Kings' Key to Come Back: Be More Aggressive
Game Two laid out the road map for a Kings comeback against the Sharks. Here's how:
One-goal games are not all made equal.
Case in point, the opening sections of this postseason's edition of Los Angeles Kings-San Jose Sharks. In Game One, LA stayed close with opportunistic special teams. It was tied at three apiece to start the third.
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
That chance would be Joe Pavelski schoolyard whipping Anze Kopitar for San Jose's third even strength goal of the night. It made for a decisive 4-3 road victory, even if this dominance was not reflected in the result.
Game Two was a far different story and more in line with what was expected of this series: Tight checking, just occasional cracks of daylight at 5v5. To the eye, Los Angeles had a degree of difficulty, especially early, with gaining the zone. The good news? San Jose had more or less as much trouble, as they enjoyed a low 29% 5v5 controlled entry rate (14 controlled entries/48 overall zone entries); compare this to 42% in Game One (21/50). Essentially, they dumped the puck a lot.
So does this mean that the hosts had their way in Game Two? Not exactly. They gave the Sharks little, and the visitors negotiated it with dump after dump. Instead of losing the puck in the neutral zone, they chose to fight for it deep more often than not with their historically strong forecheck. In turn, the opposition made life just as hard for LA.
By both teams' design, space was at a premium, but some Nick Shore hesitation and a 5v3 gave San Jose just enough to pull out a nail-biter.
So what can the Kings do tonight to stay in the series? Let's start with the most important step:
Be More Aggressive
On a tightrope, one step too forward will kill you.
But sometimes, like when you're down two in the third period, you should take greater risk to force a turnover:
If things were tied up, one might better understand Doughty's backpedaling. But regardless of score, defensemen standing up in the neutral zone is a hallmark of the Kings at their best. And partly to the Sharks' credit, that's happened all too seldomly in this series:
It's a delicate balance. Los Angeles is most certainly not a run-and-gun chance trader; they wouldn't be better that way either. But the team must be more assertive than they have been in this series. A couple well-timed aggressions in the neutral zone or on the forecheck? A longer breakout pass than usual to change things up here and there?
In this war of attrition? That just might tip things back in their favor.
Keep the Power On
Let's not forget, as good as San Jose's third-ranked power play is, LA's is better than ever:
|Season||5v4 FF60||NHL Rank||PP%||NHL Rank|
It can easily be the difference yet in this series, especially considering they've just re-introduced power play spark Marian Gaborik into the line-up.
Get the Lead
LA grabbed an early lead in Game One, but their uncharacteristic loss of scoring chance control helped doom them. For San Jose in Game Two, however, playing ahead allowed them to err toward caution and grind down their rivals:
Here, Tomas Hertl doesn't even offer the pretense of partnering with Tommy Wingels for a head-on challenge of Trevor Lewis and Luke Schenn. This explains some of the Sharks' less than exceptional Game Two controlled zone entry rate: When you're up, why risk a neutral zone turnover then counterattack on a 50-50 controlled entry?
At worst, San Jose was able to force Los Angeles time after time to advance the puck a full 200 feet against a tough, ready defensive obstacle course. At best, an active forecheck set up some offense. Here's an extended look at the Hertl dump-in:
And like the Sharks, for the Kings, dump and chase is not necessarily a declaration of defeat. It's a way to wear down the opposition.
Keep It Up
That's strange to say when down 2-0, but the road map for a royal revival was laid out in Game Two. Limit space. Consistently force then recover San Jose dumps. Don't lose at special teams
Those things, a couple breaks, a little finish, a timely Jonathan Quick PK save, and "Just think, if you can cut it in half, it’s two-one."