Kings coach Darryl Sutter was bound and determined to shake things up for what loomed as a pivotal Game 5 of their second-round playoff series Thursday against the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center. How much actual shaking remained to be seen, however.
For starters, hard-nosed left winger Kyle Clifford was expected to move from a checking line to a skilled line to join center Anze Kopitar and right wing Justin Williams. Team captain Dustin Brown appeared to be shifted to a checking line to join center Trevor Lewis and left wing Dwight King.
Winger Dustin Penner was set to play with center Mike Richards and winger Jeff Carter.
“Every game is desperate this time of year, but Game 5 is a pivotal game in a long series,” Brown said of trying to break a two-victories-apiece deadlock in the best-of-7 series. “You look at the last series, we squeaked one out in St. Louis and it just brings momentum.
“You have that mental edge going into Game 6. We’re on home ice. It’s important for us to prepare to do the right things to give us a chance to win. … Probably the biggest difference (in Sutter’s new line combinations) is me playing on the right side.”
The Kings won Games 1 and 2 at Staples Center, but then dropped the next two by matching scores of 2-1 at HP Pavilion in San Jose. Game 6 is Sunday in San Jose. Game 7, if necessary, would be played Tuesday at Staples Center.
The Kings were 5-0 at home in the playoffs going into Game 5, but only 1-4 on the road.
The Kings and the San Jose Sharks were expected to make changes to their lineups for Game 3 of their second-round playoff series at 6 p.m. tonight at HP Pavilion. The Kings led the best-of-7 series 2-0 after winning the first two games at Staples Center.
Tanner Pearson, a rookie who has yet to play in an NHL game, skated on the Kings’ fourth line with Brad Richardson and Colin Fraser during the morning skate. It also appeared defenseman Keaton Ellerby would replace Alec Martinez for Game 3.
Can the Kings win as the favorites?
Incredible as it might seem, the Kings haven’t held home-ice advantage since 1992. The Kings have it again (finally!) as the Western Conference’s fifth-seeded team against the No. 6 San Jose Sharks. The Kings won four consecutive series without home ice last season to become the first No. 8 seeded team to win the Stanley Cup. They didn’t have it in the first round and upended the No. 4 St. Louis Blues. Their five-series winning streak without home ice is the longest in NHL history.
Who’s a more valuable playmaker?
Joe Thornton’s playoff failures have become the stuff of legend and there considerable pressure on his wide shoulders to carry the San Jose Sharks to their first Stanley Cup Final after so years of coming up short. His playmaking skills, especially on the power play, cannot be overlooked, however. He has four assists while on the man-advantage. Anze Kopitar scored only one goal during the first round for the Kings, but he had three assists and was as steady as ever in the other facets of the game.
Who wins the goaltender’s duel?
Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner as the MVP of the 2012 playoffs, stopped 167 out of 177 shots during their victory over the St. Louis Blues for a .944 save percentage. He also had one shutout in the first round. Antti Niemi saved 118 of 126 shots in the San Jose Sharks’ first-round sweep of the Vancouver Canucks for a .937 save percentage. The team that wins the series almost always has the better goaltending and nothing figures to change in this case.
Can the Kings score more goals?
Fans of rock ‘em, sock ‘em hockey were sure to be pleased by the Kings’ punishing first-round victory over the equally physical St. Louis Blues. This is a different series and although it might prove to be a grinding one, too, conventional wisdom suggest the Kings need to produce more against the San Jose Sharks than the 12 goals they had in six games against the Blues. Defense has its place, to be sure, but the Kings can’t expect to win while averaging only two goals per game against a team that averaged almost four.
Can the Kings reel in the Sharks?
Stopping the St. Louis Blues and their pop-gun offense in the first round was one thing. After all, the Kings could count the number of truly dangerous offensive players in the Blues’ lineup on two fingers. The Sharks’ scoring depth is much greater, with Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton leading an efficient attack. The Kings can’t focus their defensive attention on only one or two players. They will need to cast a wider net to stop or at least slow down the Sharks.
Anze Kopitar ended a 19-game drought without a goal in the Kings’ victory Monday over the St. Louis Blues in Game 5 of their first-round playoff series. Can the Kings halt an eight-game losing streak away from Staples Center with a win over the Blues in Game 5 on Wednesday in St. Louis? The series took an unexpected turn in Game 4, when the Kings topped their total for the previous three games by outscoring the Blues 4-3. The Kings had only one goal in each of the first three games. Eleven different Kings recorded a point in Game 4, a sign of an offensive resurgence. The Blues built the first two-goal lead of the series Monday, scoring twice in the opening 4 minutes, 20 seconds. They couldn’t hold it, or a 3-2 lead in the third period and the series is tied two victories apiece.
Game 6 is Friday in Los Angeles.
History lesson: The Kings swept the Blues 4-0 in the second round of the playoffs last season en route to their first Stanley Cup championship. The Kings limited the Blues to only six goals in the series and blanked them on 17 power-play chances. The Kings then swept three games during the 2012-13 regular-season from the Blues, outscoring them 14-7. Overall, the Kings have won eight consecutive games against St. Louis.
Facts and figures: The Kings (27-16-5 in the regular season) are seeded fifth in the Western Conference and the Blues (29-17-2) are seeded fourth.
Leaders: Anze Kopitar led the Kings with 42 points (10 goals, 32 assists). Jeff Carter scored a team-leading 26 goals. Goaltender Jonathan Quick was 18-13-4 with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage. Chris Stewart led the Blues with 36 points (18 goals, 18 assists). Stewart also was their leading goal-scorer. Goaltender Brian Elliott was 14-8-1 with a 2.28 goals-against average and a .907 save percentage.
Keys to victory: For the Kings, their combination of physical defense, strong goaltending and timely scoring served them well last spring during their run to the Stanley Cup. It was what guided them to fifth place in the Western Conference this season and it will be what could produce a victory over the Blues in the first round of the playoffs. For the Blues, they must eliminate the undisciplined play that sometimes characterizes their team. They must also rely heavily on Elliott in goal. He was the reason they finished fourth in the West. He was 11-2-0 with a 1.28 goals against average and three shutouts in April and gave up one goal or less in 10 of his final 13 appearances of the regular season.
The Kings begin the final two weeks of the regular season by visiting the Sharks on Tuesday night in San Jose. It’s never an easy place to win, especially this season. The Sharks have only one loss in regulation in 20 games on home ice. They are 14-1-5 at HP Pavilion, with their only regulation defeat coming Feb. 5 against the Chicago Blackhawks. The King to do nothing different against the Sharks, or in any of their final six games. That’s what coach Darryl Sutter said before the team left for San Jose. Actually, a good old practice is something new and different for the Kings, who had had to balance the need for rest with must-have ice time in order to make adjustments and prepare for opponents. The Kings took Sunday off, practiced Monday and then traveled to San Jose. They play the Sharks on Tuesday, return to El Segundo for practice Wednesday, then face the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday. After a day off, they’ll hold a practice Saturday.
That’s a good better schedule that the Kings have had recently.
Next week, it’s gets tougher with the Kings playing their final four games, two at home and two on the road. The playoffs are scheduled to begin April 30.