Lose Angeles became Road Worriers with the finale to their regular season travel schedule last night in Detroit. Flubs and drubs supplemented erratic and static outlet passes, while in large part the Kings defense has lost the breakout system entirely.
For the second night in a row, good starts were squandered as the Kings were easily countered by in-game adjustments from the opposition; the Kings have become one-dimensional on “attack.”
Even changing personnel on all 4 lines could not re-invigorate the Kings flow thru center; Brown was suspended, Penner was scratched, but Toffoli and Fraser were held quiet, to be kind. It would be easy to say that all new lines made the Kings game disjointed, but for me the reality is that the forwards are not deep enough for outlets, the defense almost never carry the puck past the first forechecker, and motionless Kings with open ice ahead of them are passing into coverage. Regardless of familiarity the same has been true over the last 5 games, trending to the worse.
The X Ray:
Fatigue could be the excuse, as even Darryl Sutter described the Kings having “rolled in…at 2 a.m.” while Detroit sat rested. However, the same mistakes were made the night before, and in the previous few games as well. More accurately, the Kings fatigue simply made it more difficult to correct flaws; fatigue did not cause flaws.
The secret of success is the combination of many parts. The Kings need speed, but speed alone is not enough. The Kings need possession of the puck, but possession alone is not enough. The Kings need a forecheck, but forechecking alone is not enough. The game is decided on goals: the battle is decided by which team is able to establish SPEED THRU CENTER WITH POSSESSION.
The Kings system, and their success, is built on a methodical, structured breakout. When it is effective, a self-perpetuating pattern occurs. As teams find they are getting beaten thru center ice, they back up slightly. This gives the Kings more space to generate speed coming out of their own zone and makes the flow thru center even more successful.
Speed creates options, but effective speed is built on movement with possession. Speed with possession has been absent; rather, the Kings are trying for the shortcut of passing quickly, not skating with possession quickly. The dreaded, false territorial gain of the “quick-up” is being relied upon. In effect, the Kings are finding an open d-man, then that d-man remains in place, and looks for a forward. The forwards have moved ahead, into the checkers, and when the pass is made the motionless d-man has just effectively passed the puck into a 3 on 5 thru center.
The result is contested possession, no time to gather the puck, no angles for passes and therefore no angles for attack on entry. The only option, and the only success, is to dump the puck in for retrieval on the forecheck. It is correct to say that the Kings are a strong forecheck team; it is not correct to imply that the forecheck is a result of exclusively dumping the puck into the corners.
The Kings strong forecheck actually comes from the breakout: speed exiting across their blue line creates speed thru center, and a potent attack built on options. Carries into the zone force the opposition to try to stand up at the blue line; a good carry defies this attempt to deny entry, but the secondary gain is that a series of good carries will open up the dumpin when the opposition commits to defending the blue line.
What is happening now is that the Kings struggle to clear their own zone, are slow thru center IF they even have possession, and are forced to dump the puck IF they get possession past the checkered red line at center. The opposition is able to outnumber the Kings forwards in center ice because our defense is standing still and behind the play. With this advantage at center, the opposition defense can easily fall back anticipating a dumpin and are also then first to arrive at the dumpin.
Our first layer of forecheck is beaten to the puck, so the opposition forwards don’t need to go back deep. Our high forward can only cover one side of the ice, but the opposition forwards are not forced deep and therefore can cover two sides of the ice. Then, our defense sees no significant chance of possession for the Kings, so they can’t commit to containment at the blue line, and must back up to prevent the outnumbered attack against. This yields to the opposition an easy exit from their defensive zone and into center; now they have speed thru center…
The Kings need to realize that they are getting beaten in their own zone even when they have the puck. To create speed with possession thru center, somebody is going to have to beat the opposition in a one-on-one. Somebody is going to have to lead the rush, and it starts at our own goal line, by beating the first guy and initiating the attack. Somebody is going to have to find the nerve to simply STICKHANDLE with the puck and not just pass it off.
There is a game against San Jose coming up: the Kings have a day off, then a day of practice, then a game-day skate. The Kings will, again, face the Sharks on the last day of the regular season, with major implications to the standings in the balance. Winning means home ice for two teams that are both much, much better at home this season.
The Sharks like to run and gun: the Kings damn well better resist the Sharks game, and find their own game instead. The Kings are not a slow team, they are not a trap team, and I am not saying the Kings need to slow the game to a crawl, or a low-shot defensive battle. What I mean is, the Kings need to establish their well-rounded defensive game as it results from speed with possession thru center, which generates a potent forecheck, which stifles the opposition.
It’s gonna happen to one team or the other: this is a matter of will.