FORE THE WIN
The Kings spoke on Monday morning about their ability to raise their play in the series, and while they’re only halfway towards their goal and completely lack any margin for error, they’re happy with the direction of their game.
The shutout in Game 5 represented a sharp detour from the series’ initial direction. With 13 goals against after two games and three nine-goal games in the teams’ rearview mirrors, Los Angeles tightened up, executed its best puck possession game in the series, and limited San Jose to 30 shots, their lowest shot total of the series. San Jose’s regular season shot differential was +7.0, the NHL’s best.
It was the ability to evade the Sharks’ effective forecheck that allowed the Kings to find success against another dominant puck possession team.
“I thought we were fast coming out of our zone,” Brown said. “They have a very, very aggressive forecheck and it’s hard to break that forecheck. But if you are fast back and you can, at times, leave their forecheck behind, I think that’s what happened. In the first 15 [minutes] our D were really quick getting back to the puck and moving the puck cleanly and those are the two things that stand out to me in the first 15 last game, our speed back to the puck and our support back to the puck and then moving it quickly. We didn’t have that, especially the first two games up there, we were slow getting back and I thought as a result they would get the puck back and it becomes a defensive zone shift for us. That’s a key of ours, getting back quickly and helping each other out. Their forecheck is very good.”
Los Angeles’ forecheck is also well regarded, and Brown’s presence alongside Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik has helped to enhance the team’s pressure game.
“He’s a good forechecker, for sure,” Kopitar said of Brown. “There is certainly a physical presence when he’s on the ice. You just got to read off that. I know that he’s always going to take the body and I just want to make sure that I’m fairly close to him where I can grab the puck or continue on the forecheck. In most cases, we come up with the puck and then, obviously when you have possession of the puck, you try to make plays and that’s where the good things happen.”
WHEN THERE’S A WILL, THERE’S A WAY
The Kings’s puck possession efforts are strengthened by Justin Williams ability to hold onto the puck. With a 60.6% regular season Corsi-for percentage, he ranked fourth in the league in the percentage of even strength shot attempts that were taken by his team while he was on the ice. It was the third straight year he finished in the top-five in that category.
He had also been a fixture alongside Anze Kopitar for much of that time span. But since his alignment opposite Dwight King on Jarret Stoll’s line, the Kings have generated some scoring depth and have stretched out the opposition. In Saturday’s 3-0 win, Los Angeles attempted 19 shots on goal and ceded only seven with Williams on the ice.
“It just shows that when he plays with guys like me and Jarret, who work hard and try to get him pucks, and once he gets pucks, he makes plays with limited space, and that’s a big part of his game,” King said of Williams’ contributions to the team’s possession game.
Jarret Stoll has also brought speed and a heavy presence on the forecheck, which has aided in the chemistry of the newly created line.
“It’s been great, obviously,” King said. “I’ve played with Stolly and Willie for certain times of the season. They both play a little differ. Stolly is a really hard forechecker and really hard on pucks. Stick is creative, he’ll make space out there. As long as we have the puck, I think we’re doing good things and playing strong defense is key to anybody on this team.”
IN ‘N OUT
With the news emerging following the Sharks morning skate that Alex Stalock would start in goal and that Marc-Edouard Vlasic would not play in Game 6, the Kings were cognizant of the information – not that it really changes the team’s preparation or approach.
“It doesn’t really matter for us who is on the ice for them and who is not,” Anze Kopitar said. “We just want to stick to our game plan and our game and we’ll go from there.”
With a goal and two assists in this series, the speedy defenseman Vlasic is a valuable player at both ends of the rink and is used in all situations for San Jose, a team that mostly cycles its defensive pairings evenly. A gold medal winner at the Sochi Games, one of his Olympic teammates spoke highly of him at Los Angeles’ practice on Sunday.
“He’s a great player,” Jeff Carter said. “He’s like Dewey is to us.”
Speaking of Doughty, he was not among the three finalists for the Norris Trophy, awarded annually “to the defenseman who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position.”
Chicago’s Duncan Keith, Boston’s Zdeno Chara and Nashville’s Shea Weber were the finalists. Of the trio, only Weber has never won the award.
Doughty was a finalist for the trophy following his 16-goal, 59-point 20-year-old season in 2009-10.
And though he wasn’t a finalist this year, and didn’t win the award that year, “He will one day,” Darryl Sutter said.
Doughty finished with 10 goals, 37 points and a plus-18 rating in 78 games.