5 Los Angeles Kings Who Must Step Up to Extend 1st-Round Series
LA’s top guns have disappointed thus far, while their rivals have largely been firing on all cylinders.
With that said, a handful of Kings boast a history of taking over games in the playoffs through physical play, clutch production and a stubborn refusal to lose.
Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar are the club’s two best players, but they don’t appear in this slideshow for different reasons. Doughty appears hampered by the injury he suffered toward season’s end, whereas Kopitar is consistently very good but cannot summon lightning in a bottle.
These are the five wild cards who must elevate their game for the Kings to claw back into the series. The order of the list is based on the impact that these players can have on the team's fate going forward, ranked from the lowest to the highest.
Justin Williams’ primary tasks are to win puck battles and facilitate for his linemates.
Through two playoff games in 2013-14, his possession numbers have dropped from a five-on-five Corsi percentage of 60.6 in the regular season to 50.6 in the postseason. That’s a massive dip for a player whose game is rooted in controlling the puck.
For the sake of comparison, regular linemate Anze Kopitar’s regular-season five-on-five Corsi percentage of 61.0 has decreased only slightly to 58.7 in the playoffs.
Simply put, Williams hasn’t been taking care of the puck.
Even when he has managed to outduel Sharks players, he’s coughed up possession all over the ice. Turnovers have foiled Kopitar and Marian Gaborik’s offensive designs on the top line, leading to easy transition chances for San Jose.
Williams is pointless through three contests and has done more harm than good with the puck on his stick. His mistakes have been so egregious that LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen reports he participated in Thursday’s line rushes on the third unit.
Even without Kopitar, he must play a smarter possession game and generate time in the offensive zone to help his team survive.
"Mr. Game 7" has amassed five goals and nine points in four career Game 7s. Williams will have to summon that win-or-go-home magic earlier than usual this year.
Slow decisions and sloppy defensive coverage marred 24-year-old blueliner Slava Voynov's dismal regular season.
After a brilliant 2013 postseason that saw No. 26 register four game-winning goals, 13 points and a plus-nine rating in 18 games, he was expected to return to form—well, at least to decent form—once playoffs wiped the slate clean.
He hasn’t to this point.
Mustering only one point and a minus-four rating in three games, Voynov has been on the ice for the most even-strength goals against (tied with Robyn Regehr) and struggled to the fourth-worst five-on-five Corsi percentage (tied with Trevor Lewis) on the team.
Moreover, he was responsible for Patrick Marleau’s overtime marker in Game 3, giving the puck away twice and then deflecting a shot into his own net in what amounted to a comically awful sequence.
The Kings deserved to win that game based on the balance of control at even strength. Instead of LA gaining a foothold in the series, though, Voynov’s errors have given the Sharks a 3-0 stranglehold.
He has to raise his level of play in a hurry.
At his best, he has a natural knack for getting his shots through traffic and jumping into the attack to outnumber the opposition’s defense. He shouldn’t throw caution to the wind and play reckless hockey, but if he sees a legitimate chance to help his forwards, he shouldn’t hesitate.
His ability to provide a threat from the back end will be critical in the coming days.
Following a quiet if defensively effective first two games of the series, Mike Richards needed to contribute more in Game 3.
He took a step in the right direction on Tuesday with a stellar display that saw him dominate possession (66.7 Corsi percentage) while receiving tough zone starts (44.4 percent in the defensive zone).
Paired with Jordan Nolan and Dwight King, he saw nearly 19 minutes of action and buzzed around San Jose’s net throughout the contest.
After failing to register a shot in his first two outings of the postseason, he peppered Antti Niemi with five shots and nearly potted a crucial marker on three separate occasions. That performance served as further evidence that Richards has a much greater influence on games when he's away from Jeff Carter.
With that said, he’ll have to turn those misses into conversions if the Kings are to rally back from their series deficit.
If anyone on the roster has the pedigree to do so, however, it’s Richards. He captained the Philly team that pulled off a miraculous comeback against the Boston Bruins in 2009-10, winning four straight games to take the series in seven.
He didn’t merely produce consistently (three goals, six assists) while facing stalwarts Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron; he engineered the turnaround with a series-changing hit on David Krejci, who had registered three points in the span of two contests and the first period of Game 3.
He ended Krejci’s season and the Bruins’ quest for the Stanley Cup in one fell swoop, as they lost four straight games without their top center.
Richards is obviously no longer that player, but he showed another gear on Tuesday, and head coach Darryl Sutter must lean on him as much as possible going forward.
One of the biggest reasons LA could not be stopped in 2012 was the play of Dustin Brown. The power forward elevated his game to unprecedented heights, tallying 20 points and a plus-16 rating in 20 games while regularly destroying opposing players with body checks.
Over the first three rounds of that Stanley Cup run, he was a Conn Smythe Trophy candidate.
He’s been a shell of that beast ever since.
This season, he managed a meager 27 points in 79 games. Even worse, he’s registered four points in his last 21 postseason games. For the second straight spring, he has been invisible, seldom imposing his will on the other team through brute force or offensive flurries.
Like Richards, he showed the ability to perform in crunch time in 2012. He potted a couple of huge short-handed goals against Vancouver, obliterated Canucks captain Henrik Sedin in front of their bench, ran roughshod over St. Louis and tormented the Phoenix Coyotes.
His play hasn’t been anywhere near that standard lately, and that must change for the Kings to seriously threaten the Sharks in this series.
LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen reports that he practiced on the top line with Kopitar and Gaborik on Thursday. Bumping him up from the third unit represents a significant risk by Sutter, but if Brown finds a way to click with his longtime pivot, the reward could be series-defining.
A point-per-game pace for Brown is unlikely this year, but he still needs to get back to basics: skate hard, hit hard, shoot hard. Should he do so, the production will follow.
Jonathan Quick has been the Kings' most significant letdown of the playoffs so far.
After a two-year playoff stretch during which he posted .940 save percentage, he currently sports a save percentage of .852 against the Sharks. His goals-against average has rocketed up from 1.62 in 2012 and 2013 combined to 5.78 in 2014.
Has the defense been up to par? Absolutely not. However, as a Conn Smythe winner with the reputation of stealing games for his team, he has to perform much better in LA’s remaining games.
He’s been far more aggressive this year than in previous campaigns, often overcommitting to shooters and losing his angle on strange bounces as well as second-chance opportunities that a more conventional netminder would likely stop.
Spectacular saves aren’t that useful if they’re followed by weak goals.
With a struggling defense in front of him, Quick must play a little deeper in his crease. The blueliners aren’t snuffing rebounds out entirely, so he has to ensure that he’s actually in his net rather than flailing around on the white ice when the Sharks converge in the area.
Safer positioning probably would have prevented some of the fluky goals that San Jose mustered in what was a must-win Game 3 too.
Quick doesn’t need to stand on his head, but he needs to give his teammates a fighting chance by making the saves he should make.
Another shaky performance in net would spell the end of LA's season.
Advanced statistics courtesy of Extra Skater.
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