ROUND TWO, GAME SIX
First things first, the Los Angeles Kings played a very good game last night. This was the type of game they wanted against the Anaheim Ducks through the first five. The Kings play very well with the puck, obviously, but they play best when they are limiting what the other team does with the puck as well. This series has typified the two styles these clubs play, and those styles clash: the Kings like a lower event game from the perimeter that stifles scoring chances, and the Ducks tend to forgo shot attempt quantity to generate scoring chances while keeping teams with better possession on the outside. As I wrote before, the Ducks are surprisingly good along the wall.
The Kings were able to exert their game last night, and that was truly the difference. Everything else I'll mention here shouldn't lessen that fact. The Kings dominated the puck in all situations and took away the Ducks usual method of creating offense. They did it by being aggressive on the forecheck and disrupting Anaheim's breakout through the middle while collapsing a bit more defensively to block out shots so their wingers could challenge the puck moving down low. They basically took away the Ducks quick puck movement game, and they did it well.
Here are all the shot attempts without blocks, courtesy of extraskater:
Here are the even strength attempts, no blocks:
These charts aren't real unusual, given the two teams. What is unusual is that the Kings held the puck more and created more scoring chances. This runs opposite to how these two teams clash, with the Kings dominating possession and the Ducks generating higher scoring chances.
Several key players weren't at their best for the Ducks. Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry started slow, flat; Devante Smith-Pelly was the best forward on that line early on. They eventually picked it up, but the captain ended the night without an official shot on goal, and that shouldn't happen. Teemu Selanne played his worst game of hockey since game three in Dallas. I'll swing back around there in a sec. Nick Bonino, Kyle Palmieri, and Daniel Winnik were largely invisible except for the excellent individual effort by Palmieri to get one by Jonathan Quick. On the defensive side, nobody was truly awful (the Ducks D wasn't the reason the team lost), but at some point in the postseason I keep wanting to see Francois Beauchemin do something big. I'm beginning to fear his time has passed.
John Gibson obviously let in a terrible second goal. Every goaltender in the league will give up a bad goal, so hey, it happens, and the timing here sucked. But this is what I took from it: from the moment the Kings took the lead, the Ducks stopped attempting to block lanes in front of him because they were trying to get to pucks quicker. By the time the Kings scored again, they had put something like 35 attempts at Gibson more or less unblocked. Eventually percentages just win out after that much work. The important thing to me is that he locked it down with several stellar saves to keep the Kings at two. So soft goal aside, he's not the goat in game six.
My goats are actually all of the top guys on the team. But what follows is more or less a rant. Yes, this is about Teemu Selanne, and it has to be addressed. He's one of my favorite Ducks of all time, so watching him of late has been very difficult. It is watching him hurt his line and thus the team has been the hardest, and there's very little anyone can do that hasn't been tried. Boudreau used the press box once already to get him to commit to his game, and I don't think he has that option again. So yes, this is a Selanne rant. But understand it comes from my heart as a fan, not as someone seeking only to tear down.
Selanne is the burning point for most of us. Look at the even strength chart above again, I implore you. The Kings dominated the start of the game until the Ducks had a flurry of three chances on Quick. He covered, and Selanne's line got the OZ start. The Kings scored on their next attempt because Selanne thought flying the zone like this was the 1990s was awesome, leaving his man unmarked and his line in a rough spot. He was bad beyond that, but that was the easiest example of how he hurt the team in one clear picture, stats and eyeballs-wise. [Ed. Note: For more on that specific play, see Justin Bourne's 'Systems Analyst' post at The Score -CK]
Mathieu Perreault and Patrick Maroon, when shackled with Selanne, have already been forced into a "box four" (collapse) when they get into the DZ to account for the uselessness of their right winger there. This is an inefficient setup because it lessens the team's puck retrieval ability since they are guarding the slot in a shell while Selanne skates up high. This can work if the roving player retrieves pucks along the wall, but Selanne's been allergic to going below the goal line until he scores a point in a game for three years, so here we are. For this reason, Boudreau only starts a line with Selanne on it when in the OZ, which kills Perreault's speed in transition (his game) and Maroon's effectiveness on the forecheck (his game). So...Selanne's literally dragging two guys down when he's not playing well enough to keep the zone or contribute to a breakout, etc.
That first goal against was 100% Selanne's fault. It wasn't the backcheck either; there was no way he was going to get back in time, whether he tried to skate flat out or not. I recognize that glide. He was caught, and that's an awful feeling as a player. But he was caught because he took off and tried to get behind the Kings defense for a breakaway when the gap between the defense wasn't that wide anyway. Basically, unless it was Getzlaf sending him, he wasn't going to get free right there. (He's made a career of this of course, but he used to pick his spots better too.)
The Kings owned the game in part because they are a tremendous team but also because their style is designed to protect leads, and a bone-headed decision by a guy who loves scoring more than anything else gave them their game on a platter. This also illustrates why plus-minus is moronic: four guys who worked their asses off got nailed with a minus because one guy got greedy and bolted his coverage. In an elimination game in round two, that's garbage.
Beyond that though, Selanne had one of his typical "puck exploder" nights. I attribute this with age more than anything, although he was exhibiting this back in 2007 too. He just scored enough to offset it. One of Selanne's issues with his aging is that he was typically the puck carrier through the NZ when he was a more effective player. His physical deterioration has made his passing far more suspect, especially when it comes to receiving them. This makes sending him pucks in the middle a very big gamble.
Last night, Selanne couldn't take a puck and skate with it at all. Anything that touched his stick either exploded away or died immediately. (He used to kill pucks around him but kept them on his stick, and he was fascinating to watch because of it. He embodied the credo "you can't give a good player a bad pass." Now he's more of a "you can't give him a pass.") So in game six, it quickly became apparent that the moment Selanne touched the puck, it was going the other way. And it did, over and over.
What Selanne does well, despite his deteriorating body is position himself in the best spots to score. When not on offense, he used to position himself effectively enough to limit scoring chances against and contribute toward turning play, which has obviously changed these days. As this game wore on, it was pretty clear he wasn't even right with his positioning and that nobody trusted him with the puck. And this is what I want to close on. You guys know I track a lot of stats and numbers and blah blah blah, but I try to relate all of it through how games are played, how I played, etc.
In running numbers and throwing them out, we forget the really simple truth of it: better players have good possession numbers. There's no one way a good player is good, but ultimately talent trumps systems (even though we can see that those are important, thanks to Carlyle). As Selanne ages, his raw ability has slipped. To make up for it, the team has relied on his knowledge to make up for it. He knows where to be on the ice...when he tries to get there. When he engages in the game. When he doesn't fly zones to cheat on rush attempts. Basically, when he decides to play hockey as it is played now, he's ok. When he tries to time machine himself back to the gun slinging days of his youth, his line gets scored on first in game six.
What about the talent around him? Perreault and Maroon have both been pretty effective players down the stretch and in the postseason. But they are playing with someone who is killing their attempt to generate any forward play. This is what lacking talent does. Getzlaf and Perry are good enough to still drive play (or at least break even) with someone like Selanne on their wing, but Perreault and Maroon are not. They need a good three-man unit to succeed. That is their talent level and the difference between elite and good or very good.
So when Maroon gets the puck in the DZ and sends it out to Perreault in the middle, who is being closed upon, imagine what happens next. Perreault has Selanne streaking up his side and away from pressure, and there's hesitation, because pucks have died on Teemu's stick but also he's shown he isn't going back to defend once he turns it over. Basically the choice is: "pass and get trapped in DZ" or "try to do anything but pass" (and likely turn it over trying to do too much anyway). At some point, as a player you pick your head up and see who you have with you and think, "if I gotta go play defense, I might as well do it because I made the mistake." Especially if the other guy isn't getting back to help out.
Selanne on an off night kills two other players ability to create, hurting an entire line. The moment hesitation creeps into the game because you can't trust who you play with, a rolling team like the Kings can exploit it (and did). Selanne wasn't trustworthy near the end of the game, and the Ducks weren't able to create anything on offense, and all of that is very connected because when one line goes south, another has to pick it up. When two lines are off (Perreault, Bonino), there's only two pushing play, and that's extraordinarily tiring when trailing.
If Selanne wants to play beyond game seven on Friday, he's going to need to be reliable. Is the puck exploding off his stick still? It probably will, simply because he's older now. But his positioning can't be taught, and he needs to commit to showing up in all zones, to the best of his ability, to provide that presence for his team. All of his recent points have come from this positional awareness, but he's also gotten the puck because his team trusts him. In games like last night, nobody wanted to give him the puck beyond a certain point, and that breaks everything.
No talent in the world can out-possess an entire team that is playing together with the lead. And that was game six.