LA Kings: Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson Prove To Be Vancouver Canucks’ Biggest Problems

LOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — With Game 4 of their Western Conference Quarterfinal playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks coming up tonight (April 21, 7:00 PM PDT at Staples Center), much of the focus has been on the Canucks’ inept penalty-killing, which has allowed seven power play goals on just twelve chances after three games.

The result: the Canucks are looking up at a 2-1 series deficit with a huge challenge ahead of them…fixing their penalty-killing woes.

But the problem for the Canucks is not just their penalty-killing. More to the point, their problem is two-fold and they go by the names Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, the young studs on the Kings’ blue line.

Indeed, the twenty-year-old Doughty and the 23-year-old Johnson are still very young, relatively inexperienced defensemen. But in the three games played in this series they have totally outclassed the Vancouver blue line corps, contributed huge minutes in situations where they were called upon to shut down the Canucks’ top forwards, and they have been unstoppable on the power play.

Throughout the regular season, Canucks forwards Henrik and Daniel Sedin proved to be a deadly forward combination, with Henrik attaining superstar status after leading the league in scoring with 29 goals and 83 assists for 112 points in 82 games.

But through three playoff games against the Kings, the Sedin twins have combined for just two goals and four assists for six points.

Neither has scored a power play goal.

If you find all that hard to believe, you are not alone. Nevertheless, solid defensive play by Kings center Michal Handzus, who has gone up against the Sedin twins as often as Kings head coach Terry Murray can get him on the ice, along with Doughty’s smart defensive zone play, have combined to put a huge clamp on the Sedin twins.

But wait…there’s more.

If you thought Doughty was dominating in the defensive zone, what adjective can be used to describe what he has done on the power play, especially now that he has been paired with Johnson when the Kings have the man advantage?

How about “spectacular,” “unbelievable,” “extraordinary…” you get the idea.

The fact that the Kings are seven-for-twelve (58.33 percent) on the power play in the three games of this series is largely due to the play of Doughty and Johnson, who have brought an entirely new dynamic to the Kings’ power play.

“A big part of the success now is because of what they’re doing on the back end,” Murray explained. “I’m big on having the activity start from the blue line and when you have players like Doughty and Johnson, who can move across the blue line backwards in a passing/shooting position as well as anyone in the league, when you have that kind of a look, you’re not pulling the puck across in front of you—it’s in a shooting position as well as a passing position.”

“Then you’re going to create some hesitancy,” Murray elaborated. “You’re going to make players commit. They’ll start to go down for blocked shots and then [Doughty and Johnson] can hold on, pull it another couple of feet and then they have a wrist shot to the net.”

“It gives you a real weapon, a dangerous look.”

Given the incredible potency of the Kings’ power play, “dangerous” is a tremendous understatement and the weapon Murray described would be more like a Sherman Tank.

Doughty has been on the Kings’ first power play unit all season long and has consistently been a primary threat and point producer with the man advantage. But the addition of Johnson to the mix has raised their game to a new level.

“I loved what [Johnson] did with his agility and mobility on the blue line, lateral movement, looking people off, getting wrist shots to the net,” Murray beamed. “He’s such a strong kid and he has that knack for getting the puck to the net.”

“A lot of defenseman can make those moves, but the puck hits a skate or a leg—it doesn’t quite get to the net,” Murray added. “But he has the knack that pucks do end up at the net and then you’ve got those second and third opportunities. That’s a skill in itself.”

Johnson has always had the offensive skill, but when paired with Doughty on the power play earlier in the season, the two never clicked. But all that has changed in the post-season.

“First and foremost, he and I are having fun out there,” said Johnson. “We’re able to create things and take what’s given to us. There’s no secret to it. We’re just firing the puck and [Kings forwards are] getting there for loose pucks and winning battles. When we shoot the puck, they’re retrieving the puck well and we’re keeping the pressure on.”

“We think a lot alike, which helps on the ice,” added Johnson. “If you’re thinking alike, you don’t need the extra signals. You just read and react, and I think we’re doing that well.”

Keeping the penalty-killers off-balance and guessing has also been a key to their success.

“We have a couple of different elements since he’s a lefty and I’m a righty,” Doughty noted. “We can switch and we’ll be on our off sides for one-timers Other times, we’ll be on our strong sides to make passes. It’s been great. We’re pretty happy.”

“Drew and I are trying not to ever do the same thing twice,” Johnson explained. “Once you become predictable, you get in trouble, especially in a seven-game series. I think that’s one of our strengths. I don’t think we’re predictable.”

Despite the mobility and puck-handling skill Doughty and Johnson possess, they are not making the flashy plays. Rather, they are keeping things simple.

“If we get a chance to shoot, we’re shooting,” said Johnson. “If not, we’re moving. We’re not doing anything special. We’re just taking [what they’re giving to us].”

And there lies part of the Canucks’ problem…giving the Kings too much while on the penalty-kill.

“We’re not getting it done,” Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault lamented. “Shot blocking is a big part of it. We’ve got guys who have that capability and a lot of that is the willingness to get in front of those shots. We’ve got to start doing that more regularly.”

But Vigneault admitted after Game 3 on April 19 at Staples Center that his team has its hands full with Doughty and Johnson.

“Those two guys are highly-skilled players,” said Vigneault. “They move really well laterally, they’re able to, through dekes, open up lanes and get their shots through. They’re tough to handle and we’ve got 48 hours to find a solution.”

One of the ways the Canucks have tried to handle Doughty has been through intimidation, both physical and verbal.

But Doughty is taking it all in stride.

“I know that I’m a key guy in their minds,” he said. “They don’t want me playing my game and they want me in the [penalty] box more than on the ice. It’s a good thing to know you’re in the other team’s head.”

“If I had Drew Doughty on the other team, I’d do the same thing,” said Murray. “I remember coaching against the New York Rangers with Brian Leetch at the same time in his career. He was talked about all the time in our team meetings. He was critical guy to take care of. You have to play hard against him and make him pay the price every time the puck is dumped into his corner.”

“[Doughty has] stayed focused and composed.”

But Doughty was not all that composed during a Game 3 incident when he dished out some serious yapping of his own.

In response to taunts from the Vancouver bench, he responded in kind.

“Keep yapping buddy, keep yapping,” Doughty said calmly, the incident captured on the Fox Sports West telecast of the game where one could easily read his lips. “I’ve got all day. Come down my way, come down my way. Come down here. I’ll [expletive] hip check the [expletive] out of you.”

Doughty’s play throughout the regular season and through three playoff games, not to mention his response to the taunts from the Canucks bench detailed above, should tell you everything you need to know about why he is getting so much attention as a likely finalist for the James Norris Memorial Trophy as the best defenseman in the National Hockey League this season.

Vigneault and the Canucks find themselves in a big, big hole going into Game 4 and are likely to throw everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at the Kings power play. Despite that, the Kings remain confident.

“We’ve got a good swagger to our power play right now, knowing that when we go out, we’re expecting to score, and if we don’t score, we want to create some good momentum for the team and get something going,” said Johnson.

With Vancouver superstar goaltender Roberto Luongo struggling and with their penalty-kill on life support, facing a team with that much confidence in their power play could spell doom for the Canucks.

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5 thoughts on “LA Kings: Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson Prove To Be Vancouver Canucks’ Biggest Problems

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  1. For me this was the key quote: “If we get a chance to shoot, we’re shooting.” That’s the main difference I see with the two of them out there right now (versus earlier in the season). They realize the Canucks are leaving them open for shots, and they’re taking them. I also like that Johnson has started using his wrist shot more, just getting it on net where Handzus and Smyth can pick up the rebounds.

    I expect that the Canucks will try to take that away in game 4, and I hope the Kings are ready to work the puck down low and crash the net.

  2. PP has been tremendous with those two quarterbacking. Now we just need to work on our 5 on 5. VAN is too smart a team to continue taking penalties.

  3. Naive is the fan who thinks Jack Johnson is replaceable.

    He’s not.

    He’s taken many hits in recent weeks online from fans who rail against his -15 (final reg season stat), or his getting beat by____, blah blah.
    They ignore his 36 points, his many hard minutes against top guys, and his physical control of opponents as varied as Dustin Byfuglien and Alex Ovechkin.

    Admittedly, he still has a couple holes in his game at 23, but shows every sign of continuous improvement. He should pretty much close those holes and reach reach something like full maturity around 25-6, I would think.
    He plays a complex game, but that game is coming together
    over time, and we are witnessing a nice step forward
    for JJ right now, where his full worth is likely becoming more apparent to the previously skeptical.

    As gifted as he is, he’s not quite the hockey “Mozart”
    that Doughty is. Still, Jack would be a strong candidate for #1 D-Man on quite a few teams. To have him as our *2nd*
    D-Man puts us in positions like we see now, with their top line all but neutralized and our PP absolutely killing them.

    Because of DD and JJ.

    OK, OK, DD is better than JJ.
    DD is probably a HOFer and multiple Norris winner.

    JJ is certainly a good cut or so below that level.
    But JJ is still damn formidable, in his own right,
    and owns a fine array of skills and talents.

    I believe we are quite early in the arc of success
    The Two will achieve with each other.

    As a Kings fan, I just pray we can keep them together on OUR team over something resembling the long run.

  4. no story on last nights game so i will post here ………… the kings need to get quick out of there fast ….. he has looked horrible with no confidense for a long long time ….. these days he only makes the routine save and still lets in bad goals – samuelson goal game 2 – ………… there are no big saves or critical saves ….. this is completely gone from his game … he has lost all confidense in himself and u can see it in his body language …… a goaltending change is warranted or else we will lose the series …. i want bernier of course – he is calm, no rebounds, in postion and consequently that calms down his team in the defensive zone, instead of the way it is now in front of quick – its like a fire drill because everybody is running around afraid to let vancouver get a single shot for fear that quick wont save it – you see with bernier u dont have that ….everyone is calm and have an attitude like “go ahead and shoot, you arent scoring on bernier ” …. so not only does bernier have no rebounds and the body language u like to see, but he also has an effect on the whole team and calms them down as well …… and if for some reason no bernier, i would still rather see ersberg instead of quick ….. quick is just not cutting it – no big saves at all …… knowing terry murray he will probably substitute williams for parse on the fourth line … however, i wish it would be for clune …. i think williams halpren parse is a good 4th line and might be a very effective line because the canucks are getting geared up to stop our top 2 lines ….. they barely know who scott parse is – and im telling you if you u give scott parse proper ice time instead of token minutes , he can score and shock the canucks …. randy jones back in the lineup …. what a joke …… well, i know a goalie change wont be forthcoming knowing murray, so good luck to all of us friday night ….. we are going to need it

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