Last night, the Kings got engaged. Hmmm, wait a sec, there’s no ring yet. Let’s just say that the Kings showed up with I.D. bracelets under their gloves and jerseys, so now they are going steady.
This series has turned, one must think for the final time. At 2 games each a Game 5 is always “pivotal,” but in this one, with a stunning reversal the Kings re-established dominance as the higher seed, and favorite to advance into the Conference Final.
When game 4 was 1 period old, the Sharks were in complete control; they had won the previous game, and were mauling the Kings at will. That game belonged to the Sharks alone for 35 minutes, was a tossup for another 15, but then the Kings found some life to close out the clock with a goal in some flashes of the forechecking pestilence that was their Cup-Winning identity.
Well, flashes of that identity turned to full and sustained spotlights tonight, letting the Kings bask in the glow of a glorious victory. Puck drop to clock stop, the Kings were the better team, at 5 on 5, on the Power Play and on the Penalty Kill, in all 3 zones and in all 3 periods. Sutter once said, “…we never question effort here” so to say that the Kings finally “played” a full 60 minutes is an insult. The accurate description is that the Kings outplayed a full 60 minutes.
The X Ray wears red:
The performance the Kings put out tonight is the first game this series where either of the two teams was able to truly claim to have been the better. Margins of victory had been tight, with mostly one-goal games and close but failed chances allowing the loser to claim they were in it, they almost had it, they deserved more, etc. Not this one.
Even the Sharks could find nobody to blame but themselves… And that may well be delusions of grandeur; the Sharks think they can be a better team, play a better game, and while they can indeed be a better team than they were tonight, they cannot truthfully say that their “best game” is better than the Kings “best game.” When both teams are playing their best, the Kings are better.
The Sharks must now concentrate on Game 6. Lucky for them, because to look past that is to confront a return to Staples Center needing to win Game 7. The Sharks have won their home games, both in scores of 2-1, one of those in OT. Meanwhile in the Kings home games, the Kings just posted their second shutout of the Sharks, plus the one game where San Jose scored 3 goals they still lost 4-3. With the way the Kings took over in Game 5, the Sharks home edge may still exist, but if so it has been reduced significantly.
Coach Sutter’s new lines worked perfectly. I was skeptical and thought they would not last, and I am happily confessing that. While the changes may seem many, Sutter ended Game 4 with the same line configurations as he started Game 5 except for flipping Clifford onto Kopi’s line and moving Brown to the Lewis line. Clifford played very well, but Brown responded better.
Taking your Captain off the “#1 line” and putting him in a checking role, in a Game 5 of the playoffs, might have indicated trouble in the past. Rather, it portended trouble in the future for the Kings opponent. Brown responded with a game-high 7 hits while also picking up his forechecking game as the F3. Brown intercepted 3 outlet passes during the game, and in so doing more than just disrupted the Shark’s flow; he stuffed it.
Brown was not the only one hitting for the Kings, and the Sharks could not compete. The Kings hits came in all zones, not just because the Sharks were pressing with offensive zone time. In this game, the Kings were pressing the Sharks, with and without the puck. The Sharks chart of hits looks like: 0,2,0,1,1,4,0,1,3,0,1,2,1,0,2,1,0,5. The Kings chart is 4,1,0,3,1,1,3,0,2,5,7,5,6,2,6,2,3,0. The Sharks had 3 guys with 3 or more hits, the Kings had 9 guys with 3 or more hits. Boooyahhh.
Matt Greene’s game was Jaws-dropping in style and effectiveness, and in the O-zone he led the Kings commitment to “Holding The Point,” which was full and powerful. Muzzin, Regehr, Doughty, Voynov, even Scuderi, all claimed the Line area on behalf of the Crown, forcing many icings, and re-forming attack structures from puck turnovers. Brown and the other forwards filled in with the trademark interchange that allows the Kings D-men to safely penetrate to the half-wall and beyond.
Muzzin seemed like a rover at times going down the wall and even behind the net, but every time a forward had his backcheck. That is why the Sharks are in trouble; that is the Kings game.
When “forecheck” blurs, combining attack, then retrieval, then backcheck, then standup and then forcing a dump-in from their opponent at best, the Kings game is just too good. The Kings move as 5, up the ice, and down the ice. The Sharks could not establish flow, nor forecheck, nor extended cycles.
I have been pointing out that Joe Thornton, who is in talks to be the spokesman for a local Dive Shop, almost always moves to his RW corner on attack in the Kings zone. That is our left side, meaning that is where Scuderi, Muzzin and Regehr are defending, and where Clifford, Penner, King and Richardson are assigned to help out. Thornton was stymied there, and no scoring highlight passes were made from there.
If the Kings win that area of the ice, the Left Corner of their defending zone, the Kings will win this series. Robyn Regehr seems to have decided that anyone coming into that place, his place, should be smeared along the boards and left to drop to the ice. We saw Massive games from the Left D, from Regehr with his size to Muzzin with outlet passing and escapes, and Scuderi with brilliant positional play just quietly neutralizing EVERYONE in teal.
Finally, if the Sharks are able to reach the net with a shot, they have to beat Jonathan Quick. Game 5 seemed like a statement game from Quick. He made some amazing saves, but did no glove flourishes, no showboating. Rather than fired up and in the Sharks faces, Quick displayed last year’s deep focus and outward indifference to the Sharks or the quality of their chances. Quick just made huge saves, got the whistle, dropped the puck like a losing ticket at Santa Anita and turned away.
Quick, like his team, is returning to “the zone,” where even the act of defending is part of the overall attack. The Sharks are not.
Joe Thornton, Shark, the Great White Mope, is leading his team into shallow waters, out of their depth. These Sharks have journeyed to the mouth of the Amazon, but they don’t know they’re surrounded by jungle.
The word “shoal” can mean a place where the water turns shallow, or it can mean a sandbar that lurks just under the surface. Shoal is also the name for a school of Piranha, and Piranha versus Shark means a slow death for the Shark. They start at the edges of the fins, so the Shark can’t move. They find the soft spots on the gills, so the Shark can’t breathe. They surround, and swarm, and force the Shark to close its eyes, so the Shark can’t see. And then it gets worse. They don’t stop until there’s nothing left.
The White Piranha grows to 12-14 inches in length, among the largest species of its kind.
Goldfish or Shark, the end is the same. It ain’t pretty.