VIDEO: Includes video of portions of media interviews with Los Angeles Kings Rob Scuderi and Justin Williams that are only available from FrozenRoyaltyNHL on YouTube.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — That their Western Conference Semifinal series against the San Jose Sharks is now tied, 2-2, might be the bottom line for the Los Angeles Kings heading into Thursday’s Game 5 at Staples Center in Los Angeles. But of greater concern is that the Sharks have dictated the pace and controlled play for the vast majority of each game, using a heavy forecheck to keep the Kings bottled up in their own zone.
The fifth game of a National Hockey League playoff series that lasts six or seven games is often the key contest in that series, something that was not lost on the Kings.
“Game 5 is the pivotal game in a long series,” said winger and captain Dustin Brown. “If you look at our last series in St. Louis, it just brings out momentum. You have that mental edge going into Game 6.”
Intensity from the opening face-off, something the Kings had little of throughout the first half of Game 4 on Tuesday, is key.
“That’s what the playoffs is about,” said defenseman Rob Scuderi. “You have to be ready for every single time you hop over the boards. You have to think that everything you do on that shift could have an impact on the game.”
Scuderi pointed out that the Sharks have been the better team at the start of each game in the series, including Games 1 and 2, even though the Kings had home ice advantage.
“In Games 1 and 2 [at Staples Center], I thought the Sharks took it to us in the first ten minutes of each game, even though it was our ice,” Scuderi lamented. “You can’t ask your goaltender to make that many great saves and still keep you in a game.”
“It’s up to us to have a better start,” Scuderi added. “Get our feet moving, whatever it takes. You’ve got to get yourself into it right away, because you can’t take a chance, giving up three in a row.”
As much as slow starts have plagued the Kings, their most glaring issue in Games 3 and 4 at HP Pavilion in San Jose was goal scoring—they scored just once in each game.
“What did [head coach Darryl] Sutter say? ‘It’s a 3-2 league?’ It’s been 2-1 lately, because we haven’t gotten any goals,” said right wing Justin Williams. “One goal is not going to win us many games. That needs to be a big focus.”
“One goal is not going to do it, plain and simple,” added Williams. “Scorers have got to score. We’ve got to play better. We’ve got to create more offense. We’re not going to win every game 1-0.”
“We’re obviously starved for goals, and there’s a reason for that. Not enough net pressure, not enough net traffic, not enough rebounds, not enough going to the net with a purpose.”
Although scoring is a key objective, teams must first create opportunities to score, something the Kings have not done very well since the playoffs began, and their problems in this area are not limited to the offensive zone.
Indeed, something Williams has talked about repeatedly since the first round has been hanging over their heads like the proverbial Sword of Damocles: both the St. Louis Blues and the Sharks have turned the tables on the Kings in what was one of the biggest keys to the Kings’ playoff success last season.
During their run to the 2012 Stanley Cup Championship, the Kings’ forecheck was heavy and relentless, generating one scoring chance after another—they forechecked their opponents into submission.
But this time around, the skate has been on the other foot, as the Blues and Sharks have had the ice tilted towards the Kings’ net, even in the games the Kings won in those respective series.
That heavy forecheck has prevented the Kings from getting out of their zone cleanly, or if they do manage to get the puck out of their zone, they are unable to generate speed through the neutral zone, allowing them to get onto the opposing defensemen deep in the attacking zone. In either case, the Blues and Kings have effectively prevented the Kings from getting in on the forecheck, and at the same time, they have generated tremendous pressure in the Kings zone.
The Kings must address this particular issue if they expect to win Game 5 against the Sharks, let alone reach the Western Conference Finals and beyond.
“Just make harder plays,” Scuderi explained. “They use their defense much more than St. Louis did, as far as pinching down and keeping pucks in. It’s not beating the forwards that’s the problem. It’s getting past the two defensemen who are pinching down, trying to keep pucks in our zone.”
“As defensemen, if we can make harder plays with the puck—if you’re going to rim it, rim it hard,” Scuderi elaborated. “If you’re going to make a pass, pass it very hard. At least you’ll give your forwards more time to do something with it.”
Williams shared a similar view.
“I think, early especially, San Jose’s defensemen were pinching quite a bit, not letting us get out of our zone cleanly,” he noted. “Maybe it’s not going to be as clean as we want. Maybe it’s not going to be tape-to-tape. Maybe it’s going to be chips [off the glass or boards]. That’s what we’re going to have to do to get out of our zone.”
“‘Clean’ doesn’t necessarily mean tape-to-tape-tape,” he added. “‘Clean’ means in and out of your zone quickly.”
If the Kings can get the puck out of their zone quickly, they have a chance at getting in on the forecheck, and creating quality scoring opportunities.
“It’s getting the puck in, behind their defensemen, and putting pressure on [them],” said Brown. “Then, when we get that pressure, [we have to maintain] it. As you saw in the third period [on Tuesday in Game 3], a big part of that is our F3 (third forward) being in the right spot so our defensemen can come down the walls.”
“We talked about our defensemen being more active in the third period, and it made a world of difference,” added Brown. “We had a lot more offensive zone time, and we hemmed them in quite a bit. That’s all the result of our F3, and having our defensemen being active, and we need more of that.”
Getting in on the forecheck, especially in terms of pressuring the San Jose defensemen, will also help the Kings’ defensive effort.
“We have to be a little more physical,” Scuderi emphasized. “We have to try to stop their defensemen. They’re breaking the puck out [of their zone] too easily right now. I’m not saying they’re not good at what they do. We just have to do a better job.”
Frozen Royalty Video via FrozenRoyaltyNHL on YouTube – Video of May 22, 2013 media interviews with Rob Scuderi and Justin Williams
©2013 FrozenRoyalty.net. All rights reserved.
The portions of these media interviews in the following videos are available only from FrozenRoyaltyNHL on YouTube.
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.