The Los Angeles Kings sure don’t make it easy on themselves.
After rallying back from a mistake-riddled first period to hold a 4-3 lead in the third frame, the team committed a couple of blunders that ultimately cost L.A. Game 5 of the Western Conference Final on Wednesday.
Seeing as Michal Handzus’ game-winner was scored in double overtime, the Kings squandered a golden opportunity to finish off a hyper-talented Chicago Blackhawks squad.
This wasn’t a case of Chicago simply dominating the Kings and obtaining a deserved victory. The shots were 45-44 in the Blackhawks’ favor, and they narrowly won the possession battle at five-on-five. Holding a 3-1 series edge, L.A. was right in this contest until the very end, when a pair of mental errors sent this series back to Staples Center for a crucial Game 6 on Friday.
Throughout the entire tilt, the Kings' energy and resilience were undermined by ridiculous turnovers and blown coverage.
Let’s take a look at how L.A. shot itself in the foot on Wednesday night.
There’s no sugarcoating the fact that Jonathan Quick had a rough outing in Game 5. His rebound control was atrocious, and he appeared flustered any time the puck was anywhere near him.
With that said, the Kings didn’t do him any favors on Wednesday by continually coughing the puck up in dangerous areas. This led to higher-percentage shots for the opposition, which was particularly grievous considering the state of the club's goaltending.
L.A.’s defensemen were the guiltiest parties.
Slava Voynov has been a disaster for most of the postseason, and in Game 5, teammate Willie Mitchell joined the party for a comically terrible performance.
Mitchell ended the night with a five-on-five Corsi percentage of 35.9 and a team-high three giveaways.
On Brandon Saad’s 3-1 goal, Mitchell is in full control of the puck in the corner. Instead of taking any of the perfectly acceptable options at his disposal—reverse pass to Voynov, dish to Mike Richards in the middle of the ice, flip out of the defensive zone—he does nothing at all, allowing forecheckers to breathe down his neck.
In a matter of seconds, Patrick Kane pokes the puck to Saad, who sets up Andrew Shaw for a one-timer in the slot and deposits the rebound home before any of the Kings’ forwards can react to the turnover:
With all due respect to Mitchell, who’s enjoyed a solid career and can still contribute in some capacity, that was truly a pathetic effort.
The forwards got in on the act, too.
Having stumbled to a 4-4 tie in the third period, the Kings still had an opportunity to send Chicago packing if they could settle down and play their game.
Instead, Justin Williams attempts to filter a pass through to Jarret Stoll in the neutral zone when the safe play—a dump-in—is staring him right in the face. Saad intercepts the puck and storms down the ice for a solid chance on Quick:
Late in the first overtime, Dwight King sends a blind pass through the slot without noticing that Voynov has crept up into the play. The Blackhawks break out on a three-on-two and nearly cash the game-winning tally:
Those are just three of the countless mistakes L.A. committed while in complete, uncontested possession of the puck.
The Kings' entire game is built on puck management, and it came undone on Wednesday.
It’s one thing to be overwhelmed when the opposition flashes its superior talent or rides a rolling tide of momentum. Conceding goals when there is seemingly no threat? That’s a lot tougher to stomach.
For much of Game 5, the Kings could not sort out their defense. The problems started early and carried all the way through to Handzus’ season-saving marker in double overtime.
On Johnny Oduya’s goal in the first frame, Matt Greene is caught staring off into space on a fairly harmless three-on-three. He fails to spot Oduya jumping up into the attack and can’t win the net-front battle, allowing the Swedish Olympian to clean up the garbage:
It’s an uncharacteristic gaffe by Greene, who is usually one of the better Kings at defending his slot.
Early in the third period, another three-on-three leads to a Chicago score. Jarret Stoll doesn’t pick up Ben Smith in the neutral zone, and by the time he starts to move his feet, Quick has kicked out a poorly placed rebound that is ultimately pounced on for the tying goal.
Stoll isn’t coming off a line change or put in a vulnerable position by a turnover. He’s actually a few feet closer to Quick than Smith is in the neutral zone, but falls asleep, loses his man and can only watch as Chicago climbs back into the contest:
Now on to the back-breaking game-winner, which is a clinic in bad hockey.
Voynov tries to fly the defensive zone—in double overtime, no less—but doesn’t get the puck past center ice. Meanwhile, with possession being fought for in the neutral zone, Mitchell keeps a loose gap on his side of ice, preventing him from nipping any Chicago transition in the bud.
Once the Blackhawks recover the puck, they skate into the space Mitchell has granted them and launch their attack on yet another dreaded three-on-three.
Trevor Lewis inexplicably drifts from a sound defensive position to a silly one, double-teaming the puck-carrier (Saad) rather than staying with his assignment (Handzus):
Richards is left with the hopeless task of bailing his teammates out, and he just can’t get there in time.
Again, those are three errors where the Blackhawks barely even had to work for their chances. Looking ahead, L.A. has to ensure that it at least forces Chicago to earn its production.
It all came far too easily for the Blackhawks in Game 5.
Despite a stunning performance from Drew Doughty—nine shots, plus-two, great defense and puck management—and a dismal one from Corey Crawford, the Kings could not advance past the Blackhawks on Wednesday night.
The team gave possession away cheaply and didn’t make the correct reads on defense, tendering Chicago a much easier path to survival than one should ever see in the playoffs.
Four of the Blackhawks’ five goals originated from unforced mistakes. Such a performance is almost impressive in its inefficacy.
Thankfully, L.A. stole home-ice advantage in Game 2 of the series and now has two more cracks at eliminating the Blackhawks.
One has to imagine that head coach Darryl Sutter’s men will be much sharper and more motivated in front of their fans on Friday night—especially after this ugly outing. If not, they’ll face the daunting prospect of a seventh and deciding contest in the hostile confines of the United Center.
There’s a berth to the Stanley Cup Final on the line. The Kings must recognize this and act as though the margin for error no longer exists.
Advanced statistics courtesy of Extra Skater.