LOS ANGELES – Desperate to channel their formidable Stanley Cup play from a few years ago, the Los Angeles King are going retro tonight.
Their long-time top two defencemen are returning to the lineup, Drew Doughty from suspension and Jake Muzzin from injury. And Kings’ coach John Stevens is reuniting his “70s Line” of No. 77 Jeff Carter between No. 70 Tanner Pearson and No. 73 Tyler Toffoli – the trio that became a big thing in the National Hockey League during Los Angeles’ 2014 run to the Stanley Cup.
But down 2-0 in their first-round playoff series to the Vegas Golden Knights, who have used their speed and depth to outplay the Kings so far, what Los Angeles needs most is to re-establish its heavy game in the offensive zone to extend shifts and force mistakes from their opponent.
The Kings were outshot 56-30 in Friday’s 2-1 loss in double overtime and most of the series’ first two games were played in
L.A.’s half of the ice.
“We just won the Jennings Trophy,” Stevens said of the Kings’ NHL-leading defensive record. “You don’t do that by guys not having intensity about the game. The makeup of our team has changed a little bit (since 2014) in terms some of the mobility and the way our back end is built. We’ve got some young players in our lineup at key positions that I think has changed a little bit. But we love how hard our teams play and how committed they are. To me, that factor is still in place like it was a few years ago.”
Even in their Stanley Cup seasons of 2012 and ’14, the Kings were far from the fastest team in the NHL. But they were relentless and overpowering in the offensive zone. So far, the Knights have moved the puck so quickly and efficiently out of their end, the Kings have been unable to play to their half-court strength.
“We always talk about having fuel tanks full in that (offensive) zone,” Stevens said. “If we manage the puck well and execute cleanly, we’re going to get into that situation with lots of gas in the tank, as opposed to spending too much time in your zone and then you’re looking just to get a puck in and change because your tank is empty.”
Doughty’s return from a one-game suspension for a check-to-head against the Knights’ William Carrier in Game 1 on Wednesday should be a huge boost for the Kings, who also get Muzzin back for the first time since he was injured on March 26.
The Knights, however, are also getting two-way forward David Perron back from injury.
These players, at least, are well rested after others played 95 minutes of intense playoff hockey on Friday night.
“I would have still rather played,” Doughty, the 2016 Norris Trophy winner and a likely finalist for the award this season, said after the morning skate at Staples Center. “I’d rather be gassed and then playing today. But yeah, I’m fresh. I’m ready to go. I’m ready to go make a difference out there and ready to go get a W.
“It was just brutal (watching Game 2) because I should have been out there and I should have never got suspended. So that’s why it sucked. But it’s over with. It was tough to watch because I just want to be out there, but the boys played awesome and easily could have won that game. They put forth a good effort but we need to play better to win.”
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Stevens was head coach Darryl Sutter’s top assistant during the Kings’ championship seasons. He was last a head coach in the playoffs in 2009 with the Philadelphia Flyers.
“If anything, the speed of the game, I think, has increased,” he said. “But if you go back to a playoff game, the intensity, the physicality in a game, how important every play is, the importance of goaltending, special teams, discipline… everything matters. When I think back to when I was coaching 10 years ago, all those elements are the same (now).
“Competitive skill and playing a man’s game this time of the year are still going to rule the day.”
To make room for Perron, out since March 26 with an undisclosed injury, Knights’ coach Gerard Gallant is expected to scratch Tomas Tatar, the forward acquired from Detroit at the deadline at the cost of first-, second- and third-round draft picks.