Now that we’ve had a couple of days to let John Gibson’s Game 4 performance sink in, let’s be honest: He’s not the biggest problem the Kings need to stare down tonight, is he?
Sure, a lot of ink has been spilled during the past 48 hours hyping the rookie. Rolling a shutout in your NHL playoff debut tends to grab attention.
But it’s not like Gibson’s game heralded the second coming of Ken Dryden. Not to knock the kid’s performance in any way, but he wasn’t facing the Bobby Orr/Phil Esposito-led Bruins. L.A. on Saturday night looked every bit like the team that averaged 2.42 goals per game during the regular season, a pitiful total that ranked 26th in the league.
The Ducks could have trotted Iiro Tarkki out there and done just as well considering the offense the Kings mustered. Sure, everyone on L.A. ran up their Corsi. They fired 28 shots on Gibson and had a 12-0 advantage for the second period. But how often was he really tested? He made a decent stop on Marian Gaborik in the first period, a nice read on Tanner Pearson after the Kings winger took a cross-ice pass from Mike Richards and one 10-bell stop on a Tyler Toffoli one-timer from in close late in the third.
But he spent the rest of the night watching his teammates block 25 shots while he took care of stray shots that the Kings took from distance.
And that’s why the biggest challenge L.A. faces on Monday night is not a rookie goalie, but generating the sort of quality chances that would make any netminder question his career choice.
It’s about committing to a smarter, heavier game.
That starts with generating zone exits that involve controlling the puck rather than just chipping it out. It means using speed and crisp passing to control the neutral zone. And it means forgoing the extra pass to instead get the puck on net with numbers crashing it for rebounds.
The Kings are at their best when they’re playing a greasy down-low game, when they abandon the perimeter for the blue paint of the crease, when they’re in place to pounce first on loose pucks. That didn’t happen on Saturday, not often enough anyway. That’s on Dustin Brown. On Anze Kopitar. On Justin Williams.
Pearson, to his credit, was L.A.’s most consistent net-front presence. Maybe the Kings should take notes. If a rookie can lead the Ducks, then a freshman can show Los Angeles the way, too.