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Kings are facing a faceoff problem

April 21, 2011 |  3:33 pm

Photo: Kings defenseman Willie MItchell, left, and Drew Doughty clear the puck from the zone as Sharks winger Patrick Marleau lurks nearby in Game 3 of the NHL Western Conference quarterfinals at Staples Center Tuesday. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times
Faceoffs have been a thorny issue for the Kings in their first three playoff games against the San Jose Sharks, who have a 2-1 series lead entering Game 4 on Thursday night at Staples Center.

The Sharks were the NHL’s second-best faceoff team during the season with a 53.7% success rate, and they’ve improved on that in postseason play. Their 56.8% success rate (117-89) ranks first among the 16 playoff teams. The Kings ranked 10th in faceoff percentage this season at 51.1% but rank last among playoff teams with a 43.2% success rate.

The difference was dramatic in the Sharks’ monumental rally to win Game 3: San Jose won 39 of 64 faceoffs, or 61%. The NHL’s statistics system had Joe Pavelski as 11-6 on faceoffs and Joe Thornton as 15-7; Kings center Michal Handzus was 1-14, which isn’t characteristic.

“This is huge. This is a big, big thing,” Kings Coach Terry Murray said Thursday morning when asked about the faceoff disparity. "They’re a very good faceoff team. They do put pucks to the net and kind of arrive quickly to try to get a faceoff. That is part of the strategy. They’ll come across the center red line with a lot of speed and take a long shot to the net in hopes that maybe there might be a fumble, there might be a loose puck that you’d have to freeze....

“What also now comes into play here is we need to be better in the faceoff circle. Not only in the win aspect. Clean wins, which is a hard thing. You’ve got to be on your toes with your defensemen, you’ve got to be on your toes with your forward that’s coming in to pick up some loose pucks that are lying around.

“The other thing we need to be better at is our center icemen to have more patience. We’ve got to get our sticks down second at home. We’ve got to wait till they’re in position. I think we’re a little too eager to get in there right away and put our stick down first and now they’re coming over the top, and when you get in second you have the advantage. We need to make a better decision as a group of center icemen to come in later, make sure that they’re set and give yourself the edge.”

 Murray said Kings players were thrown out of the faceoff circle seven times in Game 3, too high a number. “It ended up actually costing us the first goal,” he said. “[Brad] Richardson got thrown out. He was just a little too eager. He’s got to relax, show composure. And now we have to put [Kyle] Clifford in there because [Justin] Williams can’t take the faceoff and we lose it and it’s in our net. That’s our own fault, and we have to clean that up.”

Looking at the stat sheets from the first three games, Thornton is 35-20, Pavelski is 24-19, Patrick Marleau is 12-11 and Logan Couture is 19-22 for the Sharks. For the Kings, Richardson is 14-19, Trevor Lewis is 12-20, Handzus is 28-43 and Jarret Stoll, who missed Game 2 because of a suspension, is 23-18. Among those who take faceoffs after the center is thrown out, Ryan Smyth is 5-1 and Clifford is 1-1. Oscar Moller was 3-6 as Stoll’s replacement in Game 2.

“We have to have a greater level of composure coming in … to get the job done the right way and don’t overreact,” Murray said. “Don’t put the pressure on the referee, on the linesman, to have to make a decision as to who’s in and who’s out.”

Check back later for game coverage at www.latimes.com/sports

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Photo: Kings defenseman Willie MItchell, left, and Drew Doughty clear the puck from the zone as Sharks winger Patrick Marleau lurks nearby in Game 3 of the NHL Western Conference quarterfinals at Staples Center Tuesday. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

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