Here we are; the hardest blog of the year to write. It was certainly a rollercoaster for the Kings this year, both in the regular season and in the playoffs. It’s always disappointing to lose, especially to a rival like the Sharks, but I must say I’m proud of the Kings’ effort. No one thought they would put up a decent fight for the Sharks, but I think if you asked San Jose and their fans they’d tell you the Kings put a scare into them. They were a never-say-die team that pushed their opponents hard. In the end it just wasn’t enough.
For the guys in the locker room, the story of this series will be that of 3 “almosts”. Three of the series contests went into extra periods and every single one went the Sharks way. Had the Kings beaten the Sharks to the punch in 2 of those games, they’d packing their gear for another matchup. However, in the playoffs, killer instinct is key and it’s something the Sharks had and the Kings did not.
It’s an outcome we might have predicted. The Kings had a ton of wins in the shootout in the regular season. Yet, without the skills competition to help them, they couldn’t lock up the extra-time wins. It’s only fitting that a team who couldn’t get it done in regulation would fail to do so in the playoffs as well. The Kings are very good at surviving, just not finishing.
I’m not going to sit here and say the Sharks only won because Kopitar was injured, but it’s undeniable that the complexion of this series would have been much different had the big Slovenian been on the ice. Kopitar was the Kings leading scorer, top line center, and was hearing his name in Selke conversations before he broke his ankle. Kopitar would have had a positive effect on both ends of the ice.
Regardless of Kopitar’s absence, there were too many defensive lapses in this series by the Kings. The little backdoor play that sealed the series for the Sharks? Go back and watch each game because the Sharks ran that play on the Kings about a dozen times. In fact, each of their 3 OT winners were on almost identical plays. (That’s a free scouting report for you, next team to play San Jose.) You can’t let a team with as many offensive weapons as the Sharks run and gun like that, especially without the adequate firepower on your side.
Just as predicted, special teams were a factor. The Kings penalty kill remained strong, but their power play was powerless. It was fitting the Kings would fail on a huge 5-minute power play to finish out the series. The Kings couldn’t even maintain the zone on the power play, let alone score (cough*I’m looking at you, Kompon*cough). Again, it was tough to lose Kopitar, since he often runs the man-advantage from the half wall, but even with him the power play stunk all season. If you can’t win the special teams battle in the playoffs, you’ve got an uphill battle.
If you’re looking for a series goat, go ahead and cast your votes (and stones) at Dustin Penner. Penner was brought in to be that top-line scoring winger, but he fizzled out as the season ended, then flamed out in the playoffs. By the last game he was knocked down to the 4th line, and although he received some top line minutes in game 6, it seemed more of a prayer than a promotion. It’s frustrating because Penner has all of the tools at his disposal; size, skill, and strength. Yet he doesn’t have that fire in his belly. Maybe it was an injustice to him to win a Cup so young. Maybe if he was still struggling to reach the top he would have the fight in him. It’s something the Kings will have to address this summer. They may have the top-line left-wing on the roster, but is he the guy you want out there when it’s all on the line?
If you’re looking for heroes, there are surprisingly many on this losing squad. Quick was shelled night in, night out but he stood strong. Even in the Kings epic collapse in game 3, Quick could hardly be blamed for the defensive lapses that led to goals. He deserved a better fate.
Drew Doughty was another likely hero. He needed to be the Kings leader from the blue line, and despite one or two defensive lapses, including an embarrassing hip-check attempt on off-ice buddy Logan Couture, Doughty was solid.
However, my vote for Kings Playoff MVP is a 3-way tie between Clifford, Richardson, and Simmonds. Those guys wanted it bad. Nearly half of the Kings goals came from this line. When this team seemed down and out, they could put these three guys on the ice and were guaranteed a good shift. Playoff teams need a group of grinders like this to win game and the Kings got just that. They just didn’t have the top tier support they needed.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when your club can’t win a home playoff game. However, the positives going into the summer outweigh the negatives.
You’ve got a team to be proud of, Kings fans.
Stay tuned for more. Go Kings.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney