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Kings Focus on Faceoffs

by Rich Hammond / Los Angeles Kings
There’s no more time to dwell. The Kings return to the ice tonight, less than 48 hours after their stunning Game 3 loss to San Jose on Tuesday night. A win will put them back on solid ground. A loss will push them to the edge of the playoff cliff.

The Kings can’t change the result of Game 3, in which they lost a four-goal lead and the game and fell into a 2-1 series deficit. They get another crack at the Sharks in Game 4 tonight at STAPLES Center, and a look-ahead attitude will be important.

``We, as a group, have got to be determined here in Game 4, to change back the series,’’ winger Ryan Smyth said. ``Obviously every team has some younger guys and every team has some older guys. You want to utilize that experience and spread it to the younger guys, to allow them to overcome it in a situation like this. I feel like the guys woke up (after Game 3) and dusted it off and were prepared for practice, and we’re excited about (Game 4).

``We’re in control of our destiny. It’s a seven-game series and we, as a group in this locker room, believe that we can win. It’s just a matter of competing from period-to-period. We can’t look past the first period (of Game 4).’’

The Kings are not expected to make any lineup changes for Game 4, and Jonathan Quick will get the start in goal. San Jose seemed likely to go back to Antti Niemi in goal, but had not announced their intentions going into Thursday’s morning skate.

The Kings won only 40% of faceoffs in games 2 and 3 - a major point of concern for coach Terry Murray.
The Kings were a strong faceoff team in the regular season, as they ranked 10th in the NHL in faceoff-win percentage, but the Sharks were stronger, as they ranked second.

So far, the Sharks have only widened that advantage in this first-round series. The teams split the faceoffs evenly in Game 1, but the Sharks won 60 percent in Game 2 and 61 percent in Game 3, giving them a big advantage in puck possession.

The splits were even more glaring on special teams, as the Sharks won 6 of 7 draws when they were on the power play, draws that are typically taken in the Kings’ zone.

Not surprisingly, Kings coach Terry Murray has gone to great lengths to preach the importance of his team being better in the faceoff circle going forward.

``It's more than talking. This is huge,’’ Murray said. ``This is a big, big thing. They're a very good faceoff team. They do put pucks to the net and arrive quickly to try to get a faceoff. That is part of the strategy. They come across the center red line with a lot of speed and take a long shot to the net, in hopes that maybe there might be a fumble, there might be a loose puck that you have to freeze, when they come with a guy like Setoguchi. Vancouver does that, to get more faceoffs. What also now comes into play here is that we need to be better in the faceoff circle, not only in the win aspect, clean wins -- which is a hard thing -- but you've got to be on your toes with your defensemen, you've got to be on your toes with the forward that's coming in to pick up some loose pucks that are lying around. The other thing that we need to be better at is, our center icemen have to have more patience. We've got to get our sticks down second at home. We've got to wait until they're in position. I think we're a little too eager to get in there right away and put our stick down first, and now they're coming over top. When you get in second, you have the advantage.

``So we need to show that read, make a better decision as a group of center icemen, to come in later, make sure that they're set and give yourself the edge. That's all you need, is a little bit of an edge in some situations. Now, we can't overreact though, whenever we come in. We got thrown out of the faceoff circle seven times last game. It ended up, actually, costing us the first goal. Richardson got thrown out. He was just a little too eager. He's got to relax, show composure. Now we have to put Clifford in there because Williams can't take the faceoff. We lose it and it's in our net. So that's our own fault, and we have to clean that up. We have to have a greater level of composure coming in, as those four center icemen, to get the job done the right way, and don't overreact. Don't put the pressure on the referee, on the linesman, to have to make the decision as to who is in and who is out.''

The line of Clifford-Richardson-Simmonds has been surprisingly productive offensively for the Kings in the postseason.
Through the first three games of the series, the Kings’ forwards have combined for 20 points. Seven of those points have come from the energy line of center Brad Richardson and wingers Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds.

That line came into the series with a combined total of only 21 previous NHL playoff games, but has been a source of both energy and offense since being put together late in the regular season.

``They gave us good minutes,’’ Murray said. ``They had a great start (in Game 3), scoring a big goal for us. It's a young line, and I needed somebody in the second period to grab a hold of it a little bit and settle it and calm things down. It would have been great if it would have been that line, but they weren't able to either. In fact, they got caught out there for extended shifts. It's the way it unfolded.

``Their line is a good line. They've been a good line so far. They can play hard, they can play gritty, they can score some goals. We're going to need it (in Game 4).’’

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