- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Leave it to Jonathan Quick, the man of few words, to be less than descriptive when asked Monday what exactly the San Jose Sharks were doing differently than a year ago, when the Los Angeles Kings netminder stymied them over seven games.
"Scoring goals," Quick responded Monday.
Gee, thanks, Jonathan. Didn't notice.
You can excuse the Kings' star goalie for not being in the best of moods after being lit up as though he were in goal for the 1973-74 California Golden Seals.
It is nothing short of mind-blowing that the Sharks poured 13 goals on the Kings (12 against Quick) in two games up in Northern California to open this series when you consider the Kings' staunch defensive identity, including this season when they allowed the fewest goals against to win the Jennings Trophy.
What gives? We reached out to a Western Conference NHL head coach as well as a Western Conference team executive to get their takes on what they've seen transpire in this series.
"Start with goaltending, then go to [L.A.'s] top players [Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Marian Gaborik, Mike Richards]," said the head coach via text message. "Then look at the speed and compete level of the two teams and it is not close. L.A. needs to play a tight 1-0 mentality. It starts with getting some saves for longer than 20 minutes. If I was the L.A. coach, I would be very worried about Richards! Doesn't look like the same player. Give him a role [head-to-head with Logan Couture and] see if you can get something out of him."
The front-office executive, meanwhile, said he's watched both games closely and is "stunned."
"Firstly, I think S.J. is attacking Quick surgically ... east-west," he said via email. "I don't put this all on Quick but they have made him look average with tons of traffic, lots of east-west attack and shooting pucks from every angle. The other tipping point has been how S.J. has exposed the lack of mobility of some of LA's defense. Watch closely, they have strategically placed pucks in on [Willie] Mitchell, [Robyn] Regher, [Jake] Muzzin and last night [Matt] Greene... Heavy, fast forecheck and L.A. has had difficulty exiting zone ... S.J. team's speed has been a major difference, including from their foot soldiers.
"And finally, they have been hard on L.A.'s top players. Every time [Anze] Kopitar, Doughty, [Slava] Voynov, [Justin] Williams, etc, have a puck, S.J. finishes a hit. Zero fly byes, has been real interesting to see. All that said, it's never a series until you lose a home game, so very interested to see LA response."
A year ago, the Kings were down 2-0 to the Blues after coming up empty in St. Louis to open the series. They came back to win four straight. That's something for the Kings to draw upon.
On the other hand, they weren't completely manhandled in St. Louis like they were in San Jose in these two opening games. So there's a danger in believing you can just flip the switch on now if you're the Kings.
"We certainly have to get back to playing our style of game," star center Anze Kopitar said Monday. "Even though we were up 2-0 after the first period [in Game 2], we gave up quite a bit of chances, especially chances on the rush where usually we're pretty solid with that. Again, we got to clean it up and get ready for tomorrow."
Kopitar insisted though that the lopsidedness of the two games should not factor into the disappointment.
"It's not great, but at the end of the day it doesn't really matter if you lose 7-2 or lose 3-2 in triple overtime," Kopitar said. "It's still a loss. Yes, it stinks. But we got to come out strong tomorrow and get back at it."
The first step for the Kings will be to find a way to match up with San Jose's bottom six forwards, who have completely devoured L.A. through two games, their speed and forecheck causing massive headaches for the Kings.
"The problem has been when they've put guys who work hard, who are trying to prove something going forward out there, we haven't matched up against that. That's clear," Kings head coach Darryl Sutter said Monday after an optional practice by his team. The Kings, in fact, have struggled getting much from their fourth line this season and that problem has been further exposed in this series.
"That was a problem for us last year too," said Sutter. "We didn't have a fourth line last year. It's been a moving target this year and it's been a moving target the first two games."
Sutter also pointed to issues on defense where, aside from Doughty and Voynov on the right side, the Kings' head coach has seen struggles from the rest of his blue-line corps in the two losses.
And finally, Sutter -- no doubt toying with the assembled media -- said both Quick and backup Martin Jones are options for him ahead of Game 3.
Can't imagine that's even close to being true, but I guess you never know with the unpredictable Sutter.
No, this is Quick's challenge to overcome. His team needs him more than ever now.
Sutter said Quick didn't look as sharp as usual so far over two games.
"I don't know if it's not feeling sharp," responded Quick. "It's just [that] I'm not doing the job. I feel fine. When I'm going into the games, I feel good. I think it's going to go the way we want it to go, but it hasn't. You got a routine that you've had for years, that you feel works. It's worked in the past. It hasn't worked the past two games, but you're just going to stick with your routine and focus on the details. Like I said earlier, we're trying to win one game and go from there."
For the Kings to win Tuesday night, they need to slow down the pace and dictate their brand of game.
"Just playing our style of hockey, grind it out and not giving up a lot," Kopitar said.
Or to use Quick's analysis, the Kings have to allow fewer goals. And then some.
13dScott Burnside and Craig Custance