Whether he is handling goaltenders like a yo-yo or making a dramatic lineup change, King Coach Barry Melrose has done something to jolt his team out of inertia at various junctures during the NHL playoffs.
Melrose was not about to show his hand after Sunday's lethargic 4-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 4, which tied the Campbell Conference final, 2-2. Instead he issued an abbreviated Paul Westphal-type answer when asked if there would be a change for Game 5.
"Yeah, we'll win," Melrose said.
Yeah, but how?
In Game 5 here tonight at Maple Leaf Gardens, it seems to be left to the Kings, not their coach, to pull the series out in another tough playoff assignment, which is now reduced to best of three.
The winner goes on to the Stanley Cup finals against the Montreal Canadiens. For the Kings, the alternative could be a summer of remembering the hurt etched on veteran right wing Dave Taylor's face if he is denied a last chance at the finals.
There is only one reasonable--and attention-catching--change that Melrose could make for Game 5: banishing center Jimmy Carson to the stands.
Carson, Luc Robitaille and Jari Kurri have combined for one goal and one assist against the Maple Leafs, and some might say Robitaille and Kurri also deserve to sit. But Kurri is still playing excellent defensive hockey and Robitaille's effort has been there, though not the production.
Carson has not only been lackluster against Toronto, he has not shown much of anything since the first round against Calgary, having failed to score since April 29, a 10-game streak.
It's a sad state of affairs when a 24-year-old is being outworked and outscored by two veterans on his own team--Taylor, 37, and Pat Conacher, 34--as well as two enforcers from the opposition, Ken Baumgartner and Rob Pearson.
Carson, a 37-goal scorer in the regular season, mentioned after Sunday's defeat that he is getting limited ice time, particularly on power plays. But Robitaille's ice time has been cut, too. Robitaille played 3:53 in the first period and nine minutes through two periods before finishing with 15 minutes. Carson's ice time was a little less than Robitaille's.
At least Robitaille still tries to get to the net. Carson scored four goals in the first two games of the playoffs, in part by crashing the net. Now he seems to be treating it as though it were electrified, evidenced in Game 3 when he peeled away on his way to the net while carrying the puck, giving up a strong chance to score.
Maybe he heard someone skating behind him. Carson has never been a physical player. But even Wayne Gretzky has been more physical in the series and provided one of the few positive moments in Game 4, about midway through the second period when the Kings trailed, 4-1.
King defenseman Marty McSorley was in the penalty box for hooking Wendel Clark, and Gretzky was on the ice, killing off the latter part of the penalty. He put on penalty-killing clinic as he forechecked and eventually chased the puck carrier back into his own zone.
His tenacious play drew applause from the Forum crowd. But that was the sort of effort generally missing from the Kings throughout most of Game 4.
Will it be there tonight?
All season, Melrose has not hesitated to send messages, even if they were unpopular.
Perhaps who doesn't play in Game 5 will say a lot more than who does at Maple Leaf Gardens.