The Kings ended on a good note, and look ready to jam the Blues. Solo performances combined against the Sharks to make beautiful music in a mostly soft-rock tune-up; next comes the downbeat as two similar teams will band together, trying to find the hard-charging rhythm that defines a Champion.
Last year, and this, the Kings rocked the Blues; nothing says the Kings cannot re-mix that performance.
Here’s the set list from the Sharks game, which suddenly seems meaningful only in relation to the future.
Since the Kings and Sharks knew that the Blues had clinched 4th place, meaning that home ice in the first round was lost for both teams, this game was played much softer than it could have been. The only implications in the Standings were which team would play St. Louis, and which would play Vancouver.
(UPDATED: Earlier material was incorrect)
In both cases, the teams had a distinct preference, with similar reasons. The Sharks are 3 and O against Vancouver, but against St. Louis the Sharks are 0-2-1, from one loss in overtime. The Sharks took max points against Vancouver, and just one point against St. Louis. The Sharks record indicates they would rather play the Canucks. And so it would be.
The Kings not only swept the Blues out of the playoffs last year, they also have not lost to the Blues all this season having gone 3 and 0. Meanwhile, against the Canucks, the Kings only won one game, and that was a squeaker in a shootout. The Kings took max points against St. Louis, but only 2 points from Vancouver.
Add to that the desperation of an aging set of twins coupled with the angst of last year’s playoff failure to the Kings in the first round, and Vancouver would seem to be the slightly less desirable team.
Conversely, even though the Blues play a heavy game and have added some strong defensemen in Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold making a series against the Blues a potentially draining battle for the Kings, the Kings record against these two teams indicates they would rather play St. Louis. And so it would be; the Kings got the Blues.
(END OF UPDATE)
This Sharks game saw the continued emergence of Brad Richardson as more than just a utility man that can fill in any position until some body comes back. Richardson has provided spark to any linemates he has spent ice-time with since returning to the lineup in game 35. Last night, his spark ignited multiple groupings, leading the team to victory with both effective checking and offensive playmaking.
Mike Richards sat out the entire 3rd period, and Brad Richardson filled his, umm, skates, most capably. Richards had been on with King and Lewis; Richardson skated with them for 3 shifts in the 3rd. The loss of Richards, due to “illness” according to Coach Sutter, caused some scrambling as various other players took his shifts; Carter skated with King/Lewis for a shift and Stoll did it for 2 shifts. This scramble at center would produce a new line this year, but only for one shift; happily, that one shift would produce the game-winning goal.
Before that goal, Richardson had been pulling double-duty centering his original line with Toffoli and Nolan, and also centering King and Lewis. Toffoli, by the way, had started the game at Left Wing, but in the 3rd period Sutter flipped Nolan to the Left and put Toffoli back to his usual Right Wing. These guys were effective together in both configurations, and indeed the first good scoring chance of the game for the Kings came from this line.
As I said, Richardson had been centering two lines in the 3rd period, and eventually Sutter inserted Carter between King and Lewis for one shift. The shortened bench also put Stoll out there in 3 out of 6 shifts in one sequence, so when Stoll’s next turn came up, Sutter asked Richardson to fill in for Stoll, joining a 3rd set of linemates in one period and skating with Penner and Williams.
This was the shift of the game, for me, as Penner and Richardson exhibited the kind of versatility that provides an obscured depth for this Kings team; at any moment, any single player can perform any single task at world-class level, to generate a goal and win a game.
Penner, the speedster, chased down an aerial pass, the lofted kind Kopi sends to Brown. Penner won that foot race, and then won the battle for possession and position. First speed, then size, then the passing, all driven by the fast-twitch muscle that is Penner’s brain.
Williams came bustling in, Richardson too, and an amazing quick-exchange series of in-tight passes went from Penner to Williams, to Richardson, back to Williams and into the net. This type of goal is highlight stuff, and also the type that can completely demoralize an opposition team. They had our guys covered, they had their guys in good position, but the Kings just surgically sliced thru their defense with superior skill and quickness.
Quick was outstanding, in glove, legs and positioning. Only a few scary opportunities were generated by the Sharks, and Quick was there in time and in place. The last 6 games qualify as more than a trend now, it can be safely said that Quick is back to playoff form. I would reserve judgment, and qualify that by saying he is not quite back to Conn Smythe form, but then again, only the playoffs provide the intensity needed to make a correct assessment on that level of play. Quick is as ready now as he was last year, and that’s pretty damn good news.
The only real black mark was a Penner giveaway, as I am calling it, when at the Kings blue line with about 2:45 to go, he had possession and time but failed to clear the puck twice in one shift. The game went from a certain 3-1 advantage to a slightly shaky feeling 3-2 score. Then, though, the Kings really looked like last year’s team: pucks were simply taken from the Sharks, entry with possession was denied to the Sharks, and repeated clears of the Kings zone prevented any last minute terror from the potential Sharks comeback.
We can sing their praises: the Kings game is now where it needs to be. Speed with Possession thru center was my aria last article, but it was the Kings chorus this game. The melody of breakout is harmonizing with forecheck, and the Kings composition of attack is fully in tune.