Kings’ Jack Johnson is becoming a power broker
In a few seconds’ time Jack Johnson went from playoff newcomer to impact player, putting the oomph in a power play that lifted the Kings to even footing with the Vancouver Canucks before their first-round playoff series resumes Monday at Staples Center.
Johnson was a few strides in from the blue line when he took a pass from Michal Handzus, stationed down low. Johnson faked a shot but passed ahead and to his left to Drew Doughty, who made a cross-ice relay to Anze Kopitar. The Slovenian center’s first shot was blocked, but he retrieved the rebound and flicked it past goaltender Roberto Luongo 7 minutes and 28 seconds into overtime for a 3-2 victory Saturday that told the world the Kings’ youth, expected to be a weakness, might be their greatest strength.
“It was a lot of fun. It was what you wait all season to play,” said Johnson, who assisted on the Kings’ first goal with a fierce power-play wrist shot that was rebounded by Fredrik Modin in the second period.
“It was a lot more fun than the regular season, I can tell you that. Once you get in the playoffs, you do anything you can to win and I’m just trying to do what the coaches are asking of me, to the best of my ability.”
He has maximized his offensive talents in the first two games of this series. The Kings have generated four of their five goals during power plays, and when Johnson is alongside Doughty he gives the Kings infinite options.
Johnson played 7:29 of the Kings’ 10:59 man-advantage time Saturday — Doughty devoured 10:11 — and both will again get heavy power-play duty Monday.
“Those guys are the quarterbacks back there. Without a puck-moving defenseman or a puck-possession defenseman like those guys are, I don’t think any power play can be as good,” Kopitar said, citing Pittsburgh’s Sergei Gonchar and Detroit’s Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski as similar catalysts.
“Those are the two guys that for us carry the load back there. They’ve been a big part for us, especially Jack, with two points last night and he made some big plays and hopefully it will keep going.”
Kings Coach Terry Murray praised Johnson’s agility, lateral movement and uncanny ability to thread pucks through bodies and on goal.
“He has the knack that pucks do end up at the net and now you’ve got those second, third opportunities,” Murray said. “That’s a skill in itself and we’re going to keep him going.”
The power-play duty suits Johnson, but he wants to be known as a two-way standout. That’s an ongoing evolution.
“I think I’ve done a good job my entire life of being a complete player and now I’ve played in a lot of big games where I’ve been asked to play against top lines and big minutes,” he said. “The last game I ever play I’ll be trying to get better at every aspect of my game.”
There’s no better time to get better than in the Kings’ first home playoff game since April 27, 2002.
“I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “I don’t think any of us should be nervous for any of these games. I think we’re all excited and ready to go and it should be a fun night.”
Rob Scuderi had the presence of mind Saturday to shoot the puck into a cluster of Canucks while they changed personnel, drawing them into a too-many-men penalty that set up the Kings’ winning goal. But if Kevin Bieksa hadn’t stopped the puck with his skate, “I think we probably would have had a two-on-one going the other way,” Scuderi said. “We caught a break and fortunately the linesman saw it our way.”
Scuderi had tried it before. “With some bad results too,” he said. “I’m glad that it worked out and we were fortunate to win the game on the power play.”
Murray said Monday’s lineup will be the same as in Game 2. That means Justin Williams, Raitis Ivanans and Randy Jones won’t dress.