EL SEGUNDO, CA — On the eve Game 5 of their best-of-seven first round playoff series against the San Jose Sharks, the Los Angeles Kings, who trail the Sharks in the series, 3-1, opted for video sessions to review their game plan and off-ice workouts, aside from a handful of players who chose to skate.
“We went over some special teams from [Game 4 on April 20 in San Jose], checked on some injuries, and guys got a little workout upstairs,” said head coach Darryl Sutter. “The guys who wanted to go on [the ice, went] on.”
But shouldn’t they have practiced, given that they are on the brink of elimination, having been outplayed by the Sharks in three of the four games of the series?
“If you had back-to-backs, you’d be in game mode again (with a regular game-day skate, rather than an optional one), and if you had two or three days [before the next game], you’d do it differently,” Sutter explained. “But between games, [it’s about] travel, trying to get guys energized, and get’em in the right frame of mind.”
Despite having their backs up against the wall in the series, there’s no panic in the Kings dressing room.
“We’ve been in this situation, so we know what it takes,” said forward Marian Gaborik. “But all it takes now is to win one game. That’s what we’re focused on, and that’s what we have to do.”
The Kings emphasized that they must focus solely on the next game.
“You have to win one before you can win four,” Gaborik noted. “So it’s all about one game for this team right now. “We have a group that never quits. We’re going into the game with the mentality to win one game, and play a shift at a time, a period at a time.”
“It’s one game at a time,” said center Vincent Lecavalier. “We have to play as fast as we did in the third period [of Game 4].”
Although Sutter was critical of the officiating in the series to date, his players know that they can only focus on their game, not what the officials might do, or not do, as the case may be.
“You want to stay out of the box, but there’s always good and bad penalties,” said Lecavalier. “Tripping penalties are never good, or a hooking penalty. Sometimes, it might happen that you save a goal, and then it becomes a good penalty. But you want to stay out of the box.”
“They’ve got a good power play, and they are going get some opportunities,” added Lecavalier. “But we’ve got to shut them down, and when we get our opportunities on the power play, we have to capitalize on them.”
Indeed, special teams were a factor in Game 4.
“They scored on their opportunities and we didn’t,” said Sutter.
“They scored three goals on the power play [on Wednesday] night, so we, obviously, have to try to stay out of the box as much as we can, and play within the rules,” said Gaborik. “Sometimes, it gets out of hand, but we just have to try to stay out of the box as much as we can.”
“It’s common sense to stay out of the box,” added Gaborik. “But we’re not making excuses. We’re not blaming the refs. We just have to play our game, play hard like we can, and try to play with five guys on the ice.”
Staying out of the penalty box doesn’t mean the Kings have to sacrifice their physical brand of hockey.
“It’s on us to stay disciplined—keep our sticks down, skate—try not to get those penalties,” Lecavalier said. “You can still be the LA Kings—be physical. It still doesn’t take away anything from that.”
“A hooking penalty is not LA Kings [hockey],” Lecavalier added. “We know that we have to play better and be better. We’ll take it one game at a time. We have to be physical but disciplined, for sure.”
While the Sharks have held an advantage on special teams in the series, they’ve done the exact same thing during five-on-five play.
“I think, five-on-five, we have to play the way we know how to play,” Lecavalier observed. “Bring it to them, play fast. I thought we played great in the third period [of Game 4]. We really took it to’em. We just have to play the same way now, but for 60 minutes.”
More traffic in front of the San Jose net is a must.
“That’s what happened [in Game 4],” Gaborik noted. “[Defenseman Luke] Schenn threw it twice on the net. One goes off [forward Trevor Lewis], the other was a great screen by [left wing Dwight King]. We just have to do more of that.”
But before the Kings can get traffic in front of the Sharks’ net, and before they can get any part of their five-on-five game going, they must start getting the puck out of their zone quickly, and on a consistent basis, something that the Sharks have mostly thwarted in three of the four games in the series.
“They’re forechecking us, obviously,” Gaborik explained. “We can do a better job of skating, more ‘interference’ to make it easier on our defensemen. Once our defensemen get [the puck] to us, we have to try to get out of our end cleaner, which means there has to be good [puck support]—just get that puck and make the next play, too.”
“We have to be in the right position,” Lecavalier emphasized. “That’s what we work on, every day. That’s something we take pride in—our breakouts.”
If the Kings can break out of their own consistently, the tables should turn in their favor.
“It starts in our end,” Gaborik noted. “If we can get out of our end cleaner, [and] get some speed, that can set-up our forecheck and our [offensive] zone time. That’s what we have to clean up. We have to use our speed through the neutral zone.”
Their inability to break out of their own zone cleanly and generate speed on attack through the neutral zone has been, in large part, the root of the Kings’ problems in the series.
“It’s tight hockey, it’s playoff hockey, it’s two good teams going at it,” said Lecavalier. “It could definitely be 3-1 in our favor. Five-on-five, it’s really tight for both sides. But now, we have no choice. We can’t afford to lose another game. We have to do everything in our power to get that possession [game] back. [We have] to get more possession in their zone and keep [the puck] in their zone. That could be the difference, right there.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings center Vincent Lecavalier. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography.
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