The Los Angeles Kings are in a familiar spot on Tuesday night, as they attempt to dig out of a 2-0 hole in their series with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Complicating their task is the news that center Mike Richards will miss his second straight game with an upper body injury suffered at the hands of Hawks center Dave Bolland, who hit Richards in the late stages of Saturday’s Game 1 loss.
With Richards on the shelf, the Kings are going to need several things to go their way if they are going to be able to keep afloat in the series:
Anze Kopitar Needs to Step Up
In the first two games of the series, the Kings haven’t been getting much production out of arguably their best forward. Kopitar has only three shots on goal in those games, zero points, and a losing record in the faceoff circle.
To combat this, Kings head coach Darryl Sutter is going to load up his top line with familiar faces for Kopitar, with Justin Williams and Dustin Brown taking up the winger positions. Brown and Kopitar were aces in the 2012 playoffs for the Kings, and Williams has been really stepping up his game as of late, with two goals in Game 7 of their series with the San Jose Sharks and another one in Game 1 of this series.
With that kind of firepower backing him up, the benefit of last change as the home team, and with Richards out of the lineup, the Kings need Kopitar to produce, and to do so quickly.
Jonathan Quick Needs to Show Resiliency
Quick has been stellar all postseason long for the Kings (with the exception of a couple of bad decisions and weak goals allowed early in the series against the St. Louis Blues), but he came unhinged a bit on Sunday night in Chicago.
Quick allowed four goals on 21 shots against the Blackhawks, and was pulled from the game at about the halfway mark of the second period. Jonathan Bernier did a great job in relief, but Quick’s play was definitely not up to par with what fans have come to expect from him.
Granted, the Kings’ defense wasn’t exactly helping him out much, and credit has to be given to the Hawks for getting to the dirty areas of the ice to pounce on rebounds, but Quick did allow a weak goal to Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook, and looked just a touch slow in his lateral movements in the crease.
He is going to need to forget all about that game when he hits the ice at Staples Center Tuesday, because if it’s still on his mind, then things might turn ugly quickly (no pun intended) for the defending champions.
Pressure the Blackhawks Early and Often
When the Blackhawks went up to Joe Louis Arena for Games 3 and 4 against the Detroit Red Wings, they only managed to score one goal in two games. The reason for that was both a combination of poor execution by Chicago, but mostly because the Red Wings gunked up the neutral zone and didn’t allow the Hawks to get their transition game flowing.
The results of those two games speak loudly to what the Kings need to execute in order to keep the Hawks in check in Game 3. They have plenty of big bodied guys who can prevent the Hawks from getting off clean stretch passes to open up the ice, and they also have several forwards who are great at backchecking (Kopitar) and executing physically (Brown, Dwight King), and those guys will come in handy in terms of pressuring the Hawks’ offense into mistakes.
This task won’t be as easy as it was to turn things around against the Blues in round one, but if the Kings can execute these three elements of their game plan, then they could very well make this an interesting series yet.