Good afternoon from Scottrade Center, where the Kings are set to complete the second half of their back-to-back set against the St. Louis Blues.
It’s the team’s second visit to St. Louis in just over a month, and in their last visit, the Blues’ reputation was an accurate harbinger of what was to come. The game-winner was scored by Carl Gunnarson – one of 21 goals scored by St. Louis defensemen this season – after the Jaden Schwartz – Brayden Schenn – Vladimir Tarasenko trio combined for two quick-strike goals during a mid-second period stretch in which Los Angeles was pinned back in its own end.
“I think it’s much like that line last night,” Alec Martinez said of the Schenn line, comparing it to the Nicklas Backstrom-Alex Ovechkin combination that the team held in check in a 5-2 win over the Capitals. Naturally, checking in all three zones will be paramount if the Kings are to leave Scottrade Center with two points.
“Our forecheck and our neutral zone forecheck really set us up for the D-zone, [last night], and I think that’s at least for me something that’s kind of been more evident this year, something that I’ve really come to discover about our team. I think that, in terms of the team game, it’s tough to score if they can’t play in our end, so we’ve got to be good making quick plays and playing in the other end and getting it into the forwards’ hands and letting them do their job. But, obviously a line like [the Schenn line], they’re going to get zone time, so that’s where your D-zone coverage has got to be spot on and you’ve got to take away their time and space and not allow them to make those plays.”
In Washington, Los Angeles again received production from Marian Gaborik, who scored a first period, game-tying goal and added an empty-netter in the third period to complete a two-goal, plus-two night. The team is 3-0-1 since his return.
“The Ferrari’s back,” Trevor Lewis said. “He’s got his legs back and he’s hungry. It’s been good to see.”
Gaborik provides an important dynamic in John Stevens’ preferred advancement of the puck. Along with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, he’s one of the most efficient forwards on the team at entering the offensive zone with the puck instead of dumping it in, which allows for more dangerous options and rush chances.
“Obviously a guy like him, he’s been around for a long time. He’s got a lot of skill, he’s got a lot of speed,” Martinez said. “Speed backs teams off, and as a D-man, I know that especially on D it backs us off, so that’s a big asset that he brings to our club.”
There’s not only a speed element, but an offensive awareness that allows Gaborik to find the softer spots on the ice.
“He’s smart,” Lewis said. “And not only is he fast, he’s smart. He knows when to jump to holes. When he jumps the hole, give him the puck and he’s usually going to do something good with it. I think his speed and his smarts help a lot.”
Trevor Lewis, on the mindset when skating with Marian Gaborik and Adrian Kempe:
They’re two really fast guys and two offensive guys, so I try to get the speed up and get them pucks and just kind of go to the net. So far it’s been working out well.
Lewis, on the transition from more of a run-and-gun to more of a structured opponent:
Last night, it was a lot of a rush game and rush chances, and tonight it’s more of a forecheck, and like you said, a structured game. We’ve just got to make sure that we’re on the right side of pucks when we’re checking, and obviously getting in on the forecheck is going to be huge against the D to slow them down a little bit.
Lewis, on whether a game against Washington allowed for L.A. to play a more ideal, up-tempo game:
I think so. I think we try to play the same way every night. We’re trying to get pucks up quicker and have that speed so when we do chip the puck in we can get in on the forecheck and get it back, and when we have that support like that, it’s a good thing for us.
Lewis, on facing a St. Louis team that has received 21 goals from defensemen:
They have three guys high a lot of the time. They have a guy up in the middle of the two D that kind of creates confusion for wingers and defensemen up there. I think we looked at some things today that’ll help, but I think just bearing down and when we have chances to get pucks out and put bodies on them, it’s going to be a big key to our success.
Alec Martinez, on the dynamic of the Schwartz-Schenn-Tarasenko line:
Well, you know, you’ve got Tarasenko, who’s one of the top offensive players in the league. He has incredible skill, his shot. I think Schwartz has got the speed and he opens up a lot of space for those other guys, and obviously Schenn’s a new addition this year. For whatever reason, the three of them have formed chemistry and they’ve performed really well, and they’re probably the top line, production-wise, in the league, so we’ve got a big job to do to shut them down tonight.
Martinez, on the biggest improvement since the team’s slump:
I think probably those two things that I mentioned earlier – our O-zone and our neutral zone play. If we do a good job, especially in neutral, we always talk about the back pressure, the back pressure allows us D-men to step up and just kind of squeeze those guys out. You’re not always going to get stops at the blue line, but if you can force a dump and get the puck back – and obviously the second part of that is getting it out and making the plays – but I think our neutral zone is probably the biggest.
Martinez, on pacing:
Right now, we’re just trying to be quick. Often times the way teams forecheck in neutral, we can thrive on being a transition team and capitalizing on those quick transitions, getting it in the forwards’ hands before the other team has the opportunity to set up. They always talk about us being quick and fast, and sometimes as a D-man, that’s your partner, but then sometimes it’s up to the forwards.
Martinez, on how St. Louis activates defensemen:
I think on the back end, they’ve got 21 goals or something. They do a lot of exchanges – D-men going down the wall or down the middle. They get that three-high look a lot with two D and a forward. I think they’ve generated a lot of offense off that. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t know if that’s been a real big thing in their past. I can’t remember. But, yeah, that’s something that’s clearly worked really well for them, so that’s when, as I mentioned before, where D-zone comes in. We’ve got to be able to sort and play quickly to shut that down.
-Lead photo via Scott Rovak/NHLI