Tonight will mark the opening of the 2012 NHL Playoffs and the Kings will face off against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. It’s a rematch of the 2010 series, which saw the Canucks move on to the second round after just six games, and the pundits have established Vancouver as the overwhelming favourites yet again. It’s true that this is far from a dream match up for the Kings and their fans, but I would say it’s not quite the David vs. Goliath battle that the media has portrayed it to be.
So what is it going to take for Los Angeles to move on to the second round? Here are Monarchy Hockey’s Keys to the Series:
Set the Tone Early
The Kings are going to need to come out firing if they have any hopes of securing four victories in this seven game series. It will be extremely important to pull off at least one win in their next 2 games in Vancouver, so much so that I think if they go down 0-2 this thing may be over in five games. If the Kings do manage to win a game before heading back to California they should have the upper hand on a team that has been known to lack ‘mental toughness’ at this time of the year, especially if they are able to frustrate the hell out of the Canucks’ offensive attack (enter Jonathan Quick).
With some bruising physical play and an early goal or two, LA will put themselves in a good position to have the series split before coming home. At which point I would recommend adding ‘Chelsea Dagger’ to the goal song at Staples Center; what better way to welcome Luongo to California?
Put That Star-Studded Roster to Use!
Scoring has been the concern with Los Angeles for the entire year and unfortunately things won’t be much different heading into Game 1 against Vancouver tonight. But why is that? If you look at their roster on paper, with the likes of Kopitar, Brown, Williams, Carter, Richards, and Doughty, you wouldn’t peg this as a team that would have trouble scoring. And in reality, it shouldn’t. Of the players I just listed, 3 were on their nation’s respective Olympic rosters, Carter was the extra forward for Canada, and Kopitar certainly would have been on Slovenia’s roster, had they iced a team.
For whatever reason, the Kings have been unable to put it all together this season. Doughty and Richards both missed time due to concussions, Carter didn’t join the team until later in the season, and Brown slumped hugely for a few weeks after Christmas before breaking out with a vengeance around the trade deadline. While the Kings have been the poster-boys for underachievement, the optimistic outlook would illustrate that they were playing their best hockey of the season headed into the post-season. In their final 20 games they scored at a clip of 3.1 goals-per-game, carried throughout the duration of the season that would have been good enough for 4th in the league.
So the Kings certainly have the ability to score goals, and as I said earlier I think they are being underestimated by much of the hockey community. But hey, I’m sure that’s fine by them. A lot of teams underestimated the Montreal Canadiens in 2010, and look where that got them.
Don’t Hang Quick Out to Dry
Quick is going to play out of his mind for this team, we all know that, but the Kings need to give him some support and play within their system as well. The last two playoff rounds the Kings were involved in have been highlighted by a litany of goals and a lack of defensive structure; which is not LA Kings hockey. The Kings are at their best when they are limiting the opponent’s shot totals, keeping plays to the outside, slowing the game down, and making things easy on Quick. The guy will steal you a few games if you let him, but you have to give him a fighting chance first. Success on the Penalty Kill will also be vital, the Canucks have a dynamic Power-Play and converting once or twice with the man-advantage may put the game out of reach for the Kings.
As the series goes on the one goal games are going to favour the Kings, so there is no reason to get overly concerned with the offense. One or two goals should do the trick, assuming they don’t let the game turn into a track meet as they have in the past.
I’m going to resist the urge to make an outright pick this season when it comes to the Kings. Not only do I think it’s purely luck if you guess correctly in the playoffs, but I know that my bias for the Kings will outweigh any objective inclinations I may have. Instead, my predictions will be based on how the first 2 games in Vancouver go, at least this way I can claim to have some semblance of objectivity. So, here we go:
Should the Canucks win games 1 & 2: Canucks in 6
Should the Kings win 1 of 2 in Vancouver: Kings in 7
Playoff time is finally here!