Justin Williams scored late in the third period to send the Los Angeles Kings to overtime on Tuesday night, but when Jonathan Quick turned over the puck behind his net and allowed Alex Steen to score, the St. Louis Blues grabbed a 2-1 overtime victory, and a 1-0 series lead.
With the Blues holding serve on home ice, there were five takeaways that Kings fans should have from Game 1 of the series, and should keep in mind as the team prepares for Game 2 on Thursday night.
Improved Discipline a Must
When the playoffs roll around, the one thing that coaches and hockey pundits agree upon is that not committing penalties is a crucial component to a team’s success. It stands to reason that in a sport where success and failure is often determined by who can avoid making mistakes, avoiding infractions is a simple place to start.
The Kings, however, didn’t heed that conventional wisdom. For the game, the team committed six different penalties, and ultimately gave up a power play goal to the Blues in the first period that ended up setting the tone for a good chunk of the hockey game. Yes, Williams did score late in the third period to tie things up, but the too many men penalty, one of the most avoidable in the league, nearly cost his team the game because of the boost the power play tally gave to St. Louis.
Can Someone Stop Alex Steen?
The Blues aren’t exactly a team that is loaded for bear with offensive talent. Chris Stewart and David Backes are both solid forwards in the scoring department, and Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk provide production from the back end, but there really isn’t anyone on paper that jumps out and says “pay attention to me.”
Steen, in this game at least, was just that sort of attention seeker. His power play goal in the first was a great example of a guy positioning himself well for a rebound, but his aggressive puck attacking offensive style really helped the Blues set the tone for a good chunk of the hockey game. He ended up with five shots and missed four more, but if the Kings can’t find a way to slow down players like Steen and TJ Oshie, then the physical slugfest that the series was advertised as may never come to fruition.
Could Quick’s Puck Handling Be an Issue?
Announcers frequently say that a goaltender “wants that goal back,” but the hackneyed phrase has never been more appropriate than in the case of Quick’s mishandling of the puck behind the net on St. Louis’ winning goal. On the play, Quick was trying to figure out which direction to pass the puck, and when Steen skated behind the net, Quick panicked and shot the puck straight off the boards, losing the biscuit and allowing Steen to pot an easy wraparound for the victory.
It wasn’t the only time that Quick mishandled the puck, as he did it a few other times in the game, notably six minutes into the game on a play that nearly resulted in another goal. Head coach Darryl Sutter likely had a nice chat with Quick after the game about getting rid of the puck faster, and as long as he does that, this shouldn’t be an area of concern moving forward. If he continues to try to do too much with the puck, then the Kings could be in for some more cheap goals.
Despite Error, Quick Still in Command of His Game
Kings fans wondering whether or not Quick would be able to find the form that he displayed in last year’s playoffs had to be cheered with his performance last night. Yes, the Kings were badly outshot in the game, but that only tells half the story. The shots that Quick faced were not one and done deals, with the Kings seemingly unable to clear the front of the net, and despite all of those quality chances, Quick stood tall and did a great job of controlling rebounds in the crease.
The Blues are a team that applies a lot of pressure to the front of the net, and Quick did a great job of fighting through screens and getting good angles on the puck throughout the contest. Without his talent at doing so, Los Angeles would never have been in a position to tie things up.
It All Starts With Faceoffs
The strength of the Kings in last year’s playoffs, besides Quick, was their ability up the middle at the center position. Guys like Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards are both solid two way players, capable of facilitating the offense, playing sound defense, and also winning faceoffs to help their team gain possession of the puck.
On Tuesday night, the Kings struggled in the latter department. Despite having three centers above 50% success rate during the regular season (Jarret Stoll, Kopitar, Jeff Carter), the Kings were outdrawn 44-25 in the contest. Kopitar only won eight of the 22 faceoffs that he took, and Carter was even worse, going 0-for-6 in the circle. The only saving grace was Richards, who went 11-for-22.
Simply put, there is a reason that the Blues looked like the dominant team offensively last night. Not only were they able to force turnovers with their bludgeoning physicality, but they also got possession of the puck off the draws so often that the Kings were forced to play back on their heels. Los Angeles has to do better in that area if they have any hope of turning things around in Game 2.