If there has been one consistent feature of the first four games of the series between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, it’s that neither team has played a game in which they have completely dominated all 60 minutes of regulation play.
When looking at series between two teams with similar records, that isn’t that surprising, but what is surprising is that each team has dominated for spurts of play in all four games.
For example, the Sharks dominated the third period of Game 1 of the series, outshooting the Kings 16-4 and giving themselves several opportunities to tie the contest, but Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick was able to shut them completely down. The first period of Game 2 continued that trend, with the Sharks outshooting their opponents 11-4.
The Kings responded with an 18 shot outburst in the third period of that game, where they came from behind in the closing seconds by scoring two power play goals in 22 seconds.
The Sharks had another great period in the second frame of Game 3, outshooting the Kings 14-7. That dominance carried over into Tuesday’s Game 4, where the Sharks blistered the Kings in shots 15-3 in the first period. The Kings came back at them in the third by holding San Jose to only two shots, but were unable to overcome the Sharks and, as a result, the series is tied at two games apiece heading into Thursday’s Game 5 in Los Angeles.
So what does this inability to keep a leash on the tempo of their games mean for the Kings?
Obviously, they are still tied in the series, thus fulfilling the “the series doesn’t begin until the home team loses” maxim, but the numbers don’t paint a pretty picture for the team’s chances against the high flying Sharks. The Kings are currently ranked dead last among playoff teams in shots per game, with only 25 per contest. That is nearly five shots fewer than the 13th place Detroit Red Wings, who have the next-lowest average among teams still alive in the postseason.
In addition to that, the Kings have been allowing 30.6 shots per game, which is actually the second best average among remaining teams (behind only the Chicago Blackhawks), but is still fairly high considering that they only allowed 25 shots per game during the regular season, good for third in the league.
This hasn’t been isolated to this series either. In the six games the Kings played against the St. Louis Blues in the first round, it often seemed that St. Louis was the team pushing the tempo more and forcing the Kings to play back on their heels. Yes, the Kings won the final four games of that series and advanced, but anyone who would argue that they were blatantly the better team would be exaggerating what really took place.
The playoffs are all about exploiting mistakes and getting solid goaltending, and that’s why the Kings are where they are. As true as that is, however, they are going to need to do a better job of preventing teams like the Sharks from completely dominating the play for 20 and 40 minute stretches if they are serious about repeating as Stanley Cup champions, because as good as Quick is, no one can be reasonably expected to hold down the fort consistently during the barrages that the Kings are allowing to be volleyed his way.