LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 14: Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings checks James Sheppard #15 of the San Jose Sharks in the first period of Game One of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Staples Center on May 14, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
The Los Angeles Kings may have dropped a tough 2-1 decision on Sunday night to the San Jose Sharks, but the team still has plenty of reasons for optimism as they head home for Game 7 Tuesday, which is the first home Game 7 that the Kings will have played in 24 years.
First among those reasons for hope is that the team’s defense has been progressively getting better at shutting down the Sharks’ offensive attack throughout the series. Yes, goaltender Jonathan Quick still has a lot to do with that, since he has only allowed nine goals in six games to the Sharks, but the defense as a whole is improving too, only allowing an average of 25 shots per contest in the last three games. That comes after they gave up 40 shots in Game 3, and allowed over 30 in the first two games of the series at the Staples Center.
In addition, the Kings will also be playing in a building that has been increasingly kind to them in the recent past. Contrasted to last year, when the Kings used a stellar series of performances in road games to win the Stanley Cup, this year’s team has won 13 games in a row on home ice, dating back to late March.
A big reason for that has been the improved play of their penalty killers at home. In these playoffs, the Kings have only allowed one power play goal in 17 attempts, and when one considers that the Sharks were coming into this series having scored six times on the man advantage in their final two games against the Vancouver Canucks, the feat becomes even more remarkable.
Even amidst all that positivity, however, there are still a few things that the Kings need to work on. Game 6 on Sunday was a fairly evenly played game, but the Kings didn’t look like they were in sync as the offense tried to pull the team back into the contest, and they only managed eight shots in the third period. Most of those shots also came from the low percentage areas of the ice, and the Kings also weren’t able to get a lot of quality traffic in front of San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi.
The Kings also struggled mightily in the faceoff dot in the game, with Anze Kopitar and Trevor Lewis both losing 11 draws apiece in the game (although Kopitar did recover enough from his early woes to win 10 in the game). Against a team like the Sharks whose whole game is predicated on getting control of the puck and keeping it for extended stretches, losing faceoffs can be a killer, and the Kings have to do better work in the dot to prevent that from happening.
Ultimately though, the arrows are pointing in the right direction for the Kings in the key defensive areas of the game, and if they can put up a similar effort to the ones that they have gotten in the past three games, then they will have a very good chance at winning Game 7.