The knock on the Kings before Terry Murray got canned, and even for a little while after, is that they won either 2-1 or 1-0, or didn't win at all.
Back in December, Jonathan Quick was the only reason Los Angeles wasn't in the Western Conference's basement, and he was certainly the reason they got into the playoffs at all. On Jan. 1, they had conceded just 86 goals, good for fifth-best in the league, and scored a paltry 85 in 38 games, good for 30th.
All that changed once Darryl Sutter took over and bullied the team into playing his brand of hockey. The nightmares of ineffectual attacks and heavy reliance on defense faded further into the mists of memory once the team swapped Jack Johnson and a first-round pick for Jeff Carter.
Sure, the Kings still finished 29th in the league in goals for, ahead of only the Wild, but to score 194 when you were on pace for about 175 is at least respectable. That trend continued through the first two and a half series of these playoffs, with the Kings pumping opposing goaltenders for 35 goals in 11 games, close to 3.2 per game.
But now, even as the Kings look incredibly likely to win their first-ever Stanley Cup, casting aside the doubters who said Carter and running buddy Mike Richards couldn't be part of a winning team, are those same old pre-Sutter problems creeping back?
The facts are these: Kings have only scored four goals in these first two Stanley Cup Final games, twice requiring overtime to dispatch the host Devils. Now that, of course, comes with the caveat that they have indeed twice dispatched the Eastern Conference Champions on their home ice and need to win just two of the next five games to win a title that has eluded the franchise since 1967. But nonetheless, it could be a problem.
(Coming Up: Tim Thomas quits on Facebook; life after Lidstrom; the James Wisniewski UFA blueprint; the Rangers and Alex Radulov; Jets to move Enstrom?; Erik Karlsson deal might wait for CBA; the Justin Schultz Derby; Sven Baertschi on Hartley; Luongo and the Leafs; are the Devils done?; and one more look at that Drew Doughty goal.)
If Marty Brodeur has just one or two strong games, or Quick has a misstep in that time, or both, things might get uncomfortable in a hurry.
And this isn't really a new problem for the team either. They've scored only 10 goals in their last five games, going to OT in the last three, and playing very much on the razor's edge. Fortunately, Quick has allowed just eight in those games, all but nullifying the chances the team would lose more than once in that time, but at the same time, they can't be too comfortable with how things have played out in attack.
The forecheck has been predictably relentless, as has the transition. In fact, in the five games in which the goal scoring has dried up, the Kings have outshot their opponents 172-131 (an average of 34.4-26.2), even as their shooting percentage plummeted to just 5.8 percent.
But just as it was before Sutter took over, and especially before the Carter acquisition, Quick and the defense have kept the team afloat, nearly keeping the opponents to the same diminutive shooting percentage (6.1 percent).
The reason they've seemingly been able to keep the Devils at an arm's length and establish this pivotal two-game lead, and made the games look hilariously one-sided while doing so, even as they remained tied for much of the elapsed time was that the defense has been able to effectively keep New Jersey at bay for no more than a handful of scoring chances on defense, which has certainly helped to make Quick's job easier. The only two shots to beat him in this Cup Final, in fact, were a double deflection that ended up going into the net off his own guy in Game 1, and a tip to the far side of the net — while he was screened — in Game 2.
That's why, regardless of what happens in the remaining games, however many there are, any argument over the Conn Smythe that doesn't have to do with whether Quick should win it unanimously seems laughable. Certainly, no one else is really holding up their end of the bargain at the other end of the ice.
It seems fitting, though, that the Kings will end this season as they began it: With Quick bailing out a punchless offense at every available opportunity.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: In what is probably the final Ducks-related update on Justin Schultz, he's now almost certainly not going to sign there. Might Vancouver be in the mix to sign him instead?
crazy economic conspiracy theories on his Facebook? At this point there isn't a thing you could tell me about his beliefs that I wouldn't believe. I'm worried there's something legitimately wrong with the guy. Either that or he's screwing with us masterfully. Oh, and here he is confirming that he won't play hockey next season. It's the plug for whatever that thing is that really sells it.
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres have officially passed on signing three of their 2010 draft picks, and all three will be able to re-enter the draft in June. Fun fact: Both Dennis Wideman and Mike Zigomanis were once drafted by Buffalo and received this same treatment.
Calgary Flames: Sven Baertschi, whose career will be fostered by Bob Hartley for the next few seasons at least, on the new coaching hire: "From the interview [on the Flames' official site], he seems like a great guy." Cool!
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes continued their quest to sign every Sutter imaginable, locking up Brody, son of Duane, whom they drafted in the seventh round last year, and who posted 30-30-60 for Lethbridge.
Chicago Blackhawks: Late last week, the Blackhawks signed former second-round pick Adam Clendening out of Boston University. He'll carry a cap hit of $742,500 if he makes the big club, but I wouldn't count on that just yet.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avs still want to re-sign David Jones, and preliminary discussions are now under way. Jones wants to return as well. But what do you pay a guy whose goal production dropped almost 26 percent in a contract year?
Columbus Blue Jackets: Might the Blue Jackets' acquisition of negotiating rights to James Wisniewski serve as a blueprint for those pursuing Ryan Suter or Zach Parise? Perhaps. For those other teams' sakes though, maybe they hope for a better season outta their guy, eh?
Dallas Stars: The Dallas Stars typically have their training camp in Boise, Idaho, but will instead almost certainly try to hold it in various parts of Texas starting next season. Well that just makes a lot more sense, doesn't it?
Edmonton Oilers: "Oilers have to seriously consider Murray for No. 1 pick." No, they have to seriously consider trading down and getting him at No. 2 or 3 instead of wasting the No. 1 pick on a kid who doesn't have No. 1 pick talent.
Florida Panthers: Hockey's Future says the Panthers have the best prospect pool in the NHL. That would be cool except the kids have a ton of mediocre overpaid players blocking their path to a spot with the big club.
Minnesota Wild: The Wild signed 2010 draft pick Johan Gustafsson to a three-year deal but it looks like he'll probably stay in Sweden for at least a little while, and could be one of the three Minnesota goaltending prospects who gets shipped elsewhere. The answers to these questions will become a lot clearer once Niklas Backstrom's contract expires at the end of next season.
Montreal Canadiens: Raphael Diaz, a restricted free agent, hopes to be with the Canadiens next season and that's notable because the picture in the linked article has him standing next to a giant pineapple.
Nashville Predators: Ryan Suter's initial discussions with his current team went very well, presumably because he didn't laugh out loud when David Poile talked about their plans for having him on the team for the next decade.
New Jersey Devils: Lost in the whole "The team is in the Stanley Cup Final" thing is the fact that the Devils have an $80 million loan payment due in the offseason. The team has already 3.500 more season tickets in the last two seasons so that's like half of the $80 million easily right there I'm pretty sure.
New York Islanders: The Isles signed AHLer Blair Riley to a two-way deal and would be at 39 of their 50 possible organizational contracts if they re-sign all their RFAs, which they won't. Perfect opportunity to acquire Tim Thomas' ghost of a $5 million cap hit, with no actual money paid out, and stay below the salary floor for another season.
Are the Rangers targeting Alex Radulov? If it's true, what are the odds John Tortorella tries to choke him 10 games into next season?
Ottawa Senators: Are the Sens waiting on a new CBA to strike a deal with Erik Karlsson? Yeah probably. After all, gotta figure out the best way to circumvent that new cap when you give him a billion dollars.
Philadelphia Flyers: Guys the Flyers might turn to for blue line help in the short term include Mark Streit (who plays in the same division and would never get traded there), Ryan Whitney (who is overpaid and injured constantly), Lubomir Visnovsky (who is 36 and went from 18 goals two seasons ago to six this year), and Alex Edler (who is not going to be available).
Phoenix Coyotes: Don Maloney plans to talk with Greg Jamison, who still might become the team's owner for some reason, probably about that whole "hey can we re-sign anyone or what here?" thing that's gotta be hanging over his head.
Pittsburgh Penguins: In this final rush to sign 2010-drafted junior players, the Pens gave prospect Dominik Uher a three-year deal. Uher scored more than a point per game in the WHL as a 19-year-old and was also a black ace for the Baby Pens in their Calder Cup playoff appearance. Okay!
San Jose Sharks: The Sharks have expressed an interest in acquiring Rick Nash but y'know, what do they have to give up that a) they'd be willing to move, and b) Columbus would actually want?
St. Louis Blues: Lost in the hullaballoo of the team signing Vladimir Tarasenko, they also locked up 2011 second-rounder Ty Rattie, who was a monster in the WHL last season with 121 points. Yeah, they have decent young depth I guess.
Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts' AHL affiliate Norfolk Admirals look pretty well poised to win the Calder Cup soon, having taken the first two games at home from the Toronto Marlies. Norfolk hasn't trailed for a second in the two games, outscoring Toronto 7-3.
Vancouver Canucks: In which Daniel and Henrik Sedin once again prove to be extremely good guys.
Washington Capitals: Mike Knuble and Matt Hendricks recently joined the You Can Play Project, which is pretty awesome.
Winnipeg Jets: Might the Jets consider trading Toby Enstrom? Maybe, if they don't want to pay him the raise he'll almost certainly get when his contract expires at the end of next season. They might entertain a traded for a forward, but let's not forget Enstrom put up 50-point seasons two years in a row, and would likely cost whatever team wanted to acquire him an awful lot. Wouldn't his six-goal, 32-point campaign this year give suitors pause?
Gold Star Award
Minus of the Weekend
Play of the Weekend
Like it was gonna be anything else.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week
User "Chukcha" wants to shake it up.
1st or 2nd
Y-y-y-y-yes you do.
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