After a Game 2 overtime loss to the Kings, the series shifts to Los Angeles for games 3 and 4, and the Vancouver Canucks have adjustments to be made.
Post game reaction following Game 1 of this series from Team 1040 call-ins was that this was going to be a long series. With Los Angeles stealing a split following a 3-2 overtime (powerplay) win over the Canucks, that possibility became more evident. The change of venue always brings a different look as well, so adjustments in either teams’ game will be tempered by the fact that a different energy will encompass the match-up.
Now that Los Angeles has shifted the momentum of the series, Vancouver will need to ensure several things in order to not let the Kings capitalize on that inertia.
Key 1: Discipline. Now, I imagine the name “Andrew Alberts” is already dripping off the lips of readers right now, and with good reason. The late season addition from the Carolina Hurricanes has tallied 23 penalty minutes in the first two games. Rick Bowness will undoubtedly have spoken to Alberts leading up to this contest, as well as Alain Vigneault. He has to work harder, and keep his feet moving, no question. If the Canucks were not scraping the bottom of the barrel for defensive help, one has to think he would be sitting in the press box for the next couple of games. But they need him, so he will almost certainly see more minutes tonight. But discipline comes in many forms, and Alberts is not the only culprit. The power play that gave the Kings the opportunity to end the game was a result of a bad change by the Canucks, and that boils down to concentration. If they have many more lapses in concentration, and mix-ups at the bench as to who is going on the ice and when, they may find themselves fighting just to split the series in L.A.
Key 2: Puck possession – Alain Vigneault has been stressing puck management, and tonight will be a pivotal test as to whether or not the team is getting the message. While the Kings did a good job of forechecking and putting pressure on the wingers trying to move the puck along the boards, they weren’t overly suppressive. But the Canucks turned over the puck numerous times in the neutral ice, and were the victims of miscommunication. A.V. is not asking his team to mind-read when moving the puck around, only to support the pass better to avoid costly turnovers, which usually lead to odd-man situations. Christian Ehrhoff is one of the most efficient break-out defenders they have, and his decision making in that regard will set the tone here.
Key 3: Line match-ups – The Kings now get the chance to dictate the match-ups, having the last change as a result of the home ice advantage. Early in Game 1, Terry Murray seemed content just to roll all four lines, not being too particular with who needed to be out against the Sedin line. It worked well enough, but now that the Kings’ coach has the last change, Murray will probably opt to have Wayne Simmonds and possibly Michal Handzus checking the twins. But the match-up a lot of viewers will be concerned with will be the defensive pairing Rick Bowness sends out against the Ryan Smyth line. With so much traffic being directed at Luongo, and the ref’s refusal to call interference penalties on notorious crease-crashers Smyth, Handzus, and Brown, this will be of paramount importance. Edler’s physicality in this series must not be overlooked, and it seems imperative to give him the assignment. Also, I’ve enjoyed watching Shane O’Brien chalk up hit after hit, punishing the Kings in the corner every chance he gets. Yes, he did draw a minor last game for his over-exuberance, but make no mistake – They need that kind of hitting right now. Normally, Willie Mitchell would be throwing his body in the corners, and using his long reach to break up the Kings’ cycle, but again, we have his royal Cheapness, Evgeni Malkin (Penguins) to thank for Willie’s absence.
For the Canucks, getting the first goal tonight could be the difference between winning and losing. As noted, the Kings have momentum, and scoring first at the Staples Center would really get the crowd and the energy in their corner. Should Vancouver fail to play more disciplined hockey, and give up an early powerplay goal, this series could get out of hand quickly. I’m not saying that the Kings have as much firepower as the Blackhawks did last season, but it would be a huge mistake to allow the Kings much more optimism in this series. Execution moving the puck up ice, retaining possession, staying out of the box, and doing their best to match-up lines with the Kings is the Canucks’ best shot at survival in Game 3.