The Los Angeles Kings’ title defense is 10 games deep into the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it’s still difficult to get an accurate read on a group that admits to not having played its best hockey of the postseason.
Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams have combined for 10 points. The team has been held to one goal in five of 10 playoff games and has attempted a playoffs-low 25 shots per game, a statistic that belies the team’s regular season success in cycling, possession, and out-chancing its opponents.
And yet the team has lost only two games in regulation to a pair of very good Western Conference teams in St. Louis and San Jose. It’s encouraging, then, that there seems to be a universally held opinion in the locker room that the team has gotten by without putting forth a signature, 60-minute effort.
“That’s not a bad thing. I mean, that’s what good players and good teams say,” Darryl Sutter said. “Some teams are just happy to make the playoffs. So if you’re trying to find ways to get better, that’s a good thing.”
There are certainly areas that could use refinement after Game 4, a series-tying 2-1 San Jose victory in which the ice was tilted heavily in Los Angeles’ direction for the first half of the game.
And despite one of the more discouraging starts of the season, the Kings pulled within striking distance of stealing Game 4 courtesy of a Mike Richards third period power play chip-in. Possibility nearly wore a crown in the second period as a whistle blew moments before Dustin Penner chipped in a net-bound loose puck and Jake Muzzin missed an open net while on the power play.
Even when they are not at their best, the Kings are still finding ways to hang around in games while putting themselves in opportunities to tie and win games late – not that Mike Richards takes any solace in that.
“You can chop it up any way you want. It’s 2-2 going back home,” the veteran center said.
Though the style of play isn’t entirely similar, there is as little breathing room in round two as there was in round one. Nine of the Los Angeles’ 10 postseason games have been decided by one goal.
Though they are still looking for their first exemplary 60-minute playoff effort, the Kings are only two wins from the conference finals.
“You can take a positive from that, but we’re not looking for things we did well in the past, Penner said. “We’re looking for things we need to do well in the future.”
Dustin Brown called to attention the ability of certain individuals being able to elevate their game when lines and units were having off nights, and Tyler Toffoli’s game-tying goal in Game 2 would certainly fall under that banner. Brown referenced Los Angeles’ special teams, the team’s effort, and above all, the goaltending.
“For us to play 60 minutes, we need everyone playing. And what I mean by that is making the hard plays along the walls and clean breakouts and that sort of thing. We’ve got the effort from everyone. There’s no question in that. It’s just a matter of executing our plays,” the Kings captain said.
“Probably the biggest reason is Quickie, though.”
Is Quick’s excellence sustainable? Judging from his performance in 2011 and 2012, it certainly appears to be. But will he be able to continue to excel to the same degree while burdened by a razor-thin margin for error?
The Kings are averaging two goals per game in the postseason. The lowest goal output by any team that played in a Stanley Cup Final was the 2011 Vancouver Canucks, who averaged 2.32 goals per game and lost in seven games to the Boston Bruins, a team that averaged nearly a full goal more.
Two-time Stanley Cup winner Rob Scuderi understands that a team that ekes out low-scoring playoff wins and remains in closely contested games without performing at its highest level isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“I think that’s sometimes the mark of a championship team,” he said. “We certainly would have to earn it again this year, but I think a lot of the guys cut their teeth in here last year about knowing how to stay with it sometimes when you’re not having your best game, and that’s part of being a consistent winner.”
The Kings also possess an intangible asset that their current opponent does not – 17 of the 20 players who dressed on Tuesday night have won a Stanley Cup together.
“Obviously we have confidence from our success in the past, but I think we’ve all grown as players since last year,” said Penner, another player who has won two Cups. “The goal is always to get better every year, and I think in a lot of cases we have. We’re a better home ice team. The road team kind of slipped, but the game’s coming around now, collectively.”