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Kings hope to tighten defense for Game 3 vs. Sharks

SportsLos Angeles KingsSan Jose SharksJustin WilliamsJarret StollJake MuzzinAnze Kopitar

At least the Kings have no illusions about how badly they played in losing the first two games of their first-round series against the San Jose Sharks by an aggregate of 13-5.

“Everything that’s gone wrong, we’ve allowed to do it ourselves. It’s usually a month for us that we allow 13 goals,” right wing Justin Williams said after the team’s game-day skate at Staples Center, site of Game 3 Tuesday at 7 p.m.

“We need to be better checkers out there, and that certainly starts with myself and the top line to get things going.”

Williams and Marian Gaborik have been scoreless and each is -1 defensively. Their center, Anze Kopitar, has been held to two assists and is -3 defensively, a surprising statistic for a player who is a legitimate candidate for the Selke trophy as the NHL’s top defensive forward during the regular season.

The Kings’ scoring lead after two games is shared by Trevor Lewis and Jake Muzzin, each with two goals. The only player who doesn’t have a negative defensive rating is Muzzin, who is +2.

How can a team that allowed the fewest goals during the regular season be so porous defensively in the playoffs?

Center Jarret Stoll said the Sharks have been able to dictate a high pace so far and use their speed. San Jose has also targeted the Kings’ defensemen for hits and has made those defensemen work harder and cover more ground.

“They’re getting behind our D and getting in on the forecheck and putting pressure on us. That’s what every team wants to do,” Stoll said. “You don’t want to play the game in the neutral zone — you want to play in the offensive zone. It’s more fun. You want to spend your energy to get some shots, make some plays, try and score goals.”

Stoll also said the Sharks have been efficient and effective in the neutral zone, where they’ve been able to build speed and victimize the slower Kings defensemen.

“Getting outnumbered in the neutral zone, being on the wrong side of people, being on the wrong side of the puck in the neutral zone,” he said of what has happened to the Kings.

“Every team’s quick now in this league. It’s a fast league. It’s getting faster every year and you can’t be on the wrong side of the puck or the wrong side of your man. You’re beat or you’re taking a penalty or they’re getting a two-on-one or partial breakaway, like what’s been going on. That’s what we’ve got to clear up first of all, and managing the puck better through the neutral zone and getting it in behind their D, whether it’s a soft chip to yourself or a guy coming to support. It doesn’t have to be a possession play, carrying it in. You can just get it behind their D and make them turn it, make them go back and get pucks.

“We talked about it yesterday. If you’re a defenseman, would you much rather get the puck at the top of the circles and quick up a play or would you rather go behind the goal line? I’d much rather top of the circles. Why go all the way back and get hammered against the boards and get hit? That’s been our game — a heavy forecheck and cycle team, and we haven’t been doing that.”

Williams said the Sharks’ speed has looked even better because the Kings have been caught out of position too often and have been slow to react.

“They’re able to show their speed because we’re slow. They’re able to get the puck, chip it out, do what they want because we’ve given them enough time,” he said. “So we need to be quicker — quicker everywhere. It’s time to change the tide here on home ice.”

The Kings’ aim is simple, he said. “We’re going to battle, make the other team think that it’s too hard out there,” he said. “They’ve taken it to us — there’s no question about the first two games. We need to see how strong our pushback is going to be, and I know it’s going to be strong.”

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