Fun game, looked like the playoffs in almost all ways. Lewis scored a shorthanded goal, to kill some Avalanche momentum as well as the penalty, and like in the Playoffs it was a “rapid response” score that came just 1:35 after the Avalanche’ first goal. Jarrett Stoll made a courageous if not insane blocked shot, dropping face-first in front of a slap shot and luckily taking it off some leg padding; remember, Ian Laperriere was in the house.
Despite missing 3 of the top 6 Defensemen from last year’s epic Cup run, the Kings today looked liked the Kings then: Defensemen joining the rush, Defensemen initiating high cycles to keep possession in the O-zone, Defensemen skating the puck out of our zone despite soft pressure, and Defensemen making zip passes or soft passes perfectly in time to forwards enhancing the flow of clean breakouts. The Player X Ray cannot tell the whole story today, and although stats will provide insight the story of this game was chemistry, it was mindset, and it was the required mastery of this team’s league-toughest systems. Hoo boy!!
As examples of the kind of play that carried the flow all game long, Muzzin initiated a cycle from his point in the 1st period, insisting on an interchange from Kopitar much like we’ve see Voynov do. Even Scuderi did it in the 3rd, ending up at the goal line looking to center the puck to a crashing forward. Muzzin also drove the center lane mutiple times, the first on a turnover rush generated at center ice, and a great chance resulted. Voynov skated a puck out of pressure, and although confronted by soft pressure against and a backchecker close behind, Slava kept possession and got the red line while his mates changed shifts. No lazy clears, no panicked turnovers, just controlled, effective puck possession maneuvers when one was needed.
Even on the PK, the Defense held form. Drewiske made a wild clearing attempt in Edmonton even though he was under no pressure, and his wildness sent the puck over the glass for a late penalty-against in a 2-1 game. This game, none of that. On the PK, in tight quarters and outnumbered, we saw the short little passes to an open teammate so the teammate could clear the puck out. No desperate ring-around to a covered point, no wild flip, and no panic. Just composure and clears.
Although I am concentrating on the defense corps quite a bit, so was Darryl Sutter. Line changes did not occur for the forwards, really. The only change was to the defense pairing when Sutter (or probably Stevens) swapped Ellerby off the Doughty pairing and brought in Muzzin, leaving Ellerby to play limited minutes with Drewiske.
Working it backwards, since Defensemen spend most of their time skating that direction, Ellerby has struggled with wide speed on attack, which means he is struggling with gap control, which means he is struggling with system reads and joining the 5-man unit as the play changes zones. Honestly, I don’t blame Ellerby much; he is new to the team, new to the conference, even new to the league as far as being a full time big-minutes guy. Ellerby has handled guys in the corners, he makes good passes, he makes smart coverage swaps, probably it is just time and experience he needs because the skills are there in parts. Once those parts come together in the future, the whole could easily be a 2nd pair guy. He should at least become a 3rd pair with PK minutes man this season, and that’s not a bad thing, anyway.
But back to the good. As a result of composure in the D-zone, the O-zone was ours. Flow? Yes. Speed thru center? Yes. Rush chances? You damn right. On his goal, Brown was so wide open it looked like practice. I mean that literally, too. As a matter of fact, at practice Friday, I watched Brown and Williams, and then Voynov and Doughty, in a competition of one-timers from the exact spot Brown shot in the first goal from. (Williams and Voynov won)
At one point, Williams even got Penner to stand there and he sent passes to Brown thru 25′s feet. The shot had to be off the ice, just where Brown’s goal went, top corner. Result? Goal. Practice doesn’t just make perfect, it makes chances cuz guys are looking for things that they know will work. Was there a bet on who could produce in-game? Dunno, but I would gladly pay the winner if there was.
On the game-winner by Carter, fitness was the essential ingredient. The shift started at 6:27, then there was an icing. The Kings won the faceoff but an errant clearing pass had to be chased down by Carter to avoid another icing. Carter won the puck, then there was a strenuous corner battle just to keep the puck. Next was some deep cycling with outlets to the point and back down deep, twice. Then, the Avalanche gained the puck, but heavy forecheck pressure forced a bad pass. Voynov had the support to HOLD THE POINT and the puck came to him and he sent it to some open ice back down deep. Richards was first to get the puck after another corner battle, and at 5:37 Richards fed Carter in the high slot for a sling-shot wrister. That’s a tough 50 seconds, and that’s a tough goal.
There were parts of periods where the Avalanche had some strong play in the Kings zone, and Quick was tested a few times having been left all alone. The last minute of play in the 1st, Stastny had to be talking to himself (maybe he still is) after Quick did a Gumby to cover the far post on a crossing pass where Stastny had to think it would go in.
Even though there were 4 goals for the Kings, all by the top 2 lines (one a shorthander by our new sniper, Lewis, again!) in my mind the difference in this game was the play of the defense. It may seem strange, but I don’t mean defense as in stopping the other team in our zone: I mean defenseman as in maintaining pressure up-ice, as in being a partner to the rushes and cycles, as in feeding the forwards the puck when needed or else carrying it out themselves, all toward establishing speed and flow thru center.
Don’t tell anyone, but that is the real secret to this team; speed thru center gets the puck in, and then it is having the personnel with the ability to read the play and be effectively aggressive. Offense nowadays is 4 on 3, and pinching on both points to continue the play in their zone. Backing up and staying inside is not enough; the Kings penetrate, and if they don’t score they will at least disrupt the opponent’s speed and flow.