The Los Angeles Kings finished off their miraculous late season push on a bit of a tough skid, dropping their last 2 contests to the San Jose Sharks, both games in OT or shootout. The Kings fell from the division lead to last place in the Conference with Phoenix stealing the 3rd seed and the Sharks taking the 7th seed.
What I’m stating here might sound a little bit negative but on the contrary, I’m very pleased with the Kings’ effort down the stretch. No doubt if you had spoken with me a month ago I would have thought the Kings were headed for the golf course and not a playoff date.
However, the Kings don’t have it easy. They’ll be taking on the Vancouver Canucks who finished with the best record in the league for the 2nd straight season. As I’m sure you know, the Canucks are a championship caliber team, losing out to the Boston Bruins last season by just 1 game.
Yet, despite being a formidable team with a great record, I would rather the Kings face the Canucks over facing Detroit, Chicago, or Nashville. Maybe that’s due to my own naivete but that’s not anything new.
Let’s breakdown the match up:
Offense: The Canucks are no joke in this department, scoring the most goals in the Western Conference this season. The Sedin twins are a force, and Burrows, Kesler, Hansen, and Higgins are great depth scoring support. Even at that, the Canucks offense is down from last season. A mediocre season for Ryan Kesler, and injuries have hampered their output.
For the Kings, offense has been woeful. I don’t need to explain how poor the Kings offense was this season, however, they finished on a hot streak. Goal-scoring was way up after the acquisition of Jeff Carter and the Kings likely made the playoffs due to the offensive boost. The Kings will have to overcome the mark of the lowest scoring team to make the playoffs this season in order to advance.
Defense: Both teams have strong defense. In fact, the only team in the playoffs to allow less goals than either the Canucks or Kings is the St. Louis Blues. The Kings have a great mixture of offensive ability and defensive prowess from the blueline. The Canucks have a similar mix of offense and defense from the back-end, led by Alex Edler and Dan Hamhuis.
When it comes down to it, the Kings have had problems playing the same defense during the playoffs that they have during the regular season. If they can manage to do exactly that, they’ll take the edge here.
Power-Play: The Canucks are ranked 4th in the league. The Kings are ranked 17th. With the personnel the Kings have they should be much better. If they can tap into that potential they can sway the balance. Teams that score on the power-play generally win games in the playoffs (except for last season when Boston was dreadful). However, as it stands now, the Canucks have the advantage.
Penalty Kill: Both teams are very good at the PK. The Kings rank 4th in the NHL and the Canucks come in at 6th, a mere 1% lower (87% to 86%). The Kings have some dangerous ability to go the other way when down a man as well. Kopitar and Richards showed that on several occasions this season.
Advantage: Kings (barely)
Goaltending: To put it lightly, Jonathan Quick is the reason the Kings are in the playoffs. He’s had a stellar season on a team that just couldn’t get that extra goal when he needed it. He notched 10 shutouts this season, a league high.
On the other side, the Canucks have 2 great goaltenders. Luongo had another strong season and Cory Schneider arguably had a better one as his backup (20-8-1 with a .937 save % as a backup?!). The story now is that Luongo feels Schneider breathing down his neck and it may shake his confidence. If the Kings can rattle this goaltending duo and make the Canucks nervous, they can do some damage. On the Kings side, the rest of the team needs to support Quick so that he doesn’t over extend himself, try to do too much, and end up making mistakes.
Coaching: I’m not going to pretend like I know who is the better coach. I will say what I do know. Vigneault has been with the Canucks for a long time, the players respond to him, and he has (recent) playoff experience. He knows how to win in the playoffs.
Sutter has been effective so far as the Coach for the Kings. He has a passionate approach to the game that I think will benefit the Kings more in the playoffs than did Murray’s style. However, with as far as the Canucks have gone into the playoffs in recent years, Vigneault has the clear upper hand.
X-Factor: The Canucks have a lot of reputations attributed to them. They’re called dirty, divers, etc. I’m not going to remark on whether these are true or not but no one can doubt the efficacy of it. The Canucks get under the skin of the opponents and make them pay when they get emotional. Max Lapierre will be chief among the s***-starters, and Ryan Kesler can be a gnat too.
The Kings counter punch with their 4th line. Fraser and Clifford in particular will have to neutralize the grit and grime of the Canucks and let the Kings star players do their job.
Injuries: Both the Kings and Canucks sustained significant injuries down the stretch. The Kings lost Jeff Carter to an ankle injury and no doubt missed him in their final 2 games of the season. Jeff Carter should be good to go for the playoffs.
The Canucks sustained a significant blow when their top goal-scorer Daniel Sedin sustained a concussion and missed the last 9 games of the season. The Canucks desperately need Daniel in order to compete with the Kings’ tough defense. However, we all know Henrik can step up and score goals in the absence of his brother.
The Kings have a tough draw in the Canucks. However, there is no such thing as an easy draw in the West and they have a good a chance as anyone to beat Vancouver. If they can play the game they were playing down the stretch in their last dozen or so games, the Kings have a great chance of beating the Canucks in the 1st round. I hate making predictions but-
Prediction: Kings in 7.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney