By now, Los Angeles Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick need only telepathically communicate a simple game-plan message to his teammates.
Just get me a minimum of three goals at the other end and I’ll take care of the rest.
Only once in their first 13 outings of the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs have the Kings seen Quick authorize three or more opposing tallies. And only once have they failed to tune the opposing mesh in an entire 60-minute tangle.
Those constitute their only two losses to date, the former being Game 4 of the Western Conference quarterfinals versus Vancouver, the latter being the fourth and latest installment in the ongoing conference final series against Phoenix.
From top to bottom, over the past six weeks, there has been nothing to gripe about for the Hollywood hockey faithful. If anything, yet another appreciable item all but surfaces by the day.
Those players who fueled the 8-1 romp over the conference’s top two seeds from Vancouver and St. Louis have generally retained their performance rates through their first four matches with the Coyotes. Others, such as Jeff Carter, Dwight King and Trevor Lewis have perked up and accelerated their productivity rates.
Before opposing stopper Mike Smith blanked them on Sunday to save the Coyotes season, King, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams appeared on each of the series’ first three score sheets. In all, 11 L.A. skaters have had a hand in running up a cumulative 10-5 scoring differential over Phoenix.
The fact that they could not evoke any of that in Game 4 and instead allowed Coyote captain Shane Doan to single-handedly beat them 2-0, hardly sets an ominous tone. It does not presage any sequence of a peak and epic downturn.
Nor is there any reason to assume the Kings, 7-0 away from the Staples Center this spring, will have run out of road perfection when the time comes for Tuesday night’s Game 5 faceoff at Jobing.com Arena.
On the contrary, the shuffle back across the state border could spawn the missing ingredient from Game 4.
Granted, the Kings failed to complete a sweep of the Coyotes in a Sunday matinee that began at noon local time, even though that exact same arrangement didn’t stall their elimination of the Blues. The difference was an atmosphere of outside disturbances, such as a multitude of NBA games sandwiching their game as well as the Agmen Tour of California culminating in their neighborhood almost exactly at faceoff time.
Naturally, that should not have excused any shortcoming. But a combination of the local distractions, the pressure from the home crowd and the Coyotes' desperation made Sunday’s result far less surprising.
But now, the pressure will come from the Glendale masses and will weigh down on Smith and Doan, arguably that franchise’s two most appreciated figures, to deliver an elimination encore.
For the Kings, there ought to be a minor, yet no less existent, burr in the back to concoct their fourth complete game in five tries against the Coyotes. This means getting back to flexing their depth, injecting more quality into their quantity of scoring chances and polishing off those onslaughts when the invitation is ripe.
All other factors aside, all of that was easily within reach on Sunday, particularly as Smith committed two giveaways as opposed to the one by Quick that led to Doan’s decider.
As redeeming as their Game 4 victory may have felt, the Coyotes still have a mere seven point-getters as opposed to L.A.’s 11. Doan is one of only three Phoenix players with multiple points in the series, whereas the Kings have nine of them.
There is only so much Phoenix can look to for traction. There is very little Los Angeles needs to replenish in order to claim the Campbell Bowl in Game 5.