Tuesday night in San Jose, the Canadiens played a half-decent 20 minutes of hockey. Too bad the game was for 60. Having dropped yet another decision in San Jose, the Habs face a quick turnaround, and will try to rebound tonight at the Staples Center against the Los Angeles Kings.
The Kings have established a reputation as one of the top teams post-lockout, but, like the Sharks, find themselves in a transition phase. After failing to make the post-season for the second time in three seasons, the organization parted ways with Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi, the architects of their two Stanley Cup championships.
With John Stevens behind the bench and Rob Blake helming the press box, the Kings are off to a fast start this season, picking up four victories and an overtime defeat in their five games thus far. Powering this start is a resurgent Anze Kopitar (4G, 4A) and a surprising Dustin Brown (4G, 3A). Jonathan Quick’s .939 save percentage and a 95% penalty kill efficiency certainly do not hurt matters either.
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Tale of the Tape
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The Canadiens are mired in a funk right now that goes beyond talent, effort, statistics, and luck. The entire team appears to be playing on their heels, afraid to make an error, and this is particularly evident if (or when) they go down by a goal.
As for their opponents, while they have benefited from puck luck (PDO 103), the Kings’ strong start is also accompanied by solid underlying possession numbers. Sixteen goals scored puts them exactly at league average - which is excellent for a typical Los Angeles Kings team.
The Kings will lean very heavily on a strong top-six populated with Kopitar, Brown, Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, and rookie Alex Iafallo, who has impressed while playing on Kopitar’s wing. Defensively, the Kings have one of the league’s best rearguards in Drew Doughty, who is supported by Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin.
If the Kings have a weakness, it is in depth. The likes of Mike Cammalleri, Nic Dowd, Adrian Kempe, and Jonny Brodzinski have been hammered so far this season, with CF% values ranging between 29.6% and 41.1%. Oscar Fantenberg and Kurtis MacDermid have likewise struggled on defence.
With last change, John Stevens will likely attempt to continue sheltering his depth players and lean heavily upon his big guns. This early in the season, fatigue is unlikely to factor, and the Canadiens will have to overcome the Kings’ best in order to prevail tonight. Al Montoya will get the nod after Carey Price started in San Jose, so we shall see if the team can muster some response to the game in San Jose and elevate their play as a nod of appreciation for their backup.