LOS ANGELES – There may not be a more evenly matched, tight-played series than the battle between the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Just seven goals have been scored in three games and the goaltenders are matching each other save for save. St. Louis’ Brian Elliott has a 0.962 save percentage while Jonathan Quick has delivered a 0.959 save percentage, good for 2nd and 3rd place respectively in this young post season.
In the first three games, you could rarely find any breakdowns in the Blues game. In game three, though, St. Louis failed to finish at least a half dozen golden opportunities with scoring chances where the Los Angeles net was wide open. Another area of focus needs to be preventing the Kings a little too much room to operate in the neutral zone to spring a breakout play in attacking the St. Louis net.
In a series where goals are as easy to come by as a $3 gallon of gas, Brian Elliott continues to shine. Even with having allowed the only goal in game four, Blues goaltender Brian Elliott remains the NHL’s hottest goaltender since April 1st. The team continues to play tight defense allowing few quality scoring chances and when those do come, Elliott has been shutting the door with regularity. In the postseason, Elliott is second in both save percentage at 0.962 record and 0.93 goals against average. So the defense is secure holding opponents to just 26.3 shots per game, third in the sixteen-team field.
So it comes down to offense for the Blues, a team which has scored 4 goals in 3 games, 2 of which come from the stick of Alex Steen who may have some more life in his twig before the series ends. Patrik Berglund and Barrett Jackman have the other St. Louis markers.
While there is thought something has to break soon to open the goal-scoring drought, the realities of the tight play which give cause to believe it might be difficult to see too many more goals coming in the series.
Still, there is room for optimism, if for no other reason than to see the recent play of several St. Louis snipers. David Backes, with 100 shots on goal which yielded six goals and 28 points during the regular season, has 12 shots in just three games, double his regular season average. He has been active and around the center of action all series. Maybe he is the one to make a difference in game four.
Young rookie Jaden Schwartz is another player on the cusp of good things. Schwartz had 50 shots on goal and has 7 goals and 13 points in the regular season. In three playoff games this post season, he has 10 shots on goal, more than double his average, and has really made his mark among the Los Angeles defense. He could net a significant goal in game four.
Chris Stewart and David Perron have been relatively silent in the series with both putting forth good effort, but getting no results which show on the scoreboard.
Stewart, on a one-year deal which expires after this season, scored 18 goals and 36 points during the regular season. His turnaround season from 2011-12 led the team in both measures. He has yet to light the lamp on eight shots this postseason.
David Perron has taken on a different role in the playoffs than he did during the regular season. After having scored 10 goals and 15 assists during the regular season, Perron has just 1 assist on 8 shots after taking the role of pest attempting to draw penalties in his more than feisty style which seems to be having an effect on the defending champions. His 6 penalty minutes lead the Blues in sin bin time.
A player who has shown great strength on the puck and is causing the Kings difficulty is Patrik Berglund. With one goal in the series scored in game two, Berglund has had some of the best chances in the series. His 7 shots have been some of the best in the series.
And then there is the backline contributing to what little offense there has been from the Blues side of the ledger. Of the 4 goals and 5 assists, St. Louis defensemen have accounted for 1 of those goals and 3 of those assists. Stranger things have happened than a defenseman scoring a critical goal. After all, Barrett Jackman scored his first career playoff goal, a game-winner, in game two. Can Alex Pietrangelo or Kevin Shattenkirk be too far behind after regular season totals of 24 and 23 points respectively?
One thing is certain. A win by the Blues puts them on the cusp of a series win with game five scheduled for Wednesday night in St. Louis. A win by the Kings would demonstrate resiliency from a team which has been this pressured for a turnaround since December 2011 when head coach Daryl Sutter replaced Terry Murray behind the bench. As always, game four tilts are the most pivotal.
Game four is set for Monday night at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The puck drops at 10:00 PM Eastern time.