Well friends, here we are again. The Los Angeles Kings face elimination from the first round of the playoffs via the San Jose Sharks yet again. With one win under their belt to contrast to two years ago, the situation doesn't feel any less desperate. The Kings' top scorers seem like they are stuck in neutral. Regardless of what caused this, the result is a team that may play its last tomorrow.
Game 4 was probably the Kings' best start to a game in this series, ignoring the goal at the start of game one that wasn't a result of sustained offense. The Kings were consistently getting possession of the puck in the Sharks' end and getting quality looks at the net. It was the kind of play we had become accustomed to in the regular season, and I would have expected a win had they kept it up. Alas, by the end of the first period, the Sharks simply flipped the script halfway through the period and ended out on top in every metric we care about. The good takeaway for the Kings was that they played defense fairly well against the Sharks and tit became the first period in this series with zero penalties. Then the rest of the game happened.
The second period would go on to define the game for the Kings. Throughout the series, the officiating has been very intolerant of any kind of physical interaction of players after the whistles. We saw this again when a scrum after a net front play that included traded jabs from both sides ended only in Jeff Carter going to the box. The result: a Brent Burns one-timer after the Kings PK let a seam open. Just eight minutes later, Rob Scuderi tripped up Tomas Hertl. That resulted in a behind the net feed from Joe Thornton to Joe Pavelski, who had freed himself and was all alone in front.
Near the end of the second, the Sharks got another power play when Luke Schenn foolishly made contact up high on Joe Thornton after the whistle. Miraculously, there was no power play goal here. They got right back to where they left off early in the third when Jamie McBain accidentally high-sticked Joonas Donskoi simply trying to make a play in the neutral zone. Patrick Marleau found himself in the right spot after a fortuitous bounce and gave the Sharks a 3-0 lead early in the third.
As bad as special teams were going, the Kings didn't seem done yet. Just a minute later, Luke Schenn scored off of a Trevor Lewis battling Brent Burns in front of the goal. It was challenged for interference, but ruled a good goal for the Kings. Then, six minutes into the third period, Luke Schenn did it again, this time thanks to a setup from Anze Kopitar. Sadly, that was the end of the Kings' miraculous turn-around. While they spent most of the rest of the period in the Sharks' end, they didn't spend the minutes that count. They struggled to get Jonathan Quick out in the last two minutes, and were never able to gain good possession with the empty net as they lost their favorite game of dump and chase.
The Kings could now well and truly be looking at their last game of the year. At best, they are fighting to even games at 5v5, but getting decimated at special teams play. The injury to Alec Martinez certainly hurts, but let's not forget how absent LA's stars have been. Tyler Toffoli has been absolutely invisible, and after a strong first game back, Marian Gaborik is giving Toffoli a run for his money. Both Jeff Cater and Anze Kopitar struggle to string together good shifts in succession. Whether the team is being outplayed, out-coached, or some combination thereof, the spot they are in feels deserved.
It is major do-or-die time for the Kings, and it feels like it may be time for some drastic changes if they want to get back to dominating at even strength. This whole series they have rightly respected the strength of San Jose's top line, but the result makes them feel like a team that is playing not to lose. The Kings seem intent of making sure at least one of Drew Doughty or Jake Muzzin is out there at all times to prevent things from descending into madness. Maybe it's time to put them together, forcing the pressure on San Jose. Tanner Pearson and Trevor Lewis have been your best forwards? Good, put them with Anze Kopitar. Concentrate your offensive firepower and force the Sharks to be the ones wildly reacting to a flood of scoring chances. It's a one game trial, after all.