There’s a reason why people like Darryl Sutter is a coach in the NHL and your trusty correspondent is not. After Game 3 of the first-round series between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks, I suggested that the Kings start Martin Jones over an ineffective and surprisingly porous Jonathan Quick.
Good thing the Kings didn’t agree. For the first time in the series, the Jonathan Quick we’ve all come to know and admire finally showed up. And the best thing about it from a Kings perspective was he had a lot of company.
After giving up 16 goals in the first three games of the series, Quick was simply brilliant, stopping 36 of 39 San Jose shots and a bunch of 10-Bell opportunities in the Kings 6-3 win over the Sharks in Game 4. Despite the score, there was plenty of pushback from the Sharks in the third period, but Quick would have none of it. In a playoff series in which nine two-goal leads have been snuffed out, Quick locked down the Kings first win of the playoffs by locking things down.
It also helped that the Kings team that earned 100 points this season finally joined the proceedings. Kings captain Dustin Brown was moved to the right side of the top line with Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik and responded with by far his best game of the series with a goal and an assist and his usual physical play. Justin Williams, who was moved down to the third line, responded with two goals and Gaborik, who has been quiet through much of this series, also responded with two goals.
The Kings stayed alive with their inspired play and backed by their excellent goaltending, but the challenge against this Sharks team remains daunting. The Sharks are infinitely faster than this Kings team and refuses to be physically intimidated by Los Angeles. Their power play has been lethal and in a series as physical as this one with the potential for penalties, that will be a factor. Things got ugly between the two teams late in Game 4 and more of the same is expected the rest of the way.
Perhaps the Kings have planted a small seed of doubt in the Sharks minds, but these are not your father’s Sharks. Their days of being a fragile group in the playoffs is long behind them. But if the Kings and their goaltender can come up with a couple more efforts similar to the one they displayed Thursday night, this series might just get interesting again.
AVS IN TROUBLE You don’t have to be named Corsi or Fenwick, or even be familiar with them, to know the Colorado Avalanche are playing with fire and trending downward in these playoffs. The Avs defied analytics all season by winning games with opportunistic scoring and arguably the best goaltending in the league, but have been thoroughly outplayed in Games 3 and 4 by the Minnesota Wild.
The Avs did not hit double digits in shots in any one of the three periods in a 2-1 loss in Game 4 Thursday night and barely broke double digits overall with just 12 shots. Meanwhile, they gave up 32, their fourth straight game of giving up 30-plus shots. The Avs have been outshot in every game in the series and have surrendered an average of more than 35 shots in the first round.
Those who subscribe to analytics are probably not terribly surprised by this development. But if the Avalanche don’t start generating more scoring chances and limiting those for the Wild, they could be in for a very large and unwelcomed surprise over the course of the next couple of games.