Despite holding a 1-0 lead after two periods on Thursday night, the Los Angeles Kings coughed up two third-period goals, including one to Barrett Jackman with less than a minute remaining, and fell to the St. Louis Blues 2-1.
Just like that, the defending Stanley Cup champions find themselves in a 2-0 hole as the series shifts to the Staples Center this weekend.
The question, then, is what has gone wrong for a team that was picked by some to be the first repeat Cup champion in 15 years?
The answer to this query is not goaltender Jonathan Quick, contrary to what some Kings fans and observers seem to think.
Quick has done a great job of keeping the Kings in the first two games of this series, as their offense has struggled to get anything going against a physical Blues team. He made 40 saves in the first game, and yet instead of his excellent performance being the story, it was the puck he coughed up behind the net that led to the game winner which stole the headlines.
Tuesday night will undoubtedly bring the same phenomenon, as Quick himself admitted after the game that he should have saved the shot that Jackman unleashed in the closing seconds of the game. Whether or not that is just the feeling of a prideful goalie or a legitimate observation can be debated, but it once again can be argued that without Quick’s 23 save performance, the Kings wouldn’t have even been in position to win the game.
What should be of bigger concern to Kings fans should be the play of their offense over the course of the first two games.
In Game 1, it took forever for LA to actually get into their offensive rhythm, with the Blues harassing them at every turn. In Game 2, it seemed like a corner had finally been turned, with great netfront presence and more precise passing being the orders of the day.
The goal the Kings scored was a thing of beauty, with Anze Kopitar winning an offensive zone faceoff, Mike Richards taking the puck and firing it toward the net, and Dustin Brown crashing the net and getting a deflection for the goal. It was the kind of hockey play that coaches often opine about in postgame pressers, and the Kings executed it to perfection.
After that goal, however, the offense seemed to revert back to their Game 1 malaise. The third period was especially bad, with the Kings only managing six shots despite being tied for nearly 17 minutes of the frame.
That number becomes even more problematic when one considers that the Kings didn’t even get their first shot on goal until nearly nine minutes into the period, and then didn’t get their second until three minutes later. Two shots in 12 minutes when the game is tied simply isn’t going to cut it, and no amount of goal crease acrobatics from Quick is going to be enough to win a game in those circumstances.
Needless to say, if the Kings repeat Game 2’s third period performance, then the Blues will have a great chance to put this series away on Saturday.