EL SEGUNDO – How does a strength become a weakness, seemingly in a matter of days? That’s the riddle the Kings are trying to solve in this first-round series against San Jose, and they’re running out of time.
The Kings, who allowed the fewest number of goals in the NHL in the regular season, have given up 17 in this series, and face a 3-0 deficit going into Thursday night’s Game 4 at Staples Center.
“Anything is possible,” Kings center Mike Richards said Wednesday. “If you’re still playing hockey, you still have a chance. You just can’t look at the mountain and expect to do it all at once. … You can’t win four unless you win one.”
Can the Kings slow the Sharks? Consider that the Kings haven’t allowed more than 17 goals in any three-game span since early in the 2007-08 season, when they allowed 18. The Kings also allowed 17 goals in Games 4-6 of the 2010 first round against Vancouver and lost all three games and the series.
What’s the problem? Well, it’s more of a flood than a leaky faucet. Goalie Jonathan Quick has been OK, but not great. The defense has been flat-footed at times. The forwards have turned the puck over excessively.
The bad news for the Kings – really bad – is that of the 175 teams to face a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-7 NHL playoff series, only three have rallied to win. That’s a struck-by-lightning success rate of 1.7 percent.
The good news for the Kings is they have someone who has done it. Richards played for Philadelphia in 2010, when the Flyers rallied from a 3-0 deficit and beat Boston in the second round. Jeff Carter was also on the Flyers’ roster, but did not play in that series because of injury.
“Obviously it’s not the position you want to put yourself in,” Richards said, “but we had a pretty resilient group that year. We had our backs against the wall and we battled back. It’s much like this group. We have a resilient group and we’ve gone through a lot together.”
Each of the Kings’ three losses has been markedly different. In Game 1, the Sharks dominated the first two periods. In Game 2, they dominated the final two periods. Game 3 easily could have gone the Kings’ way.
The Kings showed clear improvement in a number of areas. Richards, Carter and Marian Gaborik had their best games of the series. Quick looked sharper, and was beaten by three fluky goals. The Kings’ power play, often moribund, scored twice. Then again, all that went right and the Kings still lost, 4-3, in overtime.
“We still need more,” Gaborik said. “Obviously it wasn’t enough.”
The Kings took rightful pride in winning the Jennings Trophy, which they claimed by allowing a league-low 174 goals. But even that seemed to mask some defensive deficiencies that were popping up.
Top defensemen Drew Doughty and Robyn Regehr were held out late in the regular season because of injuries, and in the tight-lipped hockey world, it’s unknown whether they might still be suffering silently.
Moreover, the game changes in the playoffs, particularly against a high-powered offense such as the one San Jose features. In previous situations, the Kings relied on their veteran, stay-at-home defensemen.
Now, where are they? Rob Scuderi left via free agency last summer. Willie Mitchell hasn’t looked the same since last year’s knee problems. Coach Darryl Sutter appears to have lost trust in veteran Matt Greene, who is regularly a healthy scratch. That leaves Doughty and fellow youngsters Slava Voynov, Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez.