VANCOUVER – The Vancouver Canucks are paying a high price for penalties in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Los Angeles Kings have scored only once at even strength against the Canucks but find themselves with a split of two 3-2 overtime games as their series resumes Monday.
“We’re taking too many penalties and that’s what is giving us trouble,” said Sami Salo, who has missed concussion-plagued partner Willie Mitchell on Vancouver?s shutdown defence pairing.
“You want to be intensive and finish your checks but you have to be more disciplined.”
Of the Kings’ five goals, four have come on nine power play opportunities.
“Obviously, their special teams have been better than ours so far, so we’ll see if we can’t rectify that for the next game,” a terse Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said before the team flew to California.
Los Angeles didn’t score at even strength until Wayne Simmonds converted Anze Kopitar’s pass to tie Saturday’s game 2-2 at 11:33 of the second period.
That’s 110 minutes 25 seconds after the opening face-off of the Western Conference quarter-final.
Kopitar also scored the overtime winner Saturday night ? on the power play.
Penalties can cost momentum-killing goals, but they also have a ripple effect. Line combinations are broken up to defend man-advantage situations.
“Even when you kill them off, it does take the flow away,” said defenceman Shane O’Brien. “Some guys miss shifts and the momentum you have is gone, you kind of lose it. Our team is at its best when we have four lines and six (defencemen) and are coming in waves.
“I don’t think our penalty kill is that far off but the numbers don’t lie.”
Second-line centre Ryan Kesler, who scored 25 regular-season goals, spent more than seven of his 25 minutes of ice time on the penalty kill. Alex Burrows, who led Vancouver with 35 goals, had five minutes of penalty-killing duty.
“We know we can control the tempo and the game if we can get our guys on the ice regularly,” Kyle Wellwood said.
Many fingers have been pointed at Vancouver defenceman Andrew Alberts, picked up from Carolina for depth at the trade deadline and pressed into service by injuries.
Both Kings goals in Thursday?s opening game came while he was penalized. One call was a boarding major and game misconduct which left Vancouver with only five blue-liners for the rest of the game.
Alberts, who was defended by Vigneault on Thursday, took three of Vancouver?s seven minors Saturday.
With Aaron Rome getting healthier and skating on his own Sunday before going to the airport, Alberts? continued presence in the lineup is uncertain.
“His penalties weren’t very good and we’ll see what happens next game,” Vigneault said after Saturday?s loss.
In addition to going home with a new-look top line, the Kings feel they have the momentum in the series after erasing a two-goal deficit on Saturday.
“We have to keep it going the way we played this game,” said Simmonds.
The 21-year-old Toronto native was promoted from the fourth line to play with Kopitar and Ryan Smyth when coach Terry Murray scratched Justin Williams, who has struggled since returning from a broken leg.
“It’s huge we had a split in the other team’s city,” said Simmonds. “We get to go home to our fans who haven’t seen a playoff game in eight years. We are rewarding them.”
It appears Murray, who called the benching of Williams drastic, will continue to reward the slender six-foot-two Simmonds with first-line ice time.
“He was twice the player he was in Game 1,” Murray said. “Skating … he’s on the puck … he plays heavier, plays grittier. He just was more aware of what was going on.”
Kopitar who had career highs of 34 goals and 81 points to lead the Kings, said Simmonds was a nice fit.
“He was winning all the one-on-one battles, which is great for me,” said Kopitar. “It allows me to get in and hold on to the puck a little more, he can make plays, he can score goals too.”
Defenceman Drew Doughty, a rising star who set up Kopitar’s game-winner, should also see more action after Murray bumped him to nearly 33 minutes on Saturday from 22 in Game 1.
“We have a premier young player here that the more he plays, the better he gets,” Murray said of Doughty, who teamed with veteran Rob Scuderi to shut down Vancouver’s first line of Burrows and twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin on Saturday.
“I believe he should be playing 30 minutes a night every night. Elite players do that and they find a way to get the job done.”
NOTES: Saturday’s win was the seventh consecutive overtime game for the Kings, dating back to the regular season. … Their last regulation win was an 8-3 drubbing of the Canucks on April 1 in Los Angeles. … The fourth game of the series goes Wednesday before the teams return to Vancouver for Friday?s Game 5.