5 Players Los Angeles Kings Must Lean on in Game 7 vs. Anaheim Ducks
L.A. put forth a strong collective effort from top to bottom, but that will be tough to replicate in the series’ deciding tilt. Game 7s provide a different level of intensity, and only certain players rise to the occasion in such pressure-packed situations.
Sure, there could be surprise contributions, but teams should be counting on their leaders when it matters most.
Coaches must recognize this and rely on those ready to lay it all on the line for the team.
For the Kings, these range from defensive specialists to clutch performers and three-zone studs. If these key figures don’t shine on Friday, L.A.’s season will likely come to an end.
Since Jonathan Quick should be on the ice for 60 minutes every game, he has been omitted from this list. Besides, leaning on your goaltender is never an ideal scenario.
Here are the Kings who must carry the mail in Game 7 for the team to advance to the third round.
For the Kings, the secret to winning dwells in the details.
This isn’t a team that will overwhelm opponents with raw firepower. L.A. thrives on possession and grinding out the other team slowly and methodically—and that begins with faceoffs.
The club’s pivots must work to ensure that the Kings aren’t on their heels early on Friday, getting everyone touches right off the hop to get into a rhythm and impose their tempo on the Ducks.
In a Game 7 on the road, draws will come into even greater focus, as Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau will have the luxury of last change and will be looking for weaknesses—chiefly the second line—to exploit.
Jarret Stoll has taken the second-most faceoffs among Kings in the playoffs and is tops on the team with a 56.4 percent success rate in the circle. Also, he faces the toughest zone starts among all forwards on the team.
He will need to put in a solid performance at the dot in Game 7 in order to facilitate head coach Darryl Sutter’s matchups.
The playoffs are very much a chess match for coaches, and a dependable center who can win faceoffs and be counted upon in the defensive zone allows the bench boss to place his pieces in the right position more often than not.
Elsewhere, discipline will be a huge question mark for the Kings, as they’ve taken 11 penalties in the past, granting the Ducks scoring chances they haven’t necessarily earned.
As a central figure on the penalty kill, Stoll’s tenacity disrupts passes while his motor drives him into shooting lanes. Winning faceoffs when short-handed is massive as well, dripping precious seconds off the clock and forcing the opposition to regroup outside the offensive zone.
He's only been on the ice for one power-play goal against in the postseason.
Sutter must deploy Stoll for faceoffs in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill in order to control the circle and keep L.A.’s end as clean as possible.
Even if he merely takes the draw and then immediately bolts for the bench, he needs to be out there for the vast majority of the key faceoffs. If he can win roughly 60 percent of them and deliver the goods on the PK, he will have done his part to help the Kings in Game 7.
His nickname is Mr. Game 7 for a reason. Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider noted that Williams is undefeated and has piled up 10 points in five such situations.
Those are staggering numbers.
Granted, he’s been rather quiet of late, but this is his time and he’ll surely be raring to go. Paired with Stoll and Trevor Lewis, Williams will have pesky and quick linemates who will gladly defer to him in puck possession. He needs to capitalize on this by owning the puck and pressing rookie goaltender John Gibson.
As such, expect any number of shots from any number of angles and a lot of traffic in front of Anaheim's net.
Whether it's through a tic-tac-toe play or cleaning up the garbage, the 32-year-old has to assert himself on the attack.
On the cycle, he has to be mindful of turnovers and take what the defense gives him. He's occasionally guilty of jerking back and forth one too many times, then coughing up the puck or skating himself into a dead end.
Williams doesn’t chip in much on defense, special teams, faceoffs or the physical game, so his production and possession will be the only measures of his performance. Sutter should look to play to the clutch winger at least 16 minutes in regulation on Friday, giving him ample opportunity to make a difference.
He should have an additional spring in his step and an even fiercer compete level in the trenches.
It’s never really pretty, but Williams finds a way to get the job done in Game 7s.
Back in his fourth-line role and away from the black hole that is Jordan Nolan (healthy scratch), Richards offered up a brilliant defensive game on Wednesday, snuffing out countless Ducks plays in the middle of the ice with his active stick and terrific anticipation.
His ice time jumped from nine minutes, 50 seconds in Game 5 to 15:40 in Game 6, and he earned every second with a diligent two-way showing that included a dogged effort on the penalty kill.
Like Stoll, Richards has only been on the ice for one goal against when short-handed thus far in the playoffs.
As a leader with a history of stepping up in crunch time, he should be awarded even more minutes in Game 7.
Though Richards hasn’t enjoyed a productive postseason (three points in 13 games), he’s been very good on defense on the fourth unit—not so much alongside Jeff Carter—and has even taken over games in spurts with a barrage of scoring chances and net-crashing.
The gritty center will definitely come out with energy on Friday in search of a crucial goal to both alleviate his frustration and end Anaheim’s season.
He won’t line up with the most skilled guys (probably Dwight King and Kyle Clifford) and may not wind up on the stat sheet, but if he can play with his trademark guts and will to win, he’ll buzz around the puck and make things happen for his team.
He won’t go down without a fight.
As the Kings' all-around leader, Kopitar must set the tone in Game 7 by driving play toward Anaheim's zone. With his 6'3", 224-pound frame and ability to fend off opponents in the corners, he must force the Ducks to defend for long stretches.
Anaheim is a pacy team which loves to counterattack off neutral-zone miscues, so it will be up to the centers to keep that aspect of the Kings' game tidy.
In addition to his nifty helper on Jake Muzzin's goal, Kopitar was masterful on defense in Game 6, using his reach and strength to smother Anaheim's forwards before they could get anything going.
With that said, his possession numbers weren't great, registering a 52.6 even-strength Corsi percentage (fourth-worst on the team). He has to control more of the shot attempts against the Ducks high-powered offense to limit its time in the offensive zone.
L.A.'s defense is banged up and has been porous at times in the postseason, so covering up those foibles will be critical.
Sutter only played Kopitar for 17 minutes and change in Game 6. Given his prowess in all areas of the game, his ice time needs to be closer to 20 minutes on Friday with the season on the line—especially with the ever-dangerous Ryan Getzlaf logging over 22 minutes.
Boasting great three-zone responsibility while enjoying a career-best postseason on offense, Kopitar is unquestionably L.A.'s best forward.
In Game 7, he will need to perform in kind to keep his team's campaign alive.
From defensive coverage to breakouts and puck possession, Drew Doughty is at the heart of virtually everything the Kings excel at.
Considering how much they rely on him, he must be at the top of his game on Friday.
He hasn't been for much of the conference semifinals, which has coincided with a mediocre series overall for L.A. The Kings have been outscored at even strength, where Doughty is usually such a stalwart on the back end.
He has played reasonably well, which is a far cry from the tremendous showing he had in Round 1. He's only managed one point and a plus-three rating against the Ducks after notching seven points and a plus-two against the Sharks.
He is surely aware of this and will be primed for a standout performance in Game 7—an awfully big game for a noted big-game player. He scored in the team's Game 7 against San Jose.
Hopefully, Sutter rides him for 28-plus minutes. He's been over 30 twice in the series and has proven on many occasions that he can handle a heavier workload.
While Doughty will have a significant influence on the outcome of this deciding contest, he can't call his own number and try to take on the entire Ducks team by himself. He already tried that, which resulted in a turnover and dagger goal against in Game 3.
The 24-year-old simply needs to play with his usual poise. The offense will come naturally if he takes care of business in the defensive and neutral zones.
Against a swarming and speedy forecheck, Doughty's calm on the blue line and knack for dictating the tempo of the game will be pivotal on Friday.
Advanced statistics courtesy of Extra Skater.
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