In Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals last year New Jersey's Steve Bernier was called for a five minute major and given a game misconduct when he boarded Rob Scuderi. Despite a dismal track record on extra man opportunities, the Kings blew the game open when Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, and Trevor Lewis all found the back of the net. The lead was too significant and the Kings won the Stanley Cup after finishing off the Devils, 6-1. Penalties can change the course of a game as quickly as they occur.
In a short but young season where the drama is back on the ice instead of conference rooms the Kings have a problem. After three games (0-2-1) the Kings inability to capitalize on extra man opportunities has become significant. The Kings were 0/5 against the Blackhawks, 0/6 against the Avalanche, and 0/8 against the Oilers. With a success rate of exactly zero the Kings have the worst percentage in the league (the Bruins are second-last going 1/17).
The timing of the opposing team's penalties have been fortunate: against Chicago conversions would have brought them back from an early deficit, up 1-0 against Colorado the opporutnities could have given them breathing room, and with the Oilers, well, the entire game was an opportunity. Nevertheless, the Kings have an opportunity today when they travel to Phoenix against a team that has given up five power play goals in four games.
Darryl Sutter will be adjusting the Kings power play strategy like a rubix cube until he finds success. The Kings abandoned the first two lines midway through the game in Edmonton giving Kyle Clifford and the fourth line a shot. Clifford leads the team in points (1 goal and 3 assists) and is the only player who has tallied in every game.
The Kings lack of success is in large part due to their predictable approach. For the moment the strategy has been to let Drew Doughty, Rob Scuderi, and Jake Muzzin take shots from the point and hope for deflections and rebounds. The puck and players do not move allowing the defense to settle and establish themselves in the lanes. There was a stark contrast between Los Angeles and Edmonton's unit. Edmonton cycled their players into different positions with the puck mimicking them. And while the Kings were succesful in killing all but one penalty - the final goal in overtime with a 4 on 3 advantage - the lightning fast Oilers wore down the Kings defensemen and scored the equalizing goal with 10 seconds left in regulation.
The Kings have never bolstered an amazing power play unit. During last year's regular season they were in the middle of the pack (17th in regards to percentage) and during the playoffs they were largely unsucessful and went on droughts over several games.
Reversely, the Kings have one of the better penalty killing units. In three games they have allowed 3 goals on 18 opportunities (83.3% - tied for seventh best in the league). The Coyotes have the 11th best ranked power play unit scoring 5 goals on 19 chances (26.3%). The Kings are in the top-half of the league for extra man opportunties (19 - Maple Leafs lead league with 25 in four games) and playing man down (18 - Captials lead league with 24 in four games). With so many penalties in Kings game (on both sides of the puck) both units will have a significant impact on the outcome of every gane.
While the Kings have succesfully killed penalties they have given up one goal every game. Combine that with the Kings inability to score on power plays and the Kings are essentially starting the game behind 1-0. Not a recipe for success.
Tonight's game in Phoenix is guaranteed to be physical and the penalty box should have a revolving door. The game is a rematch to the Western Conference Finals which ended with a questionable hit by Dustin Brown on an unsuspecting Michael Rozsival. Phoenix captain Shane Doan and the rest of the Coyotes have had this game circled on their calander.
The key to the Kings getting their first tally in the win column will be changing the zeroes in their power play percentage.
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