Games between Los Angeles and San Jose rarely lack for star power, and when analyzing the top players on the Kings’ divisional rival, there are a number of different routes you can take. How best to stop Joe Thornton’s distribution? How to keep Marc-Edouard Vlasic on his heels? How to leverage Logan Couture out of high scoring areas? And, by gum, how in the heck do you keep Joe Pavelski from being so effective away from the net?
“You’ve got to box him out,” Drew Doughty said. “Yeah, he’s good at getting towards the net, he’s good high in the slot, too. He’ll tip ‘em from pretty far out and they’ll go in a lot. Yeah he’s just a good player, he does all the right things. He plays well defensively, too. Yeah, he’s a good all-around player.”
Pavelski, for those who might not have been keeping score at home, has nine goals, eight assists and 17 points in his last 11 regular season and playoff games against the Kings. Does denying his looks start from ensuring that the puck doesn’t arrive in in his wheelhouse at dangerous areas on the ice?
“Yeah,” Drew Doughty said. “We play these guys so many times, we know what they’re all doing. We know how familiar they are with each other on that team. Burns is looking for Pavelski all the time for the tips and you know you’ve got Thornton passing the puck to both of those guys. It’s about not allowing them in those areas, boxing them out early, playing hard and not letting them get set up. If you don’t let them get set up, then he’s not going to be in the right spots.”While much attention has been paid to Thornton’s distribution habits, the same should be paid to Burns’. No other defenseman in the league last year was so successful in changing their perception as a player. Coming off a minus-nine season in 2014-15, one in which he was prolific offensively but known to take risks defensively, all areas of his game solidified during a 27-goal, 75-point 2015-16 season in which he ended the year as a Norris Trophy candidate. That play has transferred into this season. San Jose’s power play hasn’t been as effective as it has been in recent years, but Burns still has nine goals and 21 points in 23 games.
He’s not always shooting to score, but also to put pucks towards the net that Pavelski and others can get their sticks on. As accurate of a shot as he has, he’s also often looking for that end boards carom.
Still, it’s one of the most effective shots in the league, and San Jose’s power play is more dangerous than its current 18.3% rate, which ranks 14th in the league.
“[Burns] may be the premier, next to [Shea] Weber, power play shooters,” Darryl Sutter said this morning.
Los Angeles’ identity at Staples Center – where they’ve built a 9-2-0 record this season – is that of a difficult team to play against, and to find success tonight, that has to remain constant.
“We always pay special focus to home games,” Drew Doughty said. “We want our arena to be an arena that opposing teams come in to and find it hard to play in. We want them not to be excited to come play the LA Kings at home in LA. We want it to be a tough, rough game for them and we’ve been obviously doing that pretty well so far this year, but we’ve still got a lot of improving.”