As of June last year, there is a new Sheriff in town, riding high and setting the bad guys low. Laying down the law isn’t easy, but with forces marshaled into a 23-man posse, the Kings never trailed as they followed sign to track down 2 vital points, rustling up the energy to cross the Pecos River of fatigue, forging a win out of tested mettle and marking the Dallas Gang with their brand of hockey.
Judge Sutter manned the bench, and in this trial he prosecuted his game plan to perfection. The defense never rested, and in times of chaos Judge Sutter’s forward-looking strategy held to precedent and kept the game perfectly on point; the instant action led to an appealing verdict.
We examine the evidence:
In their third meeting of 5, the Kings came in with seemingly everything stacked against them. Dallas had won the previous 2 meetings, both of which were played in the Kings building. Those 2 Stars wins comprised half of the Kings 4 home regulation losses. Now, they would face off in Dallas. The Kings had played the evening before in Minnesota, in a game that went thru the extra time and into a shootout, then flown 850 miles and arrived in Dallas at 2 a.m., with an early game-start scheduled for 3 p.m. Still, the Kings won.
Sutter’s method of dealing with the schedule was masterful, and began the day before the Minnesota game. Sutter designed a light practice, letting his guys goof around in a scrimmage with everyone playing wrong-sided. With cleared minds and a playful attitude, the team was one.
In the Minnesota game, Sutter rolled 4 lines mostly, but by keeping shifts short he was able to favor the Kopitar line when they showed extra jump. Sutter does not often line-match, but he will double-shift lines when they are really “going” and give them more ice when they show they can handle it. Then, halfway thru the 3rd period he was forced to bench the Fraser line; so, even though the shift log shows lines changing to 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1, the total shifts for the period numbered 33, which is much more than the typical count of 24-27 shifts in a period.
Overtime against Minnesota saw 5 different forward pairings spread among 7 shifts; Sutter double-plays guys when they are fresh, and he rides his best players, but he limits their exposure time per shift. Depth is used as needed.
When those “depth” players falter, as did Fraser and Nolan in Minnesota, team depth is tested. Against Dallas, the Kings would pass that test.
Richardson would come in for Fraser, play as an absolutely solid, strong 4th line center, and even score a goal in just his third game of the year.
Penner would come in for Nolan, and imagine the comfort, and trust, for Sutter when he can plug Penner into a lineup directly onto a Stanley Cup Winning 2nd line. Penner responded, and scored an assist, but also provided a massive presence, an effective forecheck, a big body repeatedly positioned perfectly and screening the goaltender, plus a real passing threat, and scoring threat.
Depth provided Sutter another bonus: to avoid fatigue, Sutter rolled 4 lines all game long, and in order, as well. The media are really hot on Chicago being able to do that, changing Joel Quenneville from stalwart line-matching to just rolling 4 lines. Quenneville is doing what Sutter does, but the difference is that Quenneville juggles line personnel more than Sutter. To me, this means that Chicago has achieved the depth that the Kings already had; rather than measure us against Chicago, I prefer to measure Chicago against us.
Against Dallas, the shift log shows steady, reliable and consistent shift assignments: 2-1-3-4 was the order of the day. By having the depth to be able to roll 4 lines, Sutter avoids fatigue. By also having the depth to be able to leave lines out regardless of matchup, Sutter again avoids fatigue. Let’s look at just how that breaks down in a game, using Dallas as the example.
If a line is on the ice before and after a TV timeout, for example, I count that as 2 shifts even tho the order of shifts doesn’t change. As well, if a line is out there for just a short time, and there is a faceoff but that line is left out there, I count that as a shift because the opportunity for a shift-change occurred. Sutter, unlike most coaches, is quite willing to leave whatever line was out there to play thru a faceoff, and just plays them until they reach their full shift length. Other coaches will match lines, Sutter usually doesn’t.
The 2nd period was evenly patterned: 2-1-3-4, 2-1-3-4, 2-1-3-4, 2-1-3, 2-1-3-4, 2-1-3. The Kings looked good, lots of jump, and all 4 lines played well in the 2nd. The Kings were ahead off the early goal by Carter, so Sutter was able to ice a traditional 25 shifts.
The 3rd period was more patterned: 2-1-3-4, 2-1-3-4, 2-1-3-4, PK-3-4, 2-1-3-4, 2-1-3-4, 2-1-3-4, then the “empty-net-all-star crew.” With lines often repeating across a TV timeout and/or faceoffs, the total shifts in the 3rd period totaled 34.
Well-coached teams respond to their coaches in-game decisions; all Sutter asked was that his guys keep shifts short, and play a style that would allow that. One rush, play hard, next rush, probably try to dump it in for a change and a forecheck. Keep it deep, or else next time by, off for a change. And his guys did exactly that.
Imagine the comfort on the bench, knowing your lines probably won’t change, and knowing well in advance when your next shift will be. Imagine knowing, like Brad Richardson did, that your coach is gonna roll you out there no matter the matchup, and play you all game long on a regular shift, even if it is only your 3rd game of the year. He trusts you.
The media describe the Kings style as heavy, big-body on the forecheck, relentless back-check, and all of that is true. What makes the Kings different is that their coach expects them to be matchup proof from line 1 thru 4, and to not only contain the opposition but to aggressively foil them with pressure and attack, with possession and play-making.
It is nice for a coach to want 4 lines to be able to do that, but it is rare. The Kings have 4 lines, plus 2 more guys, that can do that now and that did that to win a Stanley Cup. The Kings have depth, and depth is everything, plus a coach that knows how to exploit that depth generating trust and unity.
That is the Kings brand, and that is why the Kings are the law.