The Kings won a nausea inducing, yet exhilarating affair at Staples Center last night. Underneath all of the madness there were some key strategic decisions by Kings' coach Darryl Sutter that contributed to the victory.
Jonathan Quick did his best 2013 regular season Jonathan Quick impression and let in a couple of soft goals in the first period that had a dominant Kings team clawing from behind. Jeff Carter and Justin Williams brought it home in the third, but how did the various units grade out?
- 1st line (Brown-Kopitar-Williams/Carter), Grade: A+. Darryl Sutter switched things up and instead of hard-matching Anze Kopitar to David Backes, he matched him against the Blues 2nd line of Perron-Berglund-Oshie. This move worked wonders as the Kings first line was completely dominant. When the Kopitar line was out against the Berglund line the Kings out-attempted the Blues 16-2 in 8 minutes of EV ice time. They had the Berglund line hemmed in their own zone for almost the entire time they were matched against each other. That being said, the Kopitar line was unstoppable against every opponent, including Backes. In addition to generating 6 quality chances, they allowed none to their opposition. This line combined for 11 shots and two goals at even strength.
- 2nd Line (King-Richards-Carter/Williams), Grade: C+. This time they drew the most difficult assignment and were tasked with matching up against the Blues 1st line and top pair. They actually held their own in the possession battle but didn’t do well in terms of creating or suppressing quality opportunities. They allowed the most scoring chances on the team while creating only two. Luckily for them, both of those chances crossed the goal line. Mike Richards and Dwight King had 0 shots on goal. Credit Sutter here again. In the third period, he flip-flopped Williams and Carter on the first two lines. Williams was able to jumpstart this unit and it was on this line that he was able to record the game winning goal. It’ll be interesting to see if Sutter sticks with these new combos as the top line continued to dominate with Carter on wing and the 2nd line was much stronger with Williams.
- 3rd Line (Penner-Stoll-Lewis), Grade: A. A bounce-back game for the third line. They started their shifts in the defensive end more than any other Kings’ forward unit and spent most of their time against the Blues 3rd (McDonald-Sobotka-Stewart). They dominated zone time and generated several quality chances. Dustin Penner earned the sum of his contract in last night’s game alone. The Blues were only able to attempt 5 shots while he was on ice. He also recorded 3 scoring chances including a crucial goal. That tally was a beautiful team goal that was sprung by Trevor Lewis being first on the puck in the defensive end.
- 4th Line (Clifford-Fraser-Mix), Grade: C. Again several players were rotated on the right side of this line in very limited minutes. Colin Fraser saw 7 minutes of ice time and saw his last shift with 13:29 to go in the third. When his unit was out there, he was matched against the opposing 4th line and they were able to control the action. In game 3, they saw most of their time against the 2nd and won that matchup. Sutter stayed away from that in this one after they got hammered early. Overall, they played low event hockey and while they generated no real opportunities, they allowed next to none.
- Regehr-Doughty, Grade: A. Again drew the shutdown role and spent 52% of their minutes against the Backes line. They limited that Blues top unit to two scoring chances and were also able to limit their zone time. Robyn Regehr had another strong game. He was a lot more decisive with the puck and limited giveaways in the defensive end. He also registered a nice assist on the Carter goal which he sprung on a well-timed pass. He did get away with what seemed to be a careless and dangerous hit on Ryan Reaves late in the 2nd period, which should have been a routine boarding call. But outside of that, another solid game for him. If he can keep stringing these kind of performances together, he’ll have fancystat nerds eating humble pie all summer long. Drew Doughty had another strong game. He had more touches in the defensive zone than any other King with nary a turnover-- in spite of perpetually leading the breakout against the Blues vaunted forecheck.
- Muzzin/Scuderi-Voynov, Grade: A. Jake Muzzin saw 0 zone starts in the defensive end after some very shaky play in his own zone so far this post-season. Scuderi hopped up on this pairing for d-zone faceoffs. The strategy worked well, as all three ended the game with very strong possession numbers. In addition, Slava Voynov +7/-1 in scoring chances and +2 in goal differential. Although they did get slightly softer minutes, this unit had their strongest numbers come against the Blues top 6.
- Martinez/Ellerby-Scuderi, Grade C. They spent most of their time against the Perron-Berglund-Oshie line which is a more difficult assignment than anticipated. Their results were mixed. They were able to stay above water in the possession game, but their coverage in the defensive zone was not up to par. They were on ice for half of the Blues 8 even strength scoring chances. On the other hand, Alec Martinez seems to be skating very well and doesn’t seem to be lacking any confidence after his month long benching. On Dustin Penner’s goal, he anticipated the play and jumped up on the rush to help create the 3 on 1. Keaton Ellerby barely saw any ice time—4:15 at even strength. It’ll be interesting to see if Sutter continues to dress 7 defensemen. I think we could see Richardson get the call over him next game. That would give the Kings’ fourth line some versatility down the middle (think: Fraser on ice for d-zone starts, Richardson for o-zone starts) while continuing to rotate players on the right side.
- Grade: B. Only 2:40 of power play time but a lot of production in limited minutes. 4 shots and 2 scoring chances in that time, which made the power play far more productive than last game in a quarter of the minutes.
- Grade: D. 2:36 of penalty kill time: 1 goal, 2 chances and 3 shots allowed. A bad game for the penalty kill unit but not an area of concern given the limited minutes. One good sign was that the Kings finally were able to limit the amount of penalties they took.
- Grade: D. Jonathan Quick’s worst game of the post-season. He stopped 19 of 22 shots which is an .864 save percentage. He also allowed 2 goals on 8 scoring chance shots in addition to one bad goal that came on a non-scoring chance. His positioning seemed off all game, oscillating between over-playing shots and playing deep in his net.
Overall Team Grade: B+.
- The only thing keeping them from an A grade in this one was goaltending. Outside of that their underlying numbers were incredible. They registered 63 attempts at even strength and allowed only 29, meaning that they had control of the puck about twice as much as St. Louis. In all truth, this game shouldn't have even been close.
- Darryl Sutter deserves a lot of credit for a couple strategic decisions. Namely, diverting Kopitar’s minutes away from David Backes and flip-flopping Carter and Williams in the third period. Both moves paid huge dividends. Kopitar had by far his best game of the playoffs and finally ended his goal drought. Carter and Williams scored the game tying and winning goals immediately after being switched onto different line combos.
If you're unfamiliar with shot attempts and scoring chances, check out these links to see why they are important: Corsi -Scoring Chances.
Even Strength - Team Stats
*scoring chances at all strengths.
PERIOD ATTEMPTS FOR ATTEMPTS AGAINST ATTEMPT +/- CHANCES FOR CHANCES AGAINST SCORING CHANCE +/-
Even Strength - Team Stats
|PERIOD||ATTEMPTS FOR||ATTEMPTS AGAINST||ATTEMPT +/-||CHANCES FOR||CHANCES AGAINST||SCORING CHANCE +/-|
|Total||63||29||+34||13(15)*||8 (10)*||+5 (+5)*|