First, happy Mother’s Day. One thing every hockey fan of any loyalty can agree upon – moms rule.
To a less pleasant topic. The Anaheim Ducks.
There is a significant difference between watching a game on TV and being at the game. I have seen 3 out of the 4 games we have played. I missed game 3, live. And since I am a hockey fan in addition to being a King die-hard, I do watch more Ducks (and other teams) hockey than most.
Let me break down the Anaheim Ducks:
1. Offensive structure:
Zone entries with speed, passing designed to spread out a home plate box (take defensemen out of position) and crashing forwards. Look at where the Ducks have scored their goals this series. Door step. Why? Because their entire structure is built around passing to open spots that are then filled with a player in or around the blue point.
2. Neutral zone:
Pressure. That’s it. They are a risk taking team that generally doesn’t fall back, even in the face of an attack.
3. Defensive zone:
Same as the neutral zone. Once again, they pressure the puck carrier, typically via two forwards. The theory is that if you don’t give the opposing team time to set up, they can’t and pucks stay to the perimeter. They even employ this during the PK. Meanwhile, one forward is a bit of a rover (pressures but also in position to block shots) while the two defensemen guard the home plate. There is an emphasis on blocking shots and they work in layers to not only block one shooting lane but those parallel therewith.
Now let’s break down the L.A. Kings:
1. Offensive structure:
Cycle. Forecheck. A team built around puck possession and setting up the play through hard work and board work. Once we have the puck, we count on an opposing D to fall back and defend. We then send traffic to the net.
2. Neutral zone:
Three back. Our defense-first structure is more conservative than that of Anaheim. So when an opposing team attacks, we often fall back below the blue line and use our home plate structure to keep pucks to the outside.
3. Defensive zone:
We don’t pressure the puck carrier like they do. We protect the middle and attack the boards with our third forward (typically a wing) with defensive support or the other way around depending on where the puck ends up.
Now the problem:
1. We are playing into their hands on offense. If we rely too much on the cycle, the pressure they apply will cause us to (A) stay at the perimeter or (b) get a shot on goal but from poor angles that result in one and out chances.
2. We cannot build the speed we would otherwise like in the neutral zone with their pressure on the puck carrier. That means more dumps and less possession over the blue line.
3. Our home plate is more exposed without Willie Mitchell and even Robyn Regehr. Anaheim has an easier time breaking through our box especially since their passing is typically not North and South but rather North East, South West, and so forth.
Surly calls it “garbage” hockey. That is another way of saying the same thing. “Shinny”. It’s sloppy hockey where bounces create opportunities. Ducks hockey is shinny hockey. They make unexpected passes (those NE, SW, etc. ones) to spots rather than players. Their offensive system relies heavily on players knowing where to go as opposed to anything that resembles a sustained and systematic attack. Think quick and unexpected strike as opposed to pillage and slaughter.
It works for them and unfortunately, not even in games one and two, have we adjusted our defense to it.
What adjustment? Let’s go through it.
L.A. Kings Offense:
Think of defensemen and defending forwards like goalies. When are goaltenders most vulnerable? (A) When they are forced to move lateral and (B) when they cannot see the puck. Now put A and B together and you have the highest scoring chance that an offense can generate. Frustratingly, the L.A. Kings should be able to pick Anaheim apart because they are built for this but they have not adjusted, not even in the games they won but for small sample sizes.
Net presence before puck control: Forwards must not wait until we have possession before going to the net. Let’s use Dustin Brown as an example. He is in the zone. He must go to the net. He will draw defensemen to him. He will take some punishment there but he is built to sustain that (akin to most of our forwards, due to their size and strength). Just this simple action will force Anaheim out of position because the box is penetrated and there is now a screen which can double or triple in width if Anaheim defensemen stack in layers in front of or near Dustin Brown.
Quick passes upon puck possession: In Aikijujutsu (my Tao growing up), one uses the force and momentum of an attacker against him. When Anaheim pressures and attacks in the defensive zone, they create a forward energy. That forward energy is not neutralized by absorbing it. It is neutralized by avoiding it. Quick passes off our sticks and to that of a teammate dilutes pressure. It renders pressure impotent because the pressuring player now finds himself out of position and must travel a greater distance to get into position.
Two to three quick passes place an entire defense and system vulnerable to a sustained attack because they can no longer pressure without an adverse consequence. Shots get on goal, forwards are there to bang in rebounds and you have an offense that both blinded the goalie (remember where Brown went?) and forced the goaltender and defense to move lateral. That is also called getting into a defense’s “head”. What can they do? Keep pressuring? Traffic and quick passes continue to get them out of position and open lanes as a result. Stop pressuring? Plenty of room for the cycle opens up. Either way, the Anaheim defense now has to adjust to the L.A. Kings attack, not the other way around.
An effective attack doesn’t always start to the outside and funnel through the middle. To bring balance, it can also start in the middle and expand to the outside. The L.A. Kings are playing a one trick neutral zone pony offense. They look for the breaking winger along the boards. It got to the point last night where I muttered to myself exactly where the pass out of our defensive zone was going seconds before we made it. And the far majority of the time, I was right. That sucks. That means (except when Drew takes the puck himself), we are not attacking the middle of the ice and drawing Anaheim forwards and defensemen to us (thereby opening the wings).
I realize Willie Mitchell’s absence limits our opportunities to bring such an attack in layers. But Alec Martinez, Slava Voynov and Drew Doughty play on different pairings. Even Jake Muzzin (whose passing last game left much to be desired) has good speed. Use it or give the puck to your center to use it. Force Anaheim to defense the middle of the ice through the neutral zone and not just the wings. That is what gives options upon zone entry.
L.A. Kings Defense:
Do you know what happens when you play the game more in their zone, as opposed to ours, through a sustained attack? Their forwards wear out. Guess what happens then. They have to change lines upon any attack and have a much harder time in the offensive zone.
I have only one adjustment I want to see made to our defense. I want more sticks in lanes. Less emphasis on the “physical” grind and more on intelligent break up of passes and elimination of seams.
Once again, we miss Willie Mitchell greatly in this regard. He and that long stick of his are the glue to our defensive core of competence. But Jeff Schultz and Matt Greene must start using their sticks as much as they use their size.
The L.A. Kings can win this series. We let Anaheim back into it through our own doing. When you look at the goals we did score against the Ducks, it is not coincidence that they can be directly traced to exactly what I have written here. Each of those goals have been the exception to our offensive rule. When you look at their goals and from where they came, you can see that nearly every time, a stick in position to stop the pass or tie up the shooter’s stick would have prevented it.
The Kings must adjust. Sutter must adjust. He needs to put the lines back as they were and stop looking for a spark in that respect. Every player on the Kings has the hockey IQ, skill set and work ethic to play near perfect hockey 200 feet of the ice. It’s time Sutter puts the players in a position to do so.
Give your mom a high five from me.
Categories: L.A. Kings News