EL SEGUNDO, CA — As the Los Angeles Kings prepared for tonight’s Game 2 of their second round playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks, they knew that despite winning Game 1, they must play considerably better than they did, if they expect to win Game 2, let alone advance to the Western Conference Finals.
In Game 1, the Kings found themselves hemmed into their own zone by the Ducks for extended periods, much of that caused by their own mistakes.
“I thought our puck management wasn’t great,” said right wing Justin Williams. “I didn’t think our forecheck was great. I think all around, everyone has areas to improve on and myself, personally, also.”
One shift where the Kings failed to manage the puck well came early in the overtime period, when Ducks star right wing Corey Perry had an open left side of the net to shoot at from right in front of the net, only to have Kings defenseman Alec Martinez go down to block the shot in the crease.
Martinez ended up making the game-saving stop because Perry’s chance came right after superstar goaltender Jonathan Quick had just made the initial save on a flurry by the Ducks. He was unable to recover in time to move across to his right to stop Perry.
“I guess I channeled my inner goalie playing in the driveway when I was younger,” said Martinez. “I just tried to get in front of it. I know Quickie had just made a save, and he was trying to get over, so I just tried to go down and get in front of it.”
Noting that there were too many scrambly shifts in their own zone, Williams pointed to this play as an example.
“I especially liked it because it was partly my fault that [Martinez] had to make that save in the first place,” he said. “It was obviously a game saver. You could be down 1-0, and instead you’re up one.”
Prior to the start of the second round, the Kings stated the obvious: that they could not afford to start the second round like they did against the San Jose Sharks in the first round, losing the first three games. Nevertheless, Williams downplayed the importance of his team’s Game 1 win.
“I don’t know how important [it is],” said Williams. “I mean, we lost the first three last round. It’s obviously important for us seeing as we don’t feel like we played a great game and still came out on top, which is huge for us. We’re going to push for that next game and come out firing early.”
One good sign for the Kings was that they overcame some adversity after losing veteran defenseman Robyn Regher to an injury suffered in the first period, forcing them to play with just five defensemen.
“All five of us obviously played a lot more, with the exception of maybe [Drew] Doughty—more than usual,” said Martinez. “I felt like we did a good job having a five-man rotation there. I think it’s important in situations like that just to keep it simple, keep your shifts short, and just make simple, hard plays.”
Greater awareness by the forwards helped the shorthanded defensive corps weather the storm.
“When you’re down to five defensemen, you need to make sure your defensemen can get line changes,” Williams explained. “That comes from forwards getting the puck in and recognizing when your defensemen are tired, because they were warriors last night. They played unbelievable. You could tell they were in the reserve tank trying to find what was left, and they did an awesome job for us.”
More on Regher in a bit…
Believe It Or Not…
Don’t look now, but the Kings have suddenly become a bit of an offensive juggernaut.
Don’t believe that? Who could blame you. Nevertheless, the Kings, who scored just 2.42 goals per game during the regular season (26th in the league), have scored 3.62 goals per game during the playoffs, tying them for second among playoff teams with the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Montreal Canadiens lead all playoff teams with 3.83 goals per game.
Leading the way for the Kings, as usual, is center Anze Kopitar. But what is unusual is that he is on fire, with four goals and nine assists, good for 13 points in eight games. He leads the league in playoff scoring, and is averaging a whopping 1.63 points per game.
Nor far behind is left wing Marian Gaborik, who has scored five goals with three assists for eight points in eight games, including the game-tying goal in Game 1 at Anaheim, along with the overtime game-winner.
As well as Gaborik has played, Kopitar has been largely responsible for making it all happen, and not just in the offensive zone.
Williams said that shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
“He’s a prime example of your best offense is a good defense,” said Williams. “He’s getting chances because he’s a great checker and a great competitor.”
“I think it’s pretty standard,” added Williams. “It’s pretty standard Kopitar. I expect that. Everyone expects that. He expects that of himself. He’s a guy who isn’t going to have a lull after when he has a great game. He’ll come back and keep fighting and that’s professionalism and that’s how he’s come of age as a hockey player.”
Although both team’s top centers made their presence known in Game 1, Kopitar was the clear winner of the first playoff matchup with Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf, who contributed assists on both Ducks goals, but more significantly, he was on the ice for both the game-tying and game-winning goals, and his defensive play on both goals left a lot to be desired on both plays.
“It seemed like they were against each other quite a bit out there,” said Williams. “Both tremendous players. One is up for the Selke, one is up for the Hart—kind of both ends of the spectrum.”
“I say it all the time, but I think [Kopitar is] one of the best centers in the world,” said Martinez. “Maybe he doesn’t always get as much credit. I mean, I guess he’s nominated for a Selke, but he doesn’t get as much exposure being on the West Coast. But he’s one heck of a hockey player.”
Although Kopitar is leading the way, the Kings have 13 players with goals in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Eight have scored more than one goal, and 18 players have tallied points in this post-season—everyone is contributing.
“I think, with playoff hockey, if you want to be successful, you’ve got to have scoring by committee, and regardless of your role on a team, we’re going to need big goals from a lot of different guys,” Martinez noted. “It’s no secret that we were struggling with scoring before that Olympic break, and I think that was one of the focuses that we tried to take when we got back—to generate more shots and generate more opportunities from those shots.”
“I think it was just kind of a focus, and we’re getting scoring from a lot of different guys, and from our big offensive guys, obviously, Gabby, last night, came up really huge,” Martinez added.
Williams attributed the improved offense to his team’s added determination during the playoffs.
“I think I’d be lying to you if I said it wasn’t surprising, but come playoffs, it kind of seems like this team has that second, third effort that you need to score goals this time of year,” he noted. “They don’t come easy. They come with guys beating guys on second efforts.”
“We have a team that doesn’t give up and a team that is able to give those efforts to get those goals,” he added.
At that point, a reporter commented, “it’s a Dustin Brown time of year and a Mike Richards time of year.”
Williams replied, “It’s an everybody time of year.”
Regher Out, Schultz In?
As mentioned earlier, Regher was injured during the first period of Game 1 at Anaheim, after taking a hit from Ducks superstar forward Teemu Selanne. Regher left the ice immediately after the hit, and did not return.
On Sunday, the Kings appeared to be moving ahead, assuming that Regher would be unavailable, and that defenseman Jeff Schultz would be in the lineup for tonight’s Game 2 at Anaheim.
“I had a little chat with [Sutter] this morning, and he said just kind of go out there and play,” said Schultz. “It’s hard to replace a guy like Robyn, but I feel like I’m capable of doing a similar job to what he can do.”
Schultz, a veteran of 399 regular season and 29 playoff games with the Washington Capitals, played in the American Hockey League this season with the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate.
“I had a lot of fun down there, playing in Manchester,” he said. “I kind of got to go down there and work on a lot of things. I had some good coaches who let me go out there and kind of play my game and get comfortable [regarding] where I need to be.”
“They just let me go as I needed to do, and if there was anything that I needed to work on or I needed any insight from them, they were there to help me,” he added.
With nearly 400 National Hockey League regular season games under his belt, Schultz was able to help the Kings’ young prospects down on the farm.
“I didn’t realize how young some of those guys were,” said Schultz. “I’m sure a lot of the guys enjoyed some of the stories I had, but I tried to help some of those young guys as much as I could.”
“[It was an] exciting time,” added Schultz. “I worked hard all year, and didn’t think this day was going to come. But I have the opportunity to help the team win, and I’m going to go out there and do my best, and do what they ask of me to do.”
Schultz was with the team in Anaheim, watching Game 1 in the dressing room. He was present when Regher left the ice.
“I didn’t see what happened on the play,” said Schultz. “I was watching the game in the dressing room and I saw him come in. You kind of wonder, and you don’t hope he’s injured too bad, because he’s a big part of this team. Unfortunately, what happened happened, and now we’ve got to look forward and come out hard tomorrow.”
“It looks like it’s a lot of fun out there,” added Schultz. “The Ducks are a team that’s really heavy on the forecheck and they come hard, so it’s just a matter of getting back and moving pucks up and getting out of our zone.”
“It’s a whole new season,” he added. “Everything’s intensified that much more. It’s just a matter of going out there and playing your best.”
Without Regher and veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell, the Kings are a bit weaker on their blue line. Nevertheless, they remain confident.
“The best way for us is just through experiences,” said Sutter. “We’ve dealt without Mitchell and Greene last year—Mitchell for the whole year and Greene missed the whole season and then got hurt again before playoffs. We’ve dealt.”
“That’s the way it works,” added Sutter. “I mean, injuries are a big part of it. If you use it as an excuse, and I’ve heard it used as an excuse, it’s just another reason to take the wrong road.”
“I think everyone, as a defensive corps and as a team, you can’t replace one guy like that—if he’s not ready to go,” said Martinez. “It’s got to be a collaborative effort, and I think everyone needs to elevate their game. This is playoff hockey, and you’ve got to do that anyway, if you want to win.”
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