One way to keep momentum going is to have constantly greater goals — Michael Korda
A funny thing happened on the way to a Kings’ series victory over the the Anaheim Ducks: it didn’t.
After winning the first two games at the Honda Center by 3-2 and 3-1 scores, the Kings came home with all the momentum in the world, having won six straight games going back to their history-making opening-round win over the San Jose Sharks. The Ducks wouldn’t go down easily, but all it would take was a couple of wins in front of the home crowd at the Staples Center to propel Los Angeles to the Western Conference Finals for the third straight season.
[Keep TiqIQ in mind for your NHL Playoff tickets]
Momentum can either be an irresistible force or an immovable object, however, and it went from hither to yon in the blink of an eye in this series. Just like that, the Ducks won the next two games on the road 3-2 and 2-0. It’s a brand new series now, all knotted up 2-2 with game five slated for Monday night at the Honda Center.
A bit of levity following rookie goaltender Josh Gibson’s 2-0 shutout win over Los Angeles:
My favourite headline of the day comes from the LA Times, referring to John Gibson's shutout for the Ducks: "Rook takes Kings".
— Gord Miller (@GMillerTSN) May 11, 2014
Unbelievable goaltending aside, how can Los Angeles regain the momentum? The following are five keys to the remainder of the series — and, by logical extension, the rest of the season.
Change the momentum via special teams
After battling to a draw on the power play in the first two games, Anaheim has since gone a scintillating 3/5 on the power play to just 1/5 for Los Angeles. The Kings just don’t score tons of goals, so when they have the clear edge on the ice, they must take advantage.
Block some shots
The Kings aren’t much for blocking shots, finishing next-to-last in the league in that statistical category this year. The Ducks were seventh, with over 300 more than Los Angeles. The tradeoff, style-wise, is in physicality: Los Angeles led the league in hits, while Anaheim finished 11th.
The trends have continued during these playoffs, with L.A. leading the world in hits and the Ducks blocking more shots. In the last game, the differences were almost absurd, as the Kings out-hit the Ducks 52-26 and Anaheim led 25-9 in blocked shots. With all the shooters the Ducks possess, neutralizing shots via sacrificing the body may be just as important as doing so by throwing it around. It’s a clear momentum-changer.
Unleash Jeff Carter
For a team with six former 30-goal scorers, the Kings struggle putting the puck in the net, at least during the regular season. L.A. scored just 2.42 goals per game, good for 26th in the league. They’ve been much better this postseason, scoring at a 3.09 per game clip. Alas, they are back to their old ways in this series, scoring a mere two goals per game.
Through four games, Jeff Carter has just one goal and one assist. Carter was second on the team in goals during the regular season with 27, and had six points in the San Jose series. Able to change the momentum all by himself, Carter will need to produce if the Kings expect to get by the Ducks.
Lean on Justin Williams
Justin Williams rises to the occasion on the biggest of stages. When he was just 18 years old and playing for the OHL’s Plymouth Whalers, he foreshadowed things to come by notching 30 points in 24 playoff games (including 14 goals), leading the Whalers to the finals versus the Ottawa 67’s. He scored 18 points during the Carolina Hurricanes’ 2005-06 run to the Cup, and 15 when the Kings won it in 2012.
Like Carter, Williams has cooled off considerably during this series, registering just a single assist. There’s a clear correlation between his production and the momentum of his team, so head coach Darryl Sutter must find ways to get him the puck with time and space to do something good with it. His track record says that given the opportunity, he will.
Continue to tilt the ice in their favor
The Kings were the top team in the NHL using advanced statistics as a benchmark. Simply put, L.A. took more shots than their opponents (regardless of the outcome) and from a net differential perspective, had more shots reach their target than any other team.
It’s difficult to remain dominant in those types of categories when playing the type of top-tier clubs the Kings have been facing in the playoffs. However, for better or worse, it’s how they roll. The Kings may not make the fancy passing plays teams like Anaheim and Pittsburgh do on a regular basis, but they do get the shots on net and camp in front, ready for deflections or rebounds. Defensively, they lay the body and play aggressively, both positionally and physically, to limit the shots against.
The Kings’ Corsi For and Fenwick For have diminished between the Sharks and Ducks series. Los Angeles turned it on in the last four games of the Sharks series; with tightened defense and improved shooting offensive flow came an epic turnaround. To win this series against Anaheim, one which has seen the momentum swing wildly back and forth like a flock of ducks flapping their wings in the breeze, they’ll need to do it one more time.