Four days into the NHL Playoffs, one thing has become very clear – home ice is no longer the advantage that it used to be. Home teams are 5-10 so far as we enter Sunday, led by big upsets in Pittsburgh by the Philadelphia Flyers and in Vancouver by the Los Angeles Kings. The recipe for these road warriors has been winning the special teams battle, sometimes in very creative ways.
The Kings won a hard fought Game 1 largely due to Vancouver taking a plethora of penalties, including a 5 minute major. The Canucks provided the Kings with 8 man-advantage situations and the Kings capitalized twice in keeping up with the heavily favored Canucks through the first 2 periods. The penalty kill then became the key for the 3rd period as Los Angeles held Vancouver off the board for 2 powerplays in the period while the game was tied, allowing Jeff Carter and Mike Richards to set up Dustin Penner and Dustin Brown late in the period for a 4-2 win. The Kings finished with a 2 for 8 powerplay and 5 for 5 penalty kill after Game 1.
Going into Game 2, the key for Vancouver was to stop giving up excessive chances through unnecessary penalties and to pour shots onto the Kings’ Vezina candidate, Jonathan Quick. Part of their plan was successful as the Canucks unloaded 48 shots on Quick. However, they only managed to score 2 goals, while still giving up excessive chances – namely the 2 short-handed goals that were scored by the Kings’ Dustin Brown. Special teams came up big again for the Kings; the powerplay went 1 for 4 and the penalty kill was 5 for 5 again while adding 2 goals of their own.
Heading back home to LA, the Kings have scored 8 goals, 5 of which have come while on the powerplay or short-handed. Meanwhile, the Canucks have scored a total of 4 goals, none of which have come during a special teams’ situation. That, plus the goaltending of Jonathan Quick vs. Roberto Luongo is a very simple answer as to how the Kings have taken control of a series that very few thought they could win. Game 3 could take on a very different dynamic, as Cory Schneider replaces Roberto Luongo in net. The Canucks certainly need that spark, but it may not be enough to counteract the spark of a home crowd for LA. One thing is clear, keep an eye on the powerplay and the penalty kill and you’ll likely be able to predict the winner no matter how well anyone is playing.
– Game 3 will be the last game of the suspension to Canucks’ forward Byron Bitz for boarding Kyle Clifford. Clifford meanwhile has not been skating with an upper body injury and is expected to miss Game 3 or more. Coach Darryl Sutter said he hopes Clifford can return to the ice Monday or Tuesday.
– Forward Brad Richardson, who underwent an emergency appendectomy earlier this week, has been skating but will not be ready for Game 3. Sutter has not ruled him out for this round at least.
– Are you following @LAKings on twitter? If not, you might want to for comedy purposes. After tweeting out, “To everyone in Canada outside of BC, you’re welcome,” after the Kings’ Game 1 win, the organization came out and apologized for the message as Vancouver fans were outraged. This has not stopped the culprits behind the team’s official twitter page though, playfully tweeting out, “We apologize in advance for anyone this tweet offends: #LAKings lead series 2-0,” after the Kings won Game 2. I can’t wait to see what they come up with next as they add a little harmless color to the NHL landscape.