In more than one way, this is round two between the Kings and the San Jose Sharks.
Yes, the Kings will finally get a chance to avenge their first-round exit to the Sharks in 2011, when the Western Conference’s second seed, the Sharks, won all three games at Staples Center against the West’s seventh seed, the Kings, and all three games that went to overtime in that series. Two of those overtime games were in Los Angeles, including Game 6 when they won the series. That series definitely left a bad taste in the Kings’ mouths, as all of those overtime losses left them feeling like they could have won that series, especially since they were without Anze Kopitar all series, who was their best player that season (and arguably still is). Yes, the Kings are finally going to get a chance to get the Sharks back, but this time it’s in the Western Conference semi finals, rather than the Western Conference quarter finals, and this time it’s the Kings as the Western Conference’s fifth seed against the Sharks as the West’s sixth seed. Yes, this time it’s the Kings having home-ice advantage. Home-ice advantage is something the Kings haven’t had in a series since 1992, so this will obviously be the first time they have it at Staples Center, as they didn’t move there until 1999. The Kings didn’t have home-ice advantage in the first round, but oddly enough, they will in the second round, thanks to three of the four first-round series in the West being won by the lower seed, as that has left them as the second highest remaining seed of the four West teams left, meaning they will play the third highest seed remaining and finally get home-ice advantage. Just take it in, folks. Again — the Kings are getting home-ice advantage in a playoff series. Seriously.
First, let’s take a look at some stats between the two teams.
Kings: 27-16-5, 59 points, 25 regulation/overtime wins. Ranked second in the Pacific Division and seventh in the NHL. 19-4-1 at home, 8-12-4 on the road.
2.73 goals per game (10th in the league).
2.38 goals against per game (tied with the St. Louis Blues for seventh in the league).
19.9% on the power play (tied with the New York Islanders for 10th in the league).
83.2% on the penalty kill (10th in the league).
The Kings are coming off of a six-game victory over the Blues in the first round. They won the last four games and outscored the Blues by a total of 12-10 in the series. The Kings had the 12th best power play of the 16 teams in the first round, as it converted just 13.3% of the time, but their penalty kill was the fourth best, converting at an 88.2% success rate.
Sharks: 25-16-7, 57 points, 17 regulation/overtime wins. Ranked third in the Pacific Division and 11th in the NHL. 17-2-5 at home, 8-14-2 on the road.
2.42 goals per game (24th in the league).
2.33 goals against per game (sixth in the league).
20.1% on the power play (tied with the Edmonton Oilers for seventh in the league).
85% on the penalty kill (sixth in the league).
The Sharks are coming off of a four-game sweep of Vancouver Canucks in the first round. They outscored the Canucks by a total of 15-8 in the series. The Sharks had the second best power play of the first round, converting on 29.2% of their power plays, while their penalty kill ranked 10th, killing off just 80% of their penalties.
The Kings won the season series against the Sharks. Well, sort of. They played four games against each other, and each team won both games they played at home, but one of the Sharks’ wins came in a shootout, so the Kings earned more points against the Sharks than the Sharks did against the Kings this year. Take that into account, as well as the home and away records of the Kings and Sharks that I just posted, and you’ll see why home-ice advantage should really be, well, an advantage for the Kings in this series. Which leads me into my five keys to this series for the Kings…
Key #1: Protect home ice.
There’s a whole different mentality when starting a series at home than on the road. When you’re on the road, you’ll be happy if you win one of the first two games on the road, as getting a split will put them into a situation where they’ve already won a game on the road and now just have to win their home games. Essentially, they steal home-ice advantage. If you’re the team that starts with home ice, well, you want to keep that from happening. We know it’s going to be very tough for the Kings to win in San Jose. The beauty of having home-ice advantage is they won’t have to, as long as they take care of business at home. Of course, winning the first two games of a series at home hardly means a series is over. Just ask St. Louis…
Key #2: Start strong.
When this series starts tomorrow, it will be exactly one week since the Sharks last played, when they finished off their sweep of the Canucks. Considering their short series against a soft team and all of the time they’ve had off, San Jose is going to be a very well rested team. The Kings have only been off since Friday, and they had a long, tough, bruising series. If there’s an advantage for the Kings, it’s that the Sharks may come out a little rusty. If the Kings can jump on the Sharks early and make that a pattern throughout the series, it could go a long way for them. If the Sharks come out looking better, though, we may start to see the Kings’ fatigue set in, and this could be a short series. Say the Kings fall down 2-0 in the series again, I doubt they’re going to come back again, especially since they’d be heading on the road with a 2-0 deficit this time, rather than coming home.
Key #3: The penalty kill.
Did you notice when I posted the Sharks’ stats that their offense ranked 24th in the league this year, despite their offense ranking tied for seventh? Yeah… this is not a team that is potent offensively at even strength. The Sharks have a very good power play, but if the Kings can contain it, San Jose could have a lot of trouble scoring.
Key #4: Be opportunistic.
Something that was hurting the Kings early in their series against the Blues was the opportunities they were passing up. The Kings had a great opportunity to take a 1-0 lead in the series when they got a four-minute power play in overtime in Game 1, but instead gave up a shorthanded goal. They had a great opportunity to tie the series at one in Game 2 when they held a 1-0 lead after two periods, but gave up an early goal and then a goal in the last minute. If the Kings are given opportunities like long power plays, 5-on-3 power plays, or late leads, they must take advantage.
Key #5: Quick must be great, but without the mistakes.
When the Kings fell into a 2-0 series hole, Jonathan Quick played very well in goal for the Kings, and his team was not giving him much offensive support. However, a brutal gaffe while handling the puck behind his net in overtime in Game 1 and a soft goal in the last minute of a tied game in Game 2 were backbreaking. Quick cleaned up the mistakes and put together a very good series for the most part after that, but those types of mistakes and soft goals are not new to him, and they can’t happen in this series.
This should be another long, tough series, and don’t be surprised if it’s one dominated on home ice. The Sharks are not going to be pushovers, as they showed in their dominant performance against the Canucks in the first round. How good the Sharks looked, how much rest they have, how beaten up the Kings may very well be after their series against the Blues and the fact that I think the Kings could have a real tough time winning in San Jose — which leaves them with very little margin for error at home — are all reasons I think Kings fans should be concerned about this series. But, whoever wins, I think this is going to be a very good series. That said, I think the Kings are the better team, they know how to get it done in the playoffs, they showed their composure and experience in their comeback against St. Louis, and I think home ice will be a big advantage in this series. I predicted the Kings to beat the Blues in six games, and I got that right. I know I said I think the Kings will have trouble winning in San Jose, but…
I’m still going to say that the Kings will win this series, once again in six games.
Be sure to check in for my post-game reaction after Game 1 tomorrow.
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