I watched Tampa Bay’s 5-1 win over San Jose on Wednesday, and there was a moment in the second period in which the Sharks were mistakenly caught with four players on the ice for an extended period of what was supposed to be even strength play, and the Namestnikov-Stamkos-Kucherov line immediately made the Sharks pay with a tic-tac-toe exchange that was slammed off the post and past Martin Jones as part of a three-goal second period outburst. That play characterized the Lightning’s efforts: if a mistake is made, there’s a very good chance it will be exploited through a dazzling and ruthless demonstration of skill. Such was the case in the first period on Monday, when the teams evenly split 10 scoring chances, but it was the visitors’ whose opportunities more regularly came from higher-danger areas closer to the net, and from high-octane players who dot the most explosive lineup in the league. The Kings got a pristine early chance from Anze Kopitar off a play made by a confident Alex Iafallo, but wouldn’t you know it, Peter Budaj came up with another big stop at Staples Center. His save on Los Angeles’ highest-grade first period chance was followed by 27 seconds later by Slater Koekkoek separating the puck from Kopitar as Nikita Kucherov eyed the perfect time to spring past his coverage and into the neutral zone, where Steven Stamkos hit him with a home run pass. There was additional exploitation in the first period as the Lightning took advantage of a failed off-side challenge, and then a slapdash shorthanded line change, when an unmarked Stamkos buried a no-look Alex Killorn feed for the team’s fourth goal in a two-minute and two-second blitz that essentially decided the game.
Goaltender interference reviews! The Kings are not benefiting from them. I saw Braydon Coburn initiate contact with Dustin Brown just outside the crease, and lose the battle of momentum that pushed him back into Budaj, keeping the goaltender from making the save. It’s another borderline call, but what does Coburn expect to happen if he straddles the blue and white paint in an area where there is the potential for him to impede the movement of his goalie should he lose the netfront positioning battle? Independent of the other calls, it’s not overly heavy-handed; again, it’s a judgement call that can go either way. It was, though, a touch surprising to see the call on the ice overturned, especially given the unsuccessful challenges of another borderline call in St. Louis, and Tuesday’s video that showed Corey Perry extending his left leg to make contact with Jonathan Quick on a play that left some in the organization scratching their head when the on-ice verdict was upheld. Hey, we were warned about this.
It was interesting that a period in which the Kings were outshot 19-6 and had the life suffocated out of their attack for long stretches was a period they very nearly won, 2-0. Jonathan Quick obviously played a big part in this, because the scoring chances depicted ice being tilted at roughly the same slope as K-2 for the first 15 minutes. Los Angeles did gain its footing and generate momentum over the final 25 or so minutes of the hockey game, again raising the “resilience” intangibles inherent in the team’s play to begin the season, but they’re going to need to stop putting themselves in positions that elicit resilience the first place. The Kings are giving up a bit too much right now. I referenced it several times on NHL Network, and again in passing moments on the blog, but they’re allowing the fifth most chances per 60 minutes, and the fourth-most high-danger chances per 60 minutes, according to data supplied by Natural Stat Trick. They’re still marginally in the black, possession-wise, so a surface-level evaluation depicts a higher-percentage of shots and shot attempts that are quality opportunities compared to the shot and chance-suppression demons of the last several seasons. Inefficient puck management again led to some of the Lightning’s quick-strike ability and remains an area that the team can, will and does continue to work on. It wasn’t the Kings’ night. Onward!
-Lead photo via Harry How/Getty Images