Luckily for them, Anaheim’s top-rated regular-season offense hasn’t delivered thus far in the conference semifinals, handing L.A. a two-game advantage headed back to Staples Center.
Nevertheless, if Darryl Sutter’s squad hopes to make short work of the Ducks, it will need to rediscover its knack for controlling tempo and zone time. That means smarter decisions, crisper execution and more time spent on offense.
Faced with L.A.’s current team performance, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and the rest of Anaheim’s potent attack won’t be held quiet for much longer.
The Kings simply must improve their puck management in order to bury the Ducks while they’re down. To that end, here are two keys they should focus on going forward.
Take Care of the Puck
When the Kings have been set on defense, they’ve largely contained the Ducks to low-percentage shots from the periphery.
The real danger has taken place when L.A. has turned pucks over, forcing players to scramble when an easier play was available. Not only are these giveaways nipping any offensive forays in the bud, they’re also granting Anaheim scoring chances it hasn’t earned.
Senseless giveaways of this nature have led to poor showings in puck possession—the team’s usual bread and butter.
The statistics bear out this issue.
During the regular season, the Kings boasted the top five-on-five Corsi percentage in the league at 56.8. In the first round, that figure dropped to 51.7 percent. Against the Ducks, the number has fallen even further to 47.6 percent.
That’s a significant drop suggesting that L.A. is no longer in firm control of its games.
In the videos below, Anaheim is the beneficiary of terrible Kings gaffes in Game 1.
First, L.A. wins the battle down low and Tanner Pearson picks up the puck along the boards near his blue line. With Ducks players in the middle of the ice, the rookie’s best options are to either barrel straight ahead in hopes of gaining the red line for a dump-in or chipping the puck off the glass to relieve any pressure.
Instead, he attempts to sift a pass through the traffic. Saku Koivu intercepts it and dishes to Jakob Silfverberg for a shot from the right circle.
The second example finds Jake Muzzin skating back to retrieve a puck. He does well to shake off the Ducks on his back, but his pass fails to connect, and Silfverberg is once again allowed to fire a dangerous shot on goal.
Later in the contest, Slava Voynov—in full possession—and Matt Greene engage in a pitiful exchange of the puck behind the Kings net. Voynov has his initial play tipped and then isn’t in position to receive a return pass, swiftly leading to Anaheim swarming around L.A.’s cage.
Finally, and most egregiously, veteran Justin Williams becomes his own worst enemy once more, turning the puck over inside his blue line in overtime. Within seconds, Devante Smith-Pelly is in alone on Jonathan Quick. He could have easily won the game and changed the landscape of the series due to that slip-up.
These are completely unforced mistakes that directly led to scoring opportunities against.
By coughing up the puck so cheaply, L.A. hasn’t been able to dictate the flow of the game and impose its will on Anaheim. Moreover, it’s placed itself on its heels by gifting the Ducks chance after chance.
The club is without question fortunate to be ahead in this matchup and will need to correct its sloppy play ahead of its two contests on home ice.
Thankfully, these errors are the result of the Kings shooting themselves in the foot rather than anything the Ducks are doing. Anaheim isn’t an enigma that must be solved; L.A. just needs to clean up its decision-making and exit its defensive zone more efficiently.
The blue line has been the main culprit when it comes to giveaways, but even the forwards have been guilty of careless plays. When an open passing lane is there, take it. When it’s not, make the safe choice—whether that's chipping the puck out off the glass or flipping it to center ice.
On the whole, Anaheim's forwards are quicker than San Jose's. L.A. must take this into account, adjust to the speed and move the puck more quickly in order to foil the Ducks forecheck.
The Kings must stress the importance of puck management. If they can tidy up that area of the game, they can shift their stance from surviving to thriving in the possession battle.
Force the Ducks to Defend
A product of cleaner breakouts is more time spent in the offensive end.
The Ducks defense isn’t actually that stout—the Kings have merely glossed over any of their opponents’ frailties by commanding so little of the puck thus far.
Through eight postseason outings, Anaheim's defense is ranked ninth out of 16 eligible teams. At even strength, its goal differential is minus-three. L.A.'s is plus-one despite allowing 13 goals in its first two games.
As a straight-line, hard-nosed team, the Kings should be winning in five-on-five situations by slowing the pace and focusing play toward areas they can dominate—the trenches.
Well-placed dump-ins then become paramount.
Don't just send the puck deep. Fire it at the right angle and velocity to create 50-50 pucks. L.A.'s grind-it-out style should see it win the lion's share of these battles and subsequently compel the Ducks' defensive posture to surface.
Putting the puck behind Anaheim’s defense and finishing every hit would exert pressure on a group of blueliners that isn't necessarily stellar in coverage. Francois Beauchemin may well be the only defenseman on the Ducks roster with the poise, mobility and positioning to contend with a Kings team in top form.
Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Ben Lovejoy are nice pieces in an uptempo system, but when asked to simply defend, they can struggle.
Marian Gaborik’s overtime winner in Game 1 stands as evidence of that. With the puck along the boards, Anaheim swarms to that side and leaves Anze Kopitar alone in the middle. Drew Doughty squeaks a pass out to his center, who then spots Gaborik for the tip-in.
In Game 2, Gaborik shows up once again to pounce on an opportunity. Play is pinned below the goal line following an Anaheim turnover. Perry coughs up possession and can’t recover quickly enough to disrupt Dustin Brown’s dish to Gaborik, who moves to the backhand and forces Jonas Hiller into a big-time stop.
Later, on a basic three-on-three, the Ducks allow Doughty sufficient room to stop up and pass to Williams lower in the formation. No. 14 then finds Mike Richards, who wriggles free in the slot for a prime scoring opportunity.
On that same play, Alec Martinez is wide open cruising down the weak side in hopes of a one-timer.
The Ducks offer the Kings two really strong offensive choices on what should have been a routine even-strength shift.
Anaheim has looked like the more threatening squad through two contests because L.A. has squandered possession and saved the Ducks from having to defend for any extended stretches. When they’re strong-armed into such a predicament, their vulnerability shines through.
The Kings must seek a greater control of the puck to control the outcome of this series.
That process begins with the Kings tightening up their breakouts. Beyond limiting chances against, this would tilt the ice toward Anaheim’s zone—where the Ducks aren't nearly as comfortable.
Advanced statistics courtesy of Extra Skater.