By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Kings scored nearly three goals per game in the first three rounds of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which is more than any team that doesn't reside in the state of Pennsylvania and didn't play in a wacky, goaltending-and-defense optional series in the first round.
That was a big improvement from the regular season, but not a huge tick upwards from what the Kings were producing in the final six weeks after Jeff Carter arrived in a trade. Los Angeles had turned into an offensive juggernaut, especially against St. Louis and Phoenix, but as the Kings prepare for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against New Jersey, they are back to searching for more offense.
"I think we need to stick with it," Los Angeles captain Dustin Brown said. "Marty [Brodeur] is playing a pretty good series. He made some pretty big saves, especially in Games 4 and 5 for them. I think it's sticking with our system, making it harder on Marty.
"[On] our goal [Saturday] night, [it] was guys getting in the net. I don't think he really had a chance to see the shot. Those are the types of goals and chances."
The Kings have scored 10 goals in this series in five games, which is more like what the team was averaging in February when Carter was added from Columbus and Dwight King and Jordan Nolan arrived from the American Hockey League and were pushed into more prominent roles. Only eight of those goals have come in regulation, though the two overtime tallies have obviously been a huge factor in the series.
Los Angeles scored four times on Brodeur in Game 3, but that contest is an outlier to this point. The Kings have only one regulation goal in each of the other four games. While the power play has been better of late (three goals in the past three games), that means the team's scoring at even strength -- a staple of this postseason march -- is even worse in this series.
The play was more open, especially in the first two periods, of Game 5, but as Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter realized after doing his in-game interview with NBC, that didn't mean a tougher night for the goaltenders.
"I think I looked up at the clock after the interview. Geez, the shots were like 14-9. That was halfway through the game," Sutter said. "So when you say that, I was going, 'Man, there are not many opportunities or many chances really.' Both teams, it's been tough scoring. After the first two games they scored one goal. Now I'm sitting here saying after the last two games, we scored one goal a game. So you're pushing it a little bit. I mean, what's the score in the series now? Tells you how close it is. Total goals for and against, it's maybe 10-7, 10-6. We played five games. Pretty tight."
While the shot total wasn't high midway through Game 5 for the Kings, they did have chances to beat Brodeur. As the game wore on, the quantity and quality of those chances began to diminish as the Devils were able to effectively hold a one-goal lead despite the Kings maintaining more possession of the puck.
The key for the Kings is turning that possession into production. Los Angeles faced a similar quandary against the Phoenix Coyotes in the third round. The Devils don't sit back and try to protect their own end as much as the Coyotes did, but they did prove stout at helping Brodeur out in Game 5.
"I think it's a happy medium," Brown said of shooting more. "You don't want to be shooting the puck just to shoot the puck, because Brodeur is going to knock it down, maybe even move it. I think we need to shoot more, but I also think we need to be better at getting our shots through. They had quite a few blocked shots -- I'm not sure of the number -- but we had some Grade-A opportunities that got blocked. It's not an easy thing to get through, but we have to find a way."
Added Mike Richards: "[Brodeur] seems to be seeing a lot of pucks. That's our fault as forwards not getting to the net as much, shooting from a distance. There's things you can do better. We're going to look at that today, try to get better tomorrow. We have to make his life more difficult without taking penalties. There's a fine line there we have to walk with not getting in his way, not putting ourselves in positions where Marty can draw that penalty with what he does."
Luck has also played a role for both teams in this series. The Devils were inches away from a couple of goals in the first two games of the series, but the iron outline of the net behind goaltender Jonathan Quick helped save the Kings.
The same has happened in the past two games for Brodeur and the Devils -- Los Angeles players have heard the unwanted "ping" of pucks glancing off the posts or the crossbar more than they would like in these past two losses.
"I think it's a good thing. We're hitting posts, we're creating chances," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "Eventually, those are going to go in. Marty is playing well. We have to find ways, crashing the nets. It's not going to be the pretty ones that go in. It's going to be the dirty ones that win us the game."
Many of the same adages about scoring goals -- get pucks to the net, get bodies to the net, etc. -- apply here for Los Angeles. There was one tactical tweak Brown mentioned for the Kings, something for them to also focus on in Game 6 as they try for the third time to close out the Devils and capture the Cup.
"I think we're best coming through our neutral zone with short, hard plays," Brown said. "You could see us start to stretch out a little bit more. Against a team like Jersey, I mean, it's tough to stretch it out and get a forecheck just because of puck placement. If you get it behind the net, Marty is going to make a play. You saw our spacing deteriorate a little bit."
Added center Anze Kopitar: "Just stay a little more consistent -- I thought we had a pretty good [first] period [Saturday] night, but then we got away from it a little bit. That's probably the case when you do go down, you try to do a little extra stuff, you go away from your program. Just staying on the program, playing 60 minutes -- more than that if we need to."