EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – Darryl Sutter coached the Los Angeles Kings in two late-season games against the St. Louis Blues after his midseason arrival. St. Louis won the first meeting 1-0, and the Kings won the second game 1-0 in a shootout after 65 minutes of scoreless hockey.
When the clubs meet in the second round of the NHL playoffs starting this weekend, Sutter won’t be surprised if they produce a few more final scores that can be expressed in binary code.
“They were pretty hard games, both of them,” Sutter said Tuesday after practice. “They’re not going to have shootouts in this series, though. The (second) one, we’d still be playing. Somebody is going to win 1-0.”
Two of the NHL’s top defensive teams and at least two dominant goalies will face off in the series, with All-Stars Jonathan Quick and Brian Elliott expected to star. Although both teams produced big offensive performances on occasion, both have thrived in close, tight-checking games.
Sutter thought his nephew might have said it best two days ago, telling his uncle he might be coaching in “the lowest-scoring series of all time.”
That’s exactly what the Kings are preparing to face in their first second-round playoff series in 11 years.
While the Blues aren’t exactly an offensive powerhouse, Los Angeles is easily the lowest-scoring team to make the playoffs. The Kings spent most of the season with the NHL’s most inept offence, relying heavily on Quick and an improving defence to make up for weeks of offensive struggles.
“You have to expect anything when you get out on the ice, but you’d expect it to be a tighter, closer-checking kind of physical series,” Quick said. “You look in the past and you’ve seen series go the other way … but they’re a really good defensive team.”
The Kings’ 194 regular-season goals were easily the fewest among the NHL’s 16 playoff teams. They scored 16 fewer goals than St. Louis, while only lottery-bound Minnesota’s pathetic offence scored fewer goals (177) in the entire league.
Indeed, Los Angeles was the league’s lowest-scoring team before power forward Jeff Carter arrived in a late-February deadline trade with Columbus. Although Carter scored just six goals in 16 games and missed five late-season games with an injury, his arrival balanced out the Kings’ offence, allowing Sutter to play several forwards in more natural positions with better line combinations.
“During the times when we weren’t scoring, we did a good job of making up for it on defence,” said captain Dustin Brown, who scored four goals in five first-round games against Vancouver. “We made a lot of adjustments late in the season and got some momentum back on offence, and I hope we’re carrying that into the playoffs.”
After scoring just 129 goals in their 61 games before Carter’s arrival, the Kings scored 65 more goals in the final 21 games, climbing out of last place in the league in scoring and squeaking into the playoffs right before their 81st game.
Los Angeles’ offensive woes cost coach Terry Murray his job in December. The Kings were averaging an NHL-worst 2.24 goals per game at that point, and they won just two games by more than a two-goal margin before New Year’s Eve.
But while Sutter’s arrival eventually resulted in better offence, the Kings credit Murray and his assistants for building the defensive foundation that prevented them from falling hopelessly out of the playoff race.
The Kings allowed just eight goals in five games against powerful Vancouver and its fluid offence, largely controlling the Canucks’ vaunted power play and getting stellar play from Quick.
The goalie expects the same in a series featuring two teams that didn’t have a 30-goal scorer this season.
“They’re a bit of a different team than Vancouver was,” Quick said. “But the things we did to win that series are the same things we did to get here … and they’re the same things we need to do in this series coming up.”