3 and has two assists and a minus-four rating in 33 games, and the Kings have other options who have already played in this series.
“He’s a good team guy,” Jarret Stoll said. “He does a lot of little things out there. He’s a smart player. He’s a smart player in the defensive zone. He can win some faceoffs, he can penalty kill. He can play a lot of different roles. It’s great to have him back in the room. We’re happy to see him. He’s a great guy, great teammate. It gives us a little boost in here, for sure.”
Playing its first playoff game in a supportive atmosphere, the Kings spoke on Tuesday about the right type of response they’d like to generate after losing a pair of games by lopsided scores to open the series.
“We haven’t shown San Jose the team we can be yet in this playoffs, just little flashes of it,” Drew Doughty said. “They’re going to have it tonight.”
It’s not to say that teams prepare with a rising or descending intensity based on the location and circumstances of a playoff game, but the team is certainly aware of the predicament it would face if it were to fall behind three games to none.
“It’s a big game. The next game is always a big game, always the biggest,” Stoll said. “Game 2 was huge. Game 3 is now huge again. It’s no different. It doesn’t matter what the series is at, you just have to win a game. Game 3 will be big, Game 4, Game 5. It’s playoff time, every game is crucial. With us, the situation we’re in, yeah we have to win and we have to play well and do a lot of good things. Do a lot of things better offensively, defensively. We need everyone in this room to be going in order to win. We need to win.”
In Stanley Cup Playoffs history, only three teams have rallied from three-nothing deficits to win a best-of-seven series: the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs over the Detroit Red Wings, the 1975 New York Islanders over the Pittsburgh Penguins, and the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers – with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter – over the Boston Bruins.
“No,” Drew Doughty answered when asked whether this Kings team is easily fazed.
“Obviously we’re a little rattled. We lost two games in a row, but we’re over that already. We’re ready for tonight’s game. We know we have to win. Tonight is a must win game. With this win, if we get it tonight, we’re right back in the series. They’re a little worried because we’ve got one more at home before we go back to San Jose and we can make it 2-2. But obviously, we have focus on Game 1 tonight. We’re comfortable. We’re ready to go. We’ll never give up, it doesn’t matter what happens. We’re just looking forward to getting a win tonight.”
The Sharks have lost eight straight games at Staples Center since winning a 6-5 shootout in the game Ryane Clowe infamously played the puck from the bench on April 5, 2012. Home teams are 22-1-1 in the last 24 regular season and playoff games between the two teams.
One of the ways the Kings will look to play a tighter game will be to win the forechecking battle. Both teams are adept at applying heavy pressure to disrupt zone exits and deny clean passage through the neutral zone.
For the first two games of the series, Los Angeles wilted under San Jose’s forechecking as the game progressed. To counter that, they’ll look to play comfortably at a higher tempo.
“They’re a really good forechecking team,” Alec Martinez said. “I think the best way to combat that is just with quick decisions and moving the puck quick and getting back to your position quickly. I think it doesn’t really matter. Everyone, at some point in order to break the puck out, someone’s got to take a lick. But we just want to make sure we’re moving pucks quick enough so it’s only one guy not both D or both D and the forward or something like that. I think just quick decisions and being ready to make plays, make quick plays is going to be the key to beating their forecheck.”
Jarret Stoll referenced “managing the puck better” as an effort in limiting the higher quality chances against.
“You don’t want to turn pucks over in the neutral zone at their blue line,” he said. “Getting pucks in behind their D is a goal and something we need to do every shift consistently. That’s what they’re doing to us. They’re getting it behind our D, getting in on the forecheck and putting pressure on us. That’s what every team wants to do. You don’t want to play the game in the neutral zone. You want to play it in the offensive zone where it’s a little bit more fun and you want spend your energy getting some shots, making some plays, trying to score goals.”