“Tame.” “Lame.” “Blame.” “Shame.” “The Kings waited until the 3rd period…” Others have used the word “flat” or “not ready,” but that was not the story of this game. The element that was missing manifested itself after the Kings dominated play for the first half of the 1st period.
The Kings did come out ready, they did not come out flat: the game was turned after the first 9 minutes to the Wild’s favor, but before that the Kings were winning the play, just not winning the scoreboard. Carter’s breakaway was stopped by Backstrom, and that proved to be the culmination of the Kings fruitless early effort. Following that save, the Wild changed their game, and the Kings did not adjust.
X Rays can show bones, but cannot reveal a mindset.
The NHL has a feature called “Ice Tracker.” It is a log of events, listing faceoffs, hits, shots, goals, etc. linkalism This is what was listed until the Wild goals in the 1st period.
Stoll hit Clutterbuck. Clutterbuck hit Regehr. Voynov slapshot. Kopitar wrist shot. Greene hit Pominville. Nolan hit Stoner. Stoll hit Stoner. Koivu tripped Williams. Falk hit Brown. Takeaway by T. Mitchell. Wrist shot by Suter. Green hit Spurgeon. Regehr wrist shot. Giveaway by Koivu.
Then, at 8:19, Clutterbuck hit Scuderi. Setoguchi snap shot. Setoguchi hit Lewis. Giveaway by Brown. Parise wrist shot. Koivu wrap-around. Koivu wrist shot. Brodziak hit Regehr. Giveaway by Backstrom. Spurgeon slap shot. Clutterbuck hit Penner. Takeaway by Setoguchi. Breakaway for Carter, save by Backstrom. Bouchard hit Muzzin. Suter slap shot. Coyle snap shot for a goal.
Next, Kopitar wins faceoff at center ice. Clutterbuck snap shot on a 2 on 1, just 16 seconds later.
Before 8:19, it’s almost all Kings. The Wild are in a 1-2-2 with a passive, ineffective forecheck yielding the blue line. The Wild have just one instance of possession below the Kings goal line, which is immediately turned around by the Kings, until Koivu trips Williams. A disappointing Power Play, but not awful, was followed by more dominating time in the Wild zone. First the Richardson line had deep cycles for the full shift, then Kopitar’s line spent over a full minute in the Wild zone.
Then, the Wild start hitting, with Setoguchi pounding Lewis at center. The Wild forecheck turns to a more aggressive 2-man attack, and starts to work. The Wild no longer yield the blue line, and successfully contain the Kings and disrupt their breakout. The breakout would remain mostly ineffective until the Wild lay back in a “prevent defense” during the 3rd period.
When the Wild laid off, the Kings thrived. When the Wild pressured, the Kings struggled, and here’s why: the Kings failed to adjust their breakouts by using dual threats of either passing, or carrying the puck. Sounds simple, but it apparently isn’t.
The Kings defense started standing around, in zone defense formation, and the forwards followed suit. Wild pressure at the half-wall was played into, by the Kings forwards going there to receive passes when they were already covered. The Kings were passing the puck into coverage.
Nobody wanted to skate the puck out, especially the defensemen. Rather than finding the King with time and space, going D-to-D for example, or rimming the puck to the weak side, the Kings would pass instead of skate. Forwards were covered high, and did not come back deep enough to outnumber the Wild down low, generate speed, and make themselves available for short little passes to initiate a controlled breakout. Instead, the Kings were gapped between forward and defense, defense had no options to help avoid coverage, and were forced to pass into coverage.
Usually, or especially last year in the Playoffs, the Kings solved this riddle every single game. It really is simple; outnumber the opposition down low, win the puck, make safe, deep passes from D to D and get the play above the goal line, then skate it out until you draw coverage to you. Either beat the first guy with skating, or at least make him commit and then pass the puck to an open guy. If a man is skating thru center ice, with a checker on him, that means you probably have room to skate. Why pass it into coverage?
Brown was docked some time in this game, at 16:20 he is off from his usual 19 or 20, and less than his usual in comparison to Kopitar, which regularly ends up at about a minute or two less than Kopi. Sutter tried a dramatic number of various line combinations trying to get these two guys going, as listed in the X Ray above. Richardson was strong, and his energy was plugged into various lines, one of which resulted in the Kings goal at 19:59 of the 2nd from Carter when Richardson found him coming off the bench.
Brown would be accused of a dirty hit on Pominville, falsely, I say. Brown has the puck, and is standing still. Pominville comes at Brown, and neither Pominville’s head nor Brown’s elbow or shoulder change position. If anything, Brown’s elbow DROPS:
These photos show a player simply bracing for a hit (Brown), another player reaching for the puck with his face at elbow/shoulder height (Pominville). Brown’s relative and actual elevation does not change, nor does Pominville’s. Pominville skates in and never raises nor lowers his head. As well, Brown is looking at the puck, not at Pominville. Brown knows Pominville is coming, of course, but how can one say the head is targeted when the player initiating contact determines the contact point, and the receiving player does nothing to change the contact point?
This game will likely be remembered for the Brown hit, or for a bunch of quotes saying the Kings weren’t ready or did not match the desperation of the Wild. That will bury the truth. Rather, this game was a failure of the Kings to simply use Plan B on their breakouts. When passing ahead, the quick-up, is not there, somebody needs to move their goddamn feet and skate the puck out, first, until coverage is met or beaten, and then make a pass with speed, to another with speed.
The Kings lost this game, and as a result the Wild won it. The Kings played only half a game, in many ways, and that is putting it mildly.