How Do The Canucks And Kings Match Up In The First Round?
As everyone emphasizes, the Kings play a tight defensive game, allowing only 179 goals this season - their offensive output was unimpressive, with only 194 goals, but they managed to score at a much better clip in their past 20 games. The Canucks scored 249 times and allowed 198 goals.
The Kings had a balanced record going 22-14-5 at home and 18-13-10 on the road, while Vancouver went 27-10-4 at home and 24-12-5 on the road.
People have been quick to emphasize, in addition to their defensive game, that despite LA's lack of scoring this season, they nevertheless have some premier skilled, physical forwards. Their biggest threat is the dynamic, steady, highly skilled power-center Anze Kopitar (25 goals and 51 assists), who will be the focus of the Canucks attempts to shut down the Kings top line. Dustin Brown (22 goals, 32 assists) is a very versatile power forward who leads the Kings in hits perenially, can score, and defend - an excellent two-way forward. Justin Williams (22 goals, 37 assists) had a solid season, while Mike Richards struggled (18 goals and 26 points) this season, going through a long drought in LA in the second half of the season, before being joined by Jeff Carter, who recorded 9 points in his 16 games with the Kings (when you look at the deals to acquire the talented Richards and Carter, you nevertheless have to wonder if they wouldn't be a better club with Schenn, Simmonds and Johnson...) Aside from those players, no player on the Kings scored more than 8 goals or 15 assists. Some people have been including Dustin Penner among the elite forwards, but he too struggled through a 7 goal. 17 point season in 65 games, while skilled forward Simone Gagne is on injured reserve. The Kings depend very heavily on their top two lines and Drew Doughty to provide the overwhelming bulk of their scoring.
The Kings blueline is not terribly mobile, but a very solid defensive unit, with Drew Doughty being the primary scoring, puck-moving defenseman - he led LA defensemen with 10 goals and 26 assists, while the solid former Canuck Willie Mitchell was their second leading scorer on the blueline with 5 goals and 24 points, enough to place him 6th overall in Kings scoring. The top pairing of Doughty and Scuderi will likely see the most ice time, while the shutdown pair of Willie Mitchell and rookie Slava Voynov will draw the task of shutting down the Canucks' top line. Solid defensive blueliner Matt Greene and the young second year defenseman Alec Martinez will be their third pairing. A weak spot for the Kings could be their depth on the blueline - the seventh and only other d-man on their roster, Davis Drewiske, played only 9 games this season, and has played only 106 games in his four year career. They could face some real adversity in the event of an injury on their blueline.
Where the teams differ the most - by comparision, the Canucks had a dozen scorers who had more the 25 points (13 if the departed Hodgson is included).
A lot is being made of the potential absence of Daniel Sedin - a number of high-profile analysts and commentators are considering his injury a factor that would swing the balance in the Kings favour. I think that underestimates the depth of the Vancouver Canucks.
# Pos Player GP G A P
33 C Henrik Sedin 82 14 67 81
22 L Daniel Sedin 72 30 37 67
14 L Alex Burrows 80 28 24 52
17 C Ryan Kesler 77 22 27 49
20 L Chris Higgins 71 18 25 43
36 R Jannik Hansen 82 16 23 39
7 L David Booth 56 16 13 29
11 C Anze Kopitar 82 25 51 76
14 R Justin Williams 82 22 37 59
23 R Dustin Brown 82 22 32 54
10 C Mike Richards 74 18 26 44
Aside from Raymond who had 20 points in 55 games, and Samuel Pahlsson who replaced Hodgson as the shut down center on the new-look third line, all Canucks forwards on the first through third lines scored considerably more than the players below the Kings top five.
In addition, the Canucks had three blueliners who scored more than the Kings top scoring blueliner Doughty, while Sami Salo scored more than the Kings second scoring defenseman Mitchell.
23 D Alex Edler 82 11 38 49
3 D Kevin Bieksa 78 8 36 44
2 D Dan Hamhuis 82 4 33 37
6 D Sami Salo 69 9 16 25
8 D Drew Doughty 77 10 26 36
33 D Willie Mitchell 76 5 19 24
The Canucks projected pairings of Hamhuis with Tanev form a solid shut down line, while Edler and Bieksa pose a strong two-way threat, and the third pairing of Salo and Rome are another solid pairing, with the threat of Salo's cannon on the blueline.
Given the difference in depth, the Kings focus on low-scoring games, their physical style of play, and the bad ice at the Staples Center it is clear that the Kings will look to turn this into a series in the trenches. They will look to slow the pace, shut down the neutral zone, and take advantage of the borderline liberties the NHL allows in playoffs hockey. They are physical and gritty, but not intimidating - the Canucks will not be pushed around by them. It will be important to get right back in the face of guys like Richards - show him as much disrespect as he dishes out - but remain disciplined and play patient Canucks hockey. While guys like Richards will look to incite the Canucks off their game, he too has a tendency to be hot and cold, and can be frustrated. Kopitar and Brown are two great players that will likely show up every night, but if you can limit or frustrate them, the Kings are hard-pressed to force the issue.
I think the Kings will be in tough in Rogers arena without the last change - the Canucks depth, and particularly the strength of their third line might be their key. If the Pahlsson line manages to frustrate the KIngs top line, that could turn the balance in Vancouver's favour. With two strong scoring lines, and two excellent checking lines, the Canucks, even with the potential absence of Daniel Sedin, have a very balanced lineup, with plenty of secondary scoring potential on the blueline. The Kings will look to terrible ice and shutdown matchups to be an advantage at home. The biggest concern might be how healthy the Canucks are, and because of that, LA may try to make that factor #1, amping up physical playoff hockey as much as they can. Given the difference in depth and the strong defensive and physical presence of the Canucks fourth line, when LA attempts to win the physical battle, it will not be an easy task. They may find that trying to push Vancouver around, and outhit them is not an obvious advantage to them. The Canucks can turn the tables, particularly if the third and fourth lines decide to take a toll on their blueline, which gets very thin once you get beyond their top six
While anything is possible in playoff hockey, the Kings will need their best players and goaltender to dominate - not an easy task when lined up against the Canucks speed, depth, ability to roll four lines, three solid defensive pairings, and two stellar goaltenders. The Kings cannot give up leads, while the Canucks are capable of turning up the pressure if they give up the lead - they can counter-punch or press the issue. Goaltending could go either way in this series - while Vancouver may be able to compensate if Quick is lights out, the Kings likely will not win if Quick does not equal Luongo (and Schneider). Special teams, likewise, can be unpredictable and go either way - as can the way the series is called. With or without Daniel Sedin, I think the Canucks are deeper at the center position (the Kings are strong, but aside from Henrik, are there four better defensive centers than Pahlsson, Malhotra, Lapierre and Kesler on any club?), deeper in scoring, deeper on the blueline, and have some quality depth players in reserve. I think that will amount to being too much for the game LA Kings, but you never know - that is the exciting nature of playoff hockey.
I don't agree with the PJ Stock's who are picking LA, but I don't agree with the self-depracating Kings fans either, who are predicting the Canucks in 3 - I'll say a healthy Canucks team wins in 5 close games, a depth lineup in a tough 6 games.
Best of luck Canucks.