By Allan Muir
It’s safe to assume that Jonathan Quick will be called upon to steal a game or two if the Los Angeles Kings hope to hold onto their title as Stanley Cup champs. But don’t be fooled by Tuesday’s 35-save performance: The series-opening 2-0 win over the San Jose Sharks was not one of those stolen wins.
That’s not to diminish Quick’s efforts as much as it is to give credit where it’s due.
While Quick was a model of poise and efficiency, stopping everything he faced with a minimum of motion, his teammates’ efforts made it all look so easy. For all the time of possession, for all the opportunities the Sharks had to let fly, the Kings never allowed them what they really needed: control of the puck in the middle of the ice or on Quick’s doorstep. Held to the outside all night, San Jose racked up shots but few real scoring chances.
Rebounds? Deflections? Not a chance. If a puck eluded Quick’s control off the original shot, it was quickly swept into a corner or up and out of the zone by a someone in a black sweater.
Even as the grimly determined Sharks turned the third period into a half-ice contest, penning the Kings in their own zone while outshooting them 16-4, there was never a sense of impending doom for the home side; not one moment where San Jose truly threatened to cut the lead in half, let alone tie the game.
This was a superlative team effort, exactly the sort that powered last season’s unexpected Cup run, and a warning shot to the rest of the league: These Kings are ready to repeat.
Here are a few more observations from the series opener:
• Slava Voynov was the offensive star, scoring the winning goal with just 12.9 seconds remaining in the first period with a blast from the point that zipped through a maze of bodies and over the shoulder of Sharks goaltender Antti Niemi. Voynov was originally given credit for the insurance marker as well after his second-period wrister found its target through a crowd, but it was later changed to Mike Richards when the replay revealed that it had deflected off his leg before slipping by Niemi.
Neither of those shots came from a prime scoring position, but the Kings made them more dangerous by getting bodies down low and disrupting Niemi’s sight lines. That said, full marks to Voynov for reading both plays perfectly and waiting to put the puck in play at the right moment instead of simply hammering away and hoping for the best.
• Special teams were expected to play a big role in this series, after San Jose used its dominant power play to sweep Vancouver and Los Angeles shut down the Blues with an airtight penalty kill. Tonight, it was the Kings’ PK that won the battle, limiting the Sharks to just four shots, and no real sustained pressure, on three chances. San Jose’s first unit looked sharp, moving the puck with precision under heavy pressure, but failed to generate any dangerous moments because it couldn’t find daylight with the Kings effectively clogging the middle and taking away the lanes. That has to be a concern for a team that got so much mileage out of the power play down the stretch. Expect the Sharks to make some adjustments for Game 2.
• It looked like Darryl Sutter was listening during the first round when everyone said the Sharks are Logan Couture’s team now. In previous meetings this season, he ran Anze Kopitar out against Joe Thornton’s line. Tonight, the Kings’ best defensive forward was up against Couture, and he dry-erased San Jose’s top scorer. No. 39 was limited to one decent scoring chance, and that came about only because Rob Scuderi’s stick broke, allowing Couture a rare look from the slot. Otherwise, he was a non-factor during five-on-five play.
• Drew Doughty was the Kings’ most effective player against St. Louis, and outside of Quick, he was their best again tonight. He threw a blanket over Thornton, matching up for 23 of the big center’s 25 shifts, and limiting him to two inconsequential shots. Jumbo Joe came into the contest on a roll with six points in his last three game, but there was nothing dangerous about him tonight with Doughty in shutdown mode.
• Usually Robyn Regehr is at his best when you don’t notice him, but it was impossible to overlook the veteran blueliner’s efforts tonight. This was exactly the sort of performance that motivated Kings’ GM Dean Lombardi to pick him up at the deadline. He was a reliable physical presence down low, winning most of his puck battles along the boards and doing a nice job of keeping Quick’s porch clear of loose pucks and stray Sharks.
• Kings center Jarret Stoll was knocked out of the game late in the second after taking a high hit from Raffi Torres. On the play, the Sharks’ reformed bad boy took just his third minor penalty since coming to San Jose from Phoenix in an April 3 trade, but postgame talk quickly turned to the possibility of supplemental discipline. I don’t see it happening, but I’ve been surprised before. At first glance, it looked to be a hard but clean shoulder-to-shoulder hit, but one replay appeared to show glancing head contact. Tough to argue that was Torres’ target, though. We’ll keep an eye on the situation.
• After his team had been knocked out by the Kings in round one, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock chastised the efforts of his veteran players as being “not good enough.” Coach Todd McLellan could probably say the same thing about his guys after what he saw tonight from the Sharks. They did a lot of things that looked good on the surface — the 35-20 shot advantage, their time of possession and especially their crisp puck movement — but it all added up to nothing because they took place in the easy areas that the Kings allowed them to have. Game 2 will require a vastly different compete level along with a full commitment to battling for space in the greasy areas or the Sharks will head home trailing by a pair.