The time has finally come. For the first time in nearly two years, the Los Angeles Kings played a playoff game. Unfortunately, that game strongly resembled their last regular season game against the Sharks. There's a lot to digest after this loss, and the Kings have a lot of adjustments to make. Let's hope they can.
The game started off on a very high note for the Kings, when just three minutes in, Jake Muzzin found himself down low below to the goal line with some space to attempt a pass into the crease. The idea was a good one, as the puck bounced off of Tomas Hertl's skate and gave the Kings the lead. However, reminiscent of the season opener, it wouldn't be long before the Shark's answering call. Just past five minutes in, Anze Kopitar took a rare interference penalty in the goalmouth to give the Sharks their first of four power plays. The man advantage allowed the Sharks to tie it less than three minutes after the Kings' goal when Joe Pavelski got a shot off that Jonathan Quick was screened on.
The ability of the behind team to score the tying goal was almost magical in this game. Of all the game's goals, no team ever went up by more than one, and each goal was met by a tying goal in three minutes or less. It made for some frantic momentum swings, but it also felt like neither team was out, regardless of how play was going over the course of the game. Speaking of goals, it would be a Brent Burns laser that put the Sharks ahead near the middle of the second period, only to be answered by a Jeff Carter goal on the power play 40 seconds later. The goal by Carter wasn't pretty, but it was a reward for the beautiful setup by Milan Lucic, who popped a pass off the boards knowing that Carter could get to it on the wing while he drove the net. The attempted pass bounded off two Sharks before going in the goal, but you take them how you can get them.
The Kings' third goal would come from an unlikely source - Trevor Lewis. On yet another penalty kill, Lewis made a nice play to get the puck on its way out of the zone, and with Dwight King chugging towards the Sharks' blue line, he saw the opportunity to make a rush the other way. With the backchecker gassed, Lewis made a nice pull and drag move before firing the go ahead, short handed goal. True to the theme of the game, Hertl's tying goal came just thirty seconds later, still on the power play.
The Kings entered another intermission tied, but Joe Pavelski changed things very shortly after the third opened. On what may have been a flubbed icing call, the Kings were taking one of many defensive zone faceoffs only to have the Sharks win it cleanly. Joe Pavelski went below the net and Anze Kopitar simply got beat. Whether he didn't respect the strength of the threat or couldn't fight off the strength of Pavelski's skating, the Sharks' captain zipped right around in front of the net and essentially dunked the puck on Quick's glove-side pad.
Pavelski's goal would be the game's last, and it was a just reward for the Sharks' ability to absolutely dominate the home plate area. The Sharks generated 18 high danger scoring chances according to war-on-ice, and the eye test certainly backs that up. It wasn't until late, with the Sharks sitting on a lead, that the Kings were able to push their total to a meager seven. This is noted strength of the San Jose Sharks, and they underscored it this game. As far as who was guilty on the Kings? Everyone. No King player was on the ice for fewer than five scoring chances against.
More good news Kings getting smoked 14-2 high-danger chances for the game...wait, make that 15— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) April 15, 2016
If you want to look at guilty parties for this game, it's perhaps better to look at those who weren't able to generate chances of any kind. Alec Martinez was only on the ice for one chance for the Kings, but with his early exit late in the second and potential lingering injury coming into the game, this may be understandable. Another name that perhaps won't surprise is Vincent Lecavalier. His third line simply could not handle the speed of the matchup against Patrick Marleau. Lecavalier often looks great once established in the zone, but he was never able to do that in this game.
The Kings' failings were characterized by two things. Once the puck became contested in the home plate area, the defending Kings seem to absolutely lose their minds. No player was looking for breakouts or even help from another King- it all became a mad scramble until the whistle blew or the Sharks scored. The Kings' second major problem was the fact that they were never able to establish themselves in the offensive zone save a few scattered shifts. They did manage to do it on a consistent basis once the third period wore on, but it was simply too late by then. The Kings did look quite good on the few entries they made with possession, so that's hopefully an area to build on moving forward.
Another positive sign was that the game didn't end in a sad fizzle for the Kings. Almost all of the final 1:30 of the game was the Kings pouring chances on and around the net while their own was empty. The Kings nearly tied it several times, and the strength of their push was very encouraging. They also managed to look dangerous on the power play too, which was a nice refreshing change since it featured them in the offensive zone for more than 15 seconds.
As bad as this game was, it definitely feels like the Kings have a way to even this series out. If Alec Martinez is out, the Kings may be forced to play Jamie McBain. If not, they should still consider sitting Luke Schenn for him. The Kings' ability to break out was one of their worst areas, and McBain would help that. While not as tough on the boards, simply putting some more pressure the other way may do worlds of good for the Kings. The other option the Kings should seriously be considering (and hopefully can), is the return of Marian Gaborik. One thing that Gaborik loves to do is carry the puck into the zone with speed, and that was something sorely missed across the lineup. If he's on Kopitar's (or Lecavalier's) wing, it's easy to imagine they get a few more shots in the offensive zone.
Below is the play that seems to have (re)injured Alec Martinez.