EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — In 82 regular-season games, the Los Angeles Kings scored only 198 goals — the fifth-lowest total in the NHL. They also gave up the least amount of goals but that plays into the team’s offensive identity.
Now, 17 games into the postseason, L.A. has scored 56 and are averaging more than three goals a game. To the regular-season Kings, three goals might as well be as good as 13 the way they can protect a slim lead, but the offensive output is extremely uncharacteristic.
Some want to know what’s wrong with the Kings but really, the question is what’s right with the Kings’ suddenly hot offense?
"In the playoffs, you just seem to have a little bit extra, because every time you’re out there it’s the most important play of the game," said Kings right winger Justin Williams. "We have a lot of guys who are able to give a little bit extra."
There’s no magic formula but there are a couple of important factors at play: The defense is creating chances and hanging on to the puck while the offense is capitalizing on those chances.
"A lot of scoring in the playoffs is second-effort. There’s not a lot of really great plays," Williams said. "It’s ripping something from behind, it’s a second effort on a blocked shot, diving to get a puck. That’s how most goals are scored."
Head coach Darryl Sutter has yet to really touch the lines. He’s rolled the same four lines throughout the postseason. The Kings have benefitted from a clean bill of health with the forwards and while the coach on the other bench, Joel Quenneville, sometimes prefers to play the matchup game, Sutter never strays from his system.
"As a player, it’s a lot easier when you don’t have to get on the ice, get off the ice, have a lot of quick changes," Williams said. "That kind of takes away from the flow of the game, and really he trusts his players. Regardless of who he puts out there, they’re good enough, good enough checkers that they’re going to get the job done."
The ability to roll four lines has been beneficial as it instills confidence in the players. They trust themselves in their given roles, they know their assignments and new ones never seem daunting.
"That obviously comes with trust, and that makes the players feel good about themselves, too, knowing the coach is going to give you the opportunity," Williams said.
"They’ve got four lines, he’s comfortable with his four lines just about against anybody," Quenneville said. "We’ll see how that plays out going forward. The top lines have seen more against one another than the other lines. But that could change."
Chicago’s Patrick Kane is slumping by Patrick Kane standards. The left winger has yet to record a point in the Western Conference Finals and is a minus-3 in three games. He’s had a couple shots but the Kings defense has done a remarkable job keeping the sniper at bay.
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"I know when I’m out there, I look for who I’m playing against," said Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin. "He’s playing the right wing and I’m a left defenseman, so he’s coming down on me. He’s a player you’ve got to play hard on. He wants a nice game where he can do what he wants to do, and if you take that away, that’s your best chance. So I know that’s what I focus on is being aware of where he is, and what his options are and taking them away."
The Kings have kept him largely on the outside and his scoring chances have been somewhat weak. His deft scoring touch may only be temporarily eluding him but that doesn’t mean the Los Angeles defense is about to let up on the Olympic forward who scored 29 regular season goals and six already in the postseason.
"Yeah, you gotta play hard on that guy, or he’ll make you look silly," Muzzin said.
During Sunday’s off-day practice at the Toyota Sports Center, Sutter was asked about an incident that occurred during last year’s Western Conference Finals. Prior to a game at the United Center, the Kings’ head coach was checking to make sure the lip of the ice wasn’t too high, making sure his players wouldn’t trip coming over the boards.
"Working underground trying to help the league with their ice surfaces and their boards," he said.
The league won’t pay him for his work. He would know — he’s already asked.