San Jose Sharks Exploit Weak Link in Los Angeles Kings' Defence in Game 1 Win

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San Jose Sharks Exploit Weak Link in Los Angeles Kings' Defence in Game 1 Win
AP Images

In Greek mythology, the great warrior Achilles was dipped in the River Styx as an infant by his mother in order to render him immortal. However, she held him by his heel, leaving that one portion of his body vulnerable to injury.

If we were to express Game 1 of the series between Los Angeles and San Jose in the same terms, we’d be forced to conclude that Robyn Regehr was the player of the Kings’ defence who wasn’t exposed to whatever dark magic that head coach Darryl Sutter used to render the rest of his blue line so immune to breakdowns (at least on most nights).

And that’s something the Sharks, who won 6-3 on Thursday night, knew going into the series.

Don Smith/Getty Images

Bret Hedican, a former NHL defenceman and now an analyst on the Comcast Sportsnet broadcast, related a conversation he had with one of the Sharks’ assistant coaches regarding the veteran Kings defender:

Talking to Jim Johnson before the game today, a matchup he wanted to see in this whole series was Regehr and (winger Matt) Nieto. It’s the speed of Nieto that’s going to cause problems for a slowing-down Robyn Regehr.

The bloggers at Fear The Fin recognized the weakness too, though they put things a little less diplomatically in predicting that "[t]he Sharks will feast on the corpse of Robyn Regehr."

Regehr had his problems with Nieto, but then he had problems with virtually all of San Jose’s forwards.

On the Sharks’ first goal, Regehr’s lack of speed allowed Brent Burns to beat him to an iced puck and avoid a call. Making matters worse, as Regehr attempted to cover Burns he was able to land a hit but wasn’t able to knock the big Shark off the puck; Burns put it to the front of the net to set up the opening marker.

Regehr figured into San Jose’s second goal, too. He had a step on Tommy Wingels as the Sharks forward entered the Los Angeles zone, but he couldn’t halt him; instead, Wingels circled back and sucked Regehr away from the net, creating a two-on-one for San Jose. Tomas Hertl capitalized to make the score 2-0.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Sutter left Regehr on the ice for the neutral-zone faceoff immediately following the goal. When Drew Doughty stepped up at the offensive blue line and the puck went the other way, Regehr found himself on the wrong end of a two-on-one featuring Nieto and Patrick Marleau.

That’s a bad situation to be in, but the key thing for the defenceman is to block the passing lane. Regehr allowed not only a first pass but then a second, which left goalie Jonathan Quick in a hopeless position, making it 3-0.

We find Regehr on the ice again for the goal that made the score 5-0 in favour of the Sharks. He played a mere supporting role in what was a power-play marker, as he failed to hold the blue line on San Jose’s initial entry.

Los Angeles came back in the third period, scoring three consecutive goals to make the score respectable, but even with the team rolling Regehr remained a critical weak point.

San Jose had a grand total of one great chance in the entire third period, and it was Regehr who created it, first failing to block a Sharks outlet pass and then getting beat back to his net by Wingels, the player who made that pass.

These images are both from that shift, with the puck circled in red:

Screen captures via NHL.com

This isn’t a new trend for Regehr, who has been L.A.’s most porous defenceman all season.

According to BehindtheNet.ca, the Kings allow (on average) 23.8 shots per hour of five-on-five play with Regehr on the bench. That figure balloons to more than 28 shots per hour when Regehr is on the ice. He has the worst shots-against totals of any Kings defenceman, and only regular partner Slava Voynov is even close.

Now, it would be wrong to lay the entirety of Los Angeles’ Game 1 loss on Regehr. The Sharks were the better team for the vast majority of the game, and the Kings had numerous problems.

But the biggest by far was the play of a veteran defenceman with a big reputation for defensive-zone play but terrible actual results, and Sutter would go a long way toward curing what ailed the team if he could fix that one spot on the depth chart.

How do the Kings do that in preparation for Game 2? They don't have a lot of choices; essentially it comes down to getting more out of the player or scratching him in favour of No. 7 defenceman Matt Greene. Greene's a little younger and has better underlying numbers this year, but he possesses many of the same weaknesses as Regehr, so this isn't an easy fix for Sutter.

One way or the other, though, he has to stop the bleeding if the Kings are to even up this series. 

For more by Jonathan Willis, follow him on Twitter.

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