The operation’s on, so raise the alarm. Its happening, moving forward.
Don’t Know Where We’re Going By: Gomez, Split the Difference (2004)
My friend Courtney looked at me after watching Jaws and said, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.” I sighed and nodded. Just moments ago, it was announced while a bigger boat would indeed be arriving, that it would not be carrying Brayden Schenn. However, here comes Justin Williams (and my silly little puck loving heart says don’t count Scott Parse out of this equation yet, either).
As the Los Angeles Kings set to take on the San Jose Sharks; here is the pretty little secret: LA has the better goalie and you can take take that to the Tank. Jonathan Quick is going to outplayAntti Niemi every stop of the way.
In sixty games Niemi has 35 wins, a save percentage of .920 and a goals against of 2.38. In sixty-one games Quick (who Terry Murray has already stated is starting every game this series) equals Niemi in wins, beats his save percentage and his goals against with .918 and 2.24, respectively. Let’s just be honest. Quick has also accomplished this with a much lesser defense in front of him. Niemi’s edge is that he done it before. He’s won the Stanley Cup but everyone has to start somewhere, right?
Then there are those all important specialty teams. Well here is a surprise stat for everyone to let marinate. The special teams units are direct mirrors of each other. The Kings power play is ranked twenty-first in the league at an anemic 16.1%, while the Sharks penalty kill is ranked twenty-fourth at 80%. On the other side, the Kings penalty kill is ranked exactly where the Sharks power play is: fourth. Things that make you go hmmmm…
Issue is, the Sharks also just set a franchise record for the lowest amount of penalty minutes taken in a year. So while the Sharks penalty kill might be as bad as the Kings power play, chances are, it won’t matter.
Other keys to the Shark offensive power house winning when they out shoot their opponent (and if you don’t think that is important- remember the Kings last game of the year versus the Anaheim Ducks? Doubled them up on shots and lost). San Jose finished fourth in the league when out-shooting their opponent. Franchise wise, it is also a record breaking stat with 2,832 shots on goal. It helps when you win face-offs as well as San Jose (second in the league), of course.
Causing all of these freakishly outlandish offensive stats are four solid lines. It starts at the top with Joe Thornton and Dan Heatley then through the all-stars with Dan Boyle and Logan Couture and then continues right down to Joe Pavelski on the third line and the likes of Ben Eager on the fourth. Letting up against any line of this team or facet of the game is impossible. It is as if something that should have made them weaker (Thornton and Heatley not reaching eighty points for the first time) has actually made them a better team.
Put this all together and you get a very clear picture for the Los Angeles Kings. Slow down the game, play your style, control the puck, maintain possession and for the love of all that is good in the state of California, keep it out of the offensive zone. Yep. That’s all they have to do.
Oh and HIT HIT HIT. Legally. Not a shot here or a fight there but consistent physical beatings that are down deep in the zone. When the play is behind the net, in the corners, in front of the goalie (now let me be clear. I mean hit the other Sharks, not Quick), make San Jose pay for having the puck. When forwards cross into the offensive zone, hammer them. Even if tonight was loss, it takes a toll over seven games and players start to think twice about wanting to carry the puck.
As for the Kings themselves? Offensively, they have been struggling all season with a power play that is just straight-out broken. It is as predictable as watching paint dry. Then they lost Anze Kopitar and Williams. Suddenly watching paint dry didn’t seem so bad.
Low and behold, Williams is back for game one. Let us all cross our fingers but not be too stupidly optimistic about Parse. Recently practicing with the team, it remains to be seen if Parse could make a go of it after what was considered, season-ending hip surgery.
Defensively, the Kings need to just play defense. Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson need to stop trying to score so much. With 42 points Johnson has had his most prolific offensive season, yet. Problem is he’s also a -20. While I’m not a big proponent of that stat, it is there for a reason. Doughty meanwhile seems to want to play every position but defenseman (including goaltender the last couple of games).
Key player to watch on the Sharks? Couture. I mean this is the most respectful kind of ways: I don’t like him. In other words, if there is a player on the Sharks that is going to chomp on the Kings at the worse possible time, it will be Couture. He led NHL rookies in power play goals, game-winning goals and shots on goal. Those were also franchise records for San Jose.
For the Kings? I waited the whole article to say it: Watch that line. Kyle Clifford, Wayne Simmonds and Brad Richardson. Even when the Kings lose they do something worth watching. They do something to spark the team. They fight for the puck, have the best chances on net or do something insanely spectacular like Richardson fighting Teemu Selanne or Clifford trying with all his might to fight Sheldon Brookbank. If this line stays hot, then they will be something to watch and something to count on for the Kings highlights as the season goes on.
Lastly, I say leave Kevin Westgarth in. Having Clifford, Simmonds and Dustin Brown take this all on by themselves seem unreasonable. And think of this Ryan Clowe and Boyle both have had Gordie Howe Hat Tricks this year. Boyle’s? was April 4th vs. the Kings.
With all that being said, yes the Sharks can and will choke. Just not against the Kings. Sorry. Sharks in 6.
Topics: Antti Neimi, Anze Kopitar, Ben Eager, Brad Richardson, Dan Boyle, Dan Heatley, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Jack Johnson, Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, Jonathan Quick, Justin Williams, Kevin Westgarth, Kyle Clifford, Logan Couture, Los Angeles Kings, Ryan Clowe, San Jose Sharks, Teemu Selanne, Terry Murray, Wayne Simmonds