The Kings may have entered tonight with a 2-0 lead in their best-of-seven series with the San Jose Sharks in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but they hadn’t played their best, particularly in Game 2 on Thursday. The Kings were lucky to be in the position they were in, and they needed to turn their play around, though it won’t be easy now that they’re on the road for Games 3 and 4. So, Darryl Sutter decided to make some changes to the lineup today. The most surprising one was at forward, where Tanner Pearson replaced Jordan Nolan as the left wing on the fourth line. Pearson is a 20-year-old native of Kitchener, Ontario who is listed at 6’0″, 193 lbs, and was the Kings’ most recent first-round pick, 30th overall in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. He had a strong first professional season in the AHL with the Manchester Monarchs, putting up 19 goals and 28 assists to go along with 14 penalty minutes and a plus-17 rating in 64 games, as well as an assist and four penalty minutes in four playoff games. Along with a number of other players, he was called up to the Kings to soak in their playoff run and get some experience after his team got eliminated, but he wasn’t expected to play. However, Sutter wants to make a change to the lineup, and with Kyle Clifford and Jarret Stoll unavailable due to injury, Pearson got the call to replace Nolan, who is continuing to have a rough season. Pearson is wearing #70. Also up front, Tyler Toffoli’s strong play was rewarded, as he was moved from right wing on the fourth line to right wing on the third line. Trevor Lewis moved from right wing on the third line to centre on the third line, and Brad Richardson moved from centre on the third line to right wing on the fourth line. The other change to the lineup was Keaton Ellerby stepping in for Alec Martinez on Jake Muzzin’s right on the third defense pairing. Martinez hasn’t been very good so far in this series, and Ellerby is a guy who can provide more help on the penalty kill, and, again, the Kings penalty kill is going to be a big key to this series. I was fine with the move on defense, and I was very interested to see how the move up front would work out. Sutter did a similar thing with another talented, yet inexperienced young player in Toffoli earlier in the playoffs, and that has worked out well, though Toffoli already had a bit of NHL experience.
Just a minute and a half into the game, the Sharks got a power play as Muzzin headed to the penalty box for delay of game after he cleared the puck over the glass. Right away, Joe Pavelski won a faceoff to Jonathan Quick’s left back to Patrick Marleau at the top of the right side of the circle, Marleau passed the puck back to Dan Boyle at the point, and he one-timed a slap shot that beat Quick by his blocker. Just over six minutes later, Jeff Carter took a penalty for tripping, giving the Sharks a chance to extend their lead. The Kings killed it off, though, and then just over halfway through the first period, Brad Stuart attempted a pass from behind the Sharks net to Antti Niemi’s left, but it was intercepted by Toffoli at the top of the right side of the right circle, and he walked into the right slot and beat Niemi below his blocker and above his right pad with a backhand shot. Then with just under two minutes to go in the period, Brent Burns took a tripping penalty, giving the Kings a chance to take the lead into the first intermission. They didn’t, but would still have a bit of time to work with on it to start the second period. The Kings got better as the opening frame wore on, but were still outshot by a total of 14-11.
The Kings would fail on the remainder of the power play to start the second period, but with just under nine minutes to go in the period, they got another chance to take the lead, as Marc-Edouard Vlasic went off for roughing, but they once again failed. With just over a minute to go, Sutter called his timeout to rest his tired group of players on the ice, as they had just iced the puck and were unable to come off. Then as the period neared its end, Mike Richards and Scott Gomez got into a scrum, and each got penalties for roughing, setting up some 4-on-4 play to end the period and then almost the full two minutes of it to start the third period. The Sharks really took control late in the middle frame, and ended up outshooting the Kings by a total of 14-7 in it.
Neither team scored on the remainder of the 4-on-4 to start the third period, but once again, it was the Sharks controlling the play. The Kings would begin to pick their play up, though. However, with just over five minutes to go, Dustin Brown went off for slashing, giving the Sharks a chance to likely win the game. The Kings killed it off, but with under a minute to go, Robyn Regehr went off for slashing. Then in the dying seconds of the period, Trevor Lewis went off for goaltender interference, setting up over a minute of a 5-on-3 power play for the Sharks to start overtime. Due to NHL rules, the Kings were forced to come out for overtime, but it was just a formality. We knew how this would end. The Sharks held a 10-9 edge in shots in the third period.
The Kings actually killed off the 5-on-3, but they weren’t out of the woods yet. The Sharks still had just under a minute to work with on a 5-on-4, and shortly into it, from the boards just above the right circle in the Kings zone, Joe Thornton passed the puck to Marleau just above the crease to Quick’s left, he passed it to Logan Couture in the right slot, and he beat Quick by his glove to win it. The Sharks took the only two shots in overtime.
I’ve stressed over and over again how important it’s going to be for the Kings to shut down the San Jose power play, and their inability to do so killed them tonight. The Sharks got both of their goals in this game on the power play, the first one to open the scoring early in the game right off of a faceoff just seconds into a power play (another lost faceoff hurt the Kings, as they have really missed Stoll in that department), and, well, I can’t give the Kings penalty kill too much flack for not killing off that massive Sharks power play in overtime, but I can certainly get on them for taking all of those penalties late in the game. It was only a matter of time for the Sharks with the rate the Kings were heading to the penalty box. Of course, the best way for the Kings to shut down the Sharks power play is to not take penalties, but they have given them 13 opportunities in three games in this series if you include the delayed penalty that they scored on in Game 2. That’s an average of over four per game, and that’s just too many. You can say the Kings had won six straight games before tonight, that they’ve won 11 straight games at home and don’t have to win on the road in this series if they take care of business at home, and that they’re still up 2-1 in this series. However, you can also make an argument that they’ve been outplayed in every game in this series, and that’s going to have to change if the Kings want to advance to the next round. As far as Pearson goes, his ice time was certainly limited tonight, as Sutter wanted to go with his more experienced players late in a tied game on the road in the playoffs, but he looked alright when he was on the ice. We’ll see what Sutter does with the lineup for the next game. Sutter said he changed the lineup to try to generate more offense, but the Kings certainly failed to do that tonight. Anyways, the Kings will get a long time to think about how they can get their play turned around, as Game 4 doesn’t go until Tuesday. Will the Kings bounce back, take a 3-1 lead in the series and get three chances to close this series out, with the first and third chance at home, or will the Sharks tie this series up, and head back to Los Angeles with momentum and a best-of-three series? Be sure to check in for my post-game reaction after Game 4, but for now, it’s time for my picks for tonight’s three stars.
Third Star: Tyler Toffoli.
Sutter rewarded Toffoli for his strong play by moving him up a line tonight, and he didn’t let his coach down. He scored the only goal of the game for the Kings, and continued to be all over the ice, making the most of his ice time and the opportunity he’s been given here in the playoffs.
Second Star: Patrick Marleau.
For a long time Marleau was ridiculously made a scapegoat for the Sharks’ failures in the playoffs, but his performance in these playoffs continues to silence his critics. Marleau finally got the first San Jose goal of the series in the last game, and tonight he set both of the Sharks goals up.
First Star: Logan Couture.
Many view the Sharks as an older team with a closing window, but Couture is a young star who has come up in the last few years and emerged as the new face of the franchise in San Jose. He missed some time tonight after appearing to hurt his left foot in the second period, but came back, played a great game and scored the overtime goal on a great shot.
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