Kings raise play, Coyotes look beat
The Coyotes are proving that they have no answers for the Kings' brand of hockey
Jeff Carter set the tone early en route to the Kings' first career playoff hat trick
Los Angeles took advantage of Shane Doan's penalty to put the game out of reach
What we learned in Los Angeles' decisive 4-0 win over Phoenix in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final:
This is going to be a short series. To a man, the Coyotes promised they'd be a better team in Game 2, and in some ways they were. They got off to a decent start, slowing the Kings' transition game by keying on the first outlet pass. Boyd Gordon's line stepped in and effectively held Anze Kopitar's unit in check. They controlled the face-off circles and got some early jump out of Dave Tippett's decision to swap left wings on the first three lines.
But none of it amounted to much.
The Kings adjusted their transition, moving their center higher in the zone to force a larger gap. Kopitar did his damage on the power play. They created turnovers after losing the draws with their relentless puck pursuit. And it wasn't long before those line changes by the Coyotes did more harm than good as a failed attempt in forced chemistry (Ray Whitney ... geez).
Plenty of teams have come back after going down 2-0 at home. The Bruins did it in the first round just last year after dropping a pair in Boston to the Canadiens. But these Coyotes haven't just lost. They look like a beaten team. They don't have any answers for the way the Kings covet the puck. Their best players have been relegated to the shadows. And they haven't shown the creativity needed to make something happen outside their strictly regimented system.
It's tough to play opportunistic hockey when the other team doesn't allow you any opportunities.
The Kings have raised their play in this round. If the Coyotes have another level, they'd better show it quick.
Jeff Carter finally climbed out of the passenger seat. Talk to people around the Kings and they'll tell you how the Carter trade improved the team's offense by allowing other players to move into roles that better suit their strengths. That's nice, but it's about time that Carter improved the offense by actually, you know, scoring.
To his credit, Carter showed plenty of jump from the get-go, rifling a tough shot at Smith just six seconds in and using his legs to get into positions where he was actually a threat. More important, he didn't whiff or miss the net on his opportunities like he did time and again in Game 1.
Tonight, Carter's first career playoff hat trick recalled the Johnny-on-the-spot player he was in Philadelphia. He was the beneficiary of some excellent board work by Dustin Penner and Mike Richards that set up his knuckle-puck shot that made it 2-0 early in the second, then had Kopitar's brilliantly delayed wrister deflect in off his skate to count as L.A.'s first power play goal since Game 3 against the Blues.
Carter sealed the deal on another five-on-three chance, depositing a rebound into an yawning cage after Kopitar found a lane and blasted a shot from the point.
You could look at each of the three goals and say that someone else deserved the real credit for making the play happen, but save some for Carter who finally figured out where to be and what to do when he got there.
Shane Doan's hit was a turning point. The Kings already had reestablished their swarming forecheck and were clearly in command with a 2-0 lead late in the second, but the Coyotes were still just a bounce away (on a night when the puck was dancing like a jumping bean) from making it a one-goal game when Doan crushed Trevor Lewis into the boards from behind.
The call -- five minutes and a game misconduct -- was excessive for what the hit was, but that's what went on the books. Phoenix lost its captain for the night and the advantage led to L.A.'s first power-play goal of the series at the end of an extended five-on-three chance. At that point, the lights pretty much went out on Phoenix's chances in this series.
Truth of it is, it should have been a minor. That hit, or at least the result of it, was all on Lewis, who was either incredibly stupid to expose himself like that...or made a gutsy choice to take one for the team when he saw Doan coming. Judging by the timing, I'm going with the latter.
After that, it was a steady decline in the Coyotes' discipline that saw Mike Smith brutally chop down Dustin Brown from behind and Martin Hanzal join Doan for an early shower after he boarded Brown in the third. In the end, Phoenix had taken 56 penalty minutes to 24 for the Kings.
Some will argue these transgressions were a sign that Phoenix refused to go quietly, but this didn't feel like a team trying to set a tone for the next game, did it? No, this was a team that recognized that it had no answers for an opponent that was simply outworking and outexecuting it. The Coyotes were embarrassed, so they retaliated the only way they could.
Will we see suspensions for Game 3 as a result? Not a chance.
Granted, Brendan Shanahan has to consider that Doan has been suspended twice and fined once over the past two seasons. But when he looks at the video, he'll see that Doan already was committed to the hit before Lewis turned. That'll get him off the hook.
Brown also put himself in a vulnerable position by stopping before he reached the boards rather than allowing himself to be ridden into them. Hanzal, who has no disciplinary history, should be safe as well.
Smith's slash was the cheapest shot of the night, but with Brown apparently avoiding injury, there's no way Shanahan takes away Phoenix's top player at this point.
Quick was better...not that it mattered. It was a nice bounce-back effort from the Kings' stopper, who made 24 saves on the night. The Coyotes ham-fisted away their best chances, including a pair missed by Mikkel Boedker and a glorious chance in the low slot by Alec Martinez that could have given his team an early lead. Still, Quick looked sharp, especially going side-to-side, as he made key stops on Daymond Langkow and Taylor Pyatt. He hasn't had to put together a game-stealing 60-minute effort yet in these playoffs, but he looked tonight as though he could if he had to.
He's now won nine consecutive road playoff games, one off the mark set twice by Battlin' Billy Smith of the dynastic New York Islanders.