Monday night’s result was everything the Los Angeles Kings could have hoped for, but the process left much to be desired.
If not goaltender Jonathan Quick's heroics, the Kings would be heading back to L.A. with (at best) a split rather than the 2-0 series lead they currently hold over the Anaheim Ducks.
It was a subject that both the Kings captain and head coach were blunt about after the game:
Sutter: "The best player on the ice tonight was the goaltender for the Kings."— Jon Rosen (@lakingsinsider) May 6, 2014
Quick has been exceptional of late. He stopped 36 of 37 shots against the Ducks and recorded his sixth straight win on Monday, 3-1. He has a 0.961 save percentage over that span; since finding his game midway through the first round, he’s been dominant.
There is good news for the Ducks, though: Quick does this, but he also does the opposite.
Since Quick came back from injury at the start of January, he has alternated hot stretches and cold spells; the start of L.A.’s first-round series against San Jose caught the tail end of a cold stretch.
The difference between hot and cold runs is incredible:
|Jan. 4 - Jan. 18||6||4||2||0.947|
|Jan. 18 - Feb. 3||9||1||8||0.891|
|Feb. 6 - March 9||6||6||0||0.957|
|March 13 - March 17||2||0||2||0.875|
|March 20 - April 2||7||6||1||0.929|
|April 5 - April 22||6||0||6||0.874|
|April 24 - May 5||6||6||0||0.961|
This latest stretch is the third time since January that Quick has gone on a run in which he won at least six of seven. It’s also the third time in that span where he has posted a 0.947-or-better save percentage.
Conversely, he had two runs in which he won a combined one time in 15 contests and couldn’t crack the 0.900 save-percentage mark.
Is it possible that Quick is just a clutch goalie, someone who plays his best when it matters most? His latest run and his previous two seasons of playoff work argue in favour of that.
Arguing against the idea is a pair of first-round exits in his first two postseason opportunities at the NHL level, his terrible play to start the Kings’ current postseason run and, of course, his performance in that critical game against Finland at the Olympics.
Quick’s career numbers allow for multiple interpretations.
It’s possible to believe he’s a solid NHL goalie who has had the good fortune to get hot over two playoff runs. Perhaps he turns it on when the games really matter (with a few notable exceptions). Any point in between those two extremes is arguable, too.
Whatever the case, the Kings would not have been in Monday’s game if not for his work. The fact is, every time Los Angeles took the lead, it backed off and allowed the Ducks to take over.
The Kings had the good fortune to score on their first shot of the game. For the next nine minutes, Anaheim completely dominated, outshooting Los Angeles by an 8-2 margin and finally tying the game on its eighth shot. L.A. rebounded, outshooting the Ducks 5-2 to close out the period and scoring again to take a 2-1 lead.
From that point on, the shots were 27-9 in the Ducks' favour.
Brian Hayward, providing colour commentary for NBCSN, praised the Kings' defensive discipline halfway through the third period after basically half an hour of the Ducks controlling play:
"Impressive discipline shown by the Kings. Every puck is going in deep. They’re less concerned about creating offence as they are about making smart plays and managing the puck, as Darryl Sutter likes to call it."
The trouble with his analysis is that any split between offence and defence at the team level is an artificial one.
A team content to try to hold the neutral zone inevitably finds itself back on its heels. The only way to really keep the puck out of the defensive zone is to ensure it spends significant time in the offensive zone.
The Kings failed to do that. Of the 15 non-neutral-zone faceoffs taken in the third period, 12 of them took place in L.A.’s defensive zone. After taking that 2-1 lead, Los Angeles lost the possession battle and the territorial one by a wide margin.
The difference was Quick; if the Kings had gotten anything other than an exemplary performance out of him, we’d be talking about the team’s massive collapse late in the game.
Certainly, Brown recognized that after the game.
"Historically over the last four or five years we’ve been very good at holding leads, but they had way too many chances," the Kings captain was quoted as saying by the Calgary Sun's Derek van Diest. "If we continue to play like we did, we won’t get the same results."
That means there are at least two significant threads of hope for the Ducks coming out of this loss.
First, while Quick has been exceptional, he has a very recent history of alternating fantastic and wretched performances; he isn’t unbeatable. Second, the Kings have not been the dominant possession team in this series that they have been in so many others. This is a team the Ducks have shown they can outplay for long periods of time.
Los Angeles, though, has the comfort of a 2-0 series lead and the satisfaction of heading home, where it could potentially close things out. Darryl Sutter is an exceptional coach, and he’s going to take full advantage of being able to control the matchups to a much greater extent in his home arena.
With the series shifting, it’s entirely possible the Kings won’t have to lean on Quick to the same degree they did Monday.