Those Northern miscreants bested the Kings by combining here-and-gone stickhandling with pace-controlling footwork, dominating shifts and rendering the normally matchup-proof Kopitar line second-best on this night. It isn’t often you see Anze Kopitar catch nothing but air when he’s trying to contain a puckhandler along the boards in the defensive zone, but that’s what we saw this game.
In fact, there were a lot of “not oftens” in this game. Despite numerous aberrations, a word I usually reserve for the Canucks players themselves, the final score of 5-2 tells an accurate story for this game. Even when it was close on the scoreboard, it wasn’t close on the ice. The Kings missed a chance to be alone in 4th place of the Conference Standings, and fell to 9th. Sobbing thru the Player X Ray, we’ll try to diagnose the nature of our condition.
The stats that jump out are the plus-minus of Richards, Carter and Lewis, who show minus 3, minus 3 and minus 2 respectively. Sharing the minus 3 are defense partners Scuderi and Voynov. As a result, minutes were reduced for the Richards trio, and given to the line of Penner-Stoll-King.
As a matter of fact, the Richards line was skipped for a shift in the 2nd period. When their next turn came around and Sutter let them out, a goal was scored against immediately. So, Sutter skipped them again, rotating 3 lines rather than the usual 4. When the Richards line’s turn came around the next time, Sutter put them out there and bang! Another goal against, immediately. But was it all their fault?
In the case of the forwards this game, the plus/minus stat is at once telling and yet also misleading. The Richards line struggled, yes, but of the 3 actual minuses for Carter, 2 were plays where he had zero responsibility for the goal against, while Richards and Lewis were at most barely accomplices in 2 minuses.
As pictured below, in Carter’s first minus, a diligent backcheck shadowing Mason Raymond interrupted a clean entry, as a pass from the boards bounced off Raymond’s stick. The first screen grab shows Carter’s good inside position, and Raymond surrounded by 3 Kings as he is stretching to regain the puck.
Although Raymond is surrounded by 3 kings, Drewiske is backing in way too far, gap control is completely off. Richards will stop skating, and Carter loses half a step adjusting from his attempt to block the pass. The next grab shows the point where Raymond regains the puck.
Drewiske has continued to back in; only now is he even beginning to close the gap. Raymond is alone, essentially it’s a 1 on 2 now with Richards inexplicably coasting. The last grab shows the spot from where Raymond is allowed to shoot.
At the point of release, Raymond is quick-wristing from farther than 30 feet away, yet Quick is unable to stop it. Carter did his job; he interrupted a pass, and continued the backcheck, but Drewiske was too passive, Richards failed to close and Quick could not stop a predictable shot from far out. Lewis is behind the play, off screen, having properly forechecked deep.
Following that goal, Jordan Nolan made his beautiful back-hand wraparound off a giveaway by the Canucks behind their own net, and Nolan beat Schneider trying to come across.
Using the same hands that were fists against Tom Sestito earlier, Nolan converted a really very nice goal. Even Ryan “Wraparound” Smyth could not have made such a beautiful play on his backhand.
Carter was entirely un-involved on his second minus; he had just stepped off the bench and was 100 feet off the play, as was Lewis. Poor Trevor… Richards, however, had changed onto the ice just moments before and got caught with a slow read on the play. He missed that Voynov was occupied on a blue-line pinch, and having not backed up to cover Voynov’s spot Richards was caught flat-footed when the play moved past him. It was a bad change because it was a slow change, but it was more a bad read from a guy not yet fully into his shift. Screen shot 1 shows Voynov pinching; Richards is off-screen just behind him, too close to the play.
Shot 2 shows the beginning of the 2 on 1; Richards is just turning around, but the Sedin twins are off to the races for what would be a goal by the one with reddish hair and a goatee. A save that we got used to Quick stopping last year beat him blocker-side this time. Scuderi was the lone man back, and he picked up a minus, but he was hung out to dry.
Scuderi’s other minuses were also understandable, not really the result of his own play. On the Canucks first goal, the Sedins wove the Kings legs into pretzels with 40 seconds of puck control in the Kings zone. That 40 seconds should have been stopped when Doughty made a genius fist-bump of the puck (his stick was velcroed to one of the Sedins, the one with the red hair and goatee again) but Clifford muffed an easy chance to control and clear.
A Sedin got the puck at the side of the net, and rather than close on him Scuderi laid down to block the pass. Sedin waited him out and drifted toward the faceoff circle for a better angle. Nobody helped (Nolan), and when Scuderi regained his feet and tried to get his stick on the puck a pass was made to Alexandre Burrows (pictured at bottom) followed by a cross-crease pass to a back-door defenseman sneaking past Clifford for the shot and score. Vancouver got the matchup they wanted, and our 4th line was beaten badly.
Despite winning the shots 30-24, and the faceoffs (not one Kings center was below 50%, and the lowest was Kopitar with 56%) and despite only giving up 2 Power Plays against while scoring on 1 of our own 4, the Kings did not have the game to hang with the Canucks tonight. Simply put, in this game, our 4th line was as outmatched against the Sedins as Kopitar’s line was. Our guys got neither puck nor man, and those annoying Swedes meatballed us like horsemeat from Ikea. Hey, speaking of horsemeat…