While home-ice advantage is generally a big factor in playoff series, the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks are turning that long-held bit of hockey wisdom on its ear.
In the first four games of the series, neither team has won on home ice, and with the series shifting back to Honda Center on Monday night, there’s no way of knowing whether that trend will continue, or if the Ducks will end up taking advantage of being on home ice as they try to grab control of the series.
For the Kings, there are plenty of factors that have contributed to their recent struggles against the Ducks, but one of the most glaring has been the play of defenseman Drew Doughty. Normally one of the key cogs in the team’s offense, Doughty had a great series against the San Jose Sharks in the first round. He picked up a goal and six assists in the series, and in the Kings’ epic comeback performance, he scored a goal and added three assists over the final four games.
In Game 1 against the Ducks, Doughty was largely held in check by Anaheim throughout the game, but he stepped up offensively when he was needed the most. It was Doughty that won the critical puck battle along the boards that set up Anze Kopitar to make the game-winning pass, finding Marian Gaborik near the net for the goal that put Los Angeles up 1-0 in the Freeway Face-Off.
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After that assist however, Doughty’s production has dried up in these playoffs. Over the past three games, Doughty has zero points, just two shots on goal, and is carrying an even plus-minus rating in those contests. He has still been averaging a good amount of ice time per game, having played 25 minutes or more in all three games, but his offensive struggles have coincided with a power outage for the Kings in that regard as they scored only two goals in two home games at Staples Center.
So far in the playoffs, the Kings are 4-2 when Doughty picks up at least a point in a game, but they are 2-3 when he is held off the scoresheet. Obviously it’s a very small sample size to draw from, but it isn’t a stretch to say that the Kings are better off when the defenseman is engaged in the offensive gameplan. He is one of the team’s primary puck movers as they try to make their way through the neutral zone, and his speed keeps teams off-balance as he approaches the blue line. That uncertainty of how to defend him makes him a valuable asset, and Doughty needs to regain that confidence if the Kings are going to bounce back in this series.
It’s not going to be easy to get Doughty favorable matchups, with the Ducks having the benefit of last line change as the home team on Monday night, but if Darryl Sutter gets an opening to deploy Doughty against weak defensive forwards, he has to take advantage in order for the Kings’ offense to get clicking again.