Thursday, April 15, 2010

(6) Kings v. (3) Canucks Series Preview

Simmer Is A Key To Victory
 
The Kings will take the series in six games.  And here's why...

Both teams are more similar than any fan north of the border would ever be willing to admit.
Both teams' forwards have great depth.  Both teams' defense have deficiencies.  Both teams' starting goaltenders have huge question marks entering the series.

Neither teams' penalty kill has been very good this season while both teams' power play has been superb.  I could give you all the numbers but Hammer's taken care of it already.

So how do they stack up...

FORWARDS: Advantage- Canucks

CANUCKS: The Canucks possess alot of depth in their forward core; led by Art Ross Award winner Henrik Sedin, who led the NHL in scoring with 112 points.  Henrik and his twin brother Daniel pose the biggest offensive threat to the Kings.  Vancouver's first-line of the Sedins and Alexander Burrows combined for 93 goals this season.  But the Canucks are much deeper than their first-line; the Canucks have one of the deepest top-nine's in the league.  Their second-line of Pavol Demitra, Ryan Kesler and Mikael Samuelsson could easily be the top-line for many NHL teams.  The Canucks boast six 25-goal scorers this season.  The team netted a 268 goals during the regular season, second only to the Washington Capitals.

With all the scoring in the Canucks top-nine; they lack a true shutdown checking line.  Although, with players like Kesler and Burrows they've got plenty of grinders to matchup with.

KINGS: The Kings forward core relies on their depth.  The first line of Ryan Smyth, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams has been outstanding.  They've struggled a bit to find their stride since Williams returned from his broken leg but it's still by far their most productive line.  The Kings will need to rely on secondary scoring to win games: Brown, Frolov and Stoll are all capable of chipping in.  L.A. has four 20 goal scorers of their own; and six 15 goal scorers.

The Kings have a true checking line that every team needs come playoff time.  The Michal Handzus-Wayne Simmonds-Brad Richardson line will be extremely valuable in this series matching up against the Sedins.  The Kings forwards are a more physical group and will need to slowdown Vancouver's quick forwards.

DEFENSE: Advantage- Kings

CANUCKS: With injuries to Willie Mitchell, Sami Salo, Aaron Rome and Shane O'Brien; the Canucks blueline is hurting.  Only Mitchell is expected to miss significant time.  Coach Alain Vigneault will ride his top-four hard.  Sami Salo, Alex Edler, Christian Ehrhoff and Kevin Bieksa all see over 20 minutes of ice-time.  While the Canucks don't have a game-breaker on the backend like Drew Doughty; all four of their top defenseman are capable of chipping in on the offensive-end.  The Canucks O'Brien and Andrew Alberts round out their defense and those two are who the Kings will look to attack. 

The loss of Willie Mitchell may be more important to this series than anything else.  Mitchell was the Canucks one true shutdown warrior-type defenseman.  He averaged 27, 25 and 22 minutes in the Canucks three victories over the Kings before their fourth and final matchup.  And we all know what happened then.

KINGS: Drew Doughty is a Norris Trophy candidate this year.  And after his performance in the Olympics; everyone knows what this 20-year old is capable of.  He's got enough gamebreaker potential to give the Kings the advantage.  Jack Johnson has been playing some of his best hockey of the season.  With shutdown d-men Sean O'Donnell and Rob Scuderi; the Kings defense is solid.  Matt Greene has been a warrior all season long.  Look for Greener to set the tone early.  The Kings may have just enough toughness and foot speed on their backend to slow down Vancouver's potent offensive attack.

GOALTENDING: Advantage- Canucks

CANUCKS: Roberto Luongo hasn't been good this season.  His GAA and SV% have are the lowest they've been since 2006, his final season in Florida.  He's been very pedestrian in March and April.  Many blame it on the Olympics but let's be real.  Luongo wasn't very good for Canada either.  His average performance was more than enough for Sidney Crosby, Jarome Iginla and Rick Nash.  

The loss of defenseman Willie Mitchell and forward Ryan Johnson will hurt Bobby Lu.  Both players combined to block 164 shots this season even with Mitchell missing in action since January.  If Luongo can find his game; it'll be a short series for Los Angeles but Luongo's shown little reason to believe he'll find it soon.

KINGS: Jonathan Quick.  What is there to say that hasn't already been said.  He was searching for that elusive 40th win for what seemed like three weeks.  Quick has struggled in the final two months of the season very similar to Luongo.  

While Quick has set franchise records for games played and wins his statistics are very average.  His .907 SV% and 2.54 GAA are good for 26th and 14th in the league.  This gives the Kings hope; if Quick can make the saves he's supposed to make.  The Kings have a chance of pulling an upset here.  He doesn't have to be great just average will get the job done.  Similar to the Chris Osgood days in Detroit.  Average is good enough Big John.  Average will do.

Here's what Puck Prospectus has to say about the goaltender matchup
Though many fans remember Roberto Luongo's spectacular meltdowns of five and seven goals against in Game 2 and Game 6 of last year's Chicago series, they tend to forget that Bobby Lu gave up only 14 goals combined in his eight other postseason games. Perennially underrated for a great netminder, Luongo gives the Canucks an excellent chance to make some noise in the Western Conference.
Los Angeles has ridden Jonathan Quick hard. In fact, the 24-year-old faced nearly as many shots as Martin Brodeur, which is saying something. It was a puzzling strategy, as the Kings had highly touted Jonathan Bernier idling in the minors for most of the season. Were Quick a year younger, we'd peg him for a horrendous .864 save percentage in the upcoming playoffs due to that workload. Now that's cold.

THREE KEYS TO VICTORY FOR THE KINGS

SPECIAL TEAMS: The Kings and Canucks Powerplays rank sixth and seventh in the NHL.  The Kings can't afford to put Vancouver on the man-advantage.  Both teams penalty kill is below-average; the Kings rank 20th (80.3%) and the Canucks rank 18th (81.6%).  If the Kings can stay out of the box; it'll greatly improve their chances of pulling the upset.

MATCHUPS: Both teams create alot of their offense off the cycle.  The Sedins love to play give-and-go along the boards.  It'll be up to Simmer and Zeus to limit their movement along the boards.  Doughty and Scuderi will be relied on heavily to stop their forwards from entering the zone with speed and slowing them down in the neutral zone.  The Kings cycle is also a huge weapon offensively.  The Kings ability to possess the puck along the boards will be extremely valuable against the less-physical Vancouver defenders.

INJURIES: At this point of the season, every team is dealing with injuries.  The Kings are healthy but the Canucks are missing two key players: Defenseman Willie Mitchell and Ryan Johnson.  For a team to be successful, a team needs all 18 skaters to be contributing in their own way.  Mitchell and Johnson are defensive-minded agitators that win games.  Mitchell, Vancouver's lone shutdown defenseman will be missed against the Kings depth up-front.  Johnson may be Vancouver's most valuable penalty-killers.  Neither of them will be available this series.

CLOSING STATEMENT: Yes, alot of the Kings roster has never been here before but nearly have our roster has been.  The matchup of Luongo vs. Quick is being over-hyped.  It'll come down to which team's better defensively.  While the Canucks have alot of players who can score, the Kings checking line will prove to be the difference.  Southern California hockey fans should remember how valuable the Niedermayer-Pahlsson-Moen line was for Anaheim during their 2007 Stanley Cup run.

Playoff hockey isn't about scoring goals but preventing them.  The Kings forwards are better defensively and the Kings blueline is stronger.  Quick will need to find his game and I think he does just enough to win the series.  KINGS IN SIX.

Don't believe me...here's Puck Prospectus insight on the series.
Los Angeles Kings vs. Vancouver Canucks
Historical chance of an upset: 35 percent
Closest equivalent:
The 1992-93 Canadiens, who upset the Quebec Nordiques 4-2 with a weaker power play than Los Angeles.
The Kings are a little bit above average both offensively and defensively, which is a good sign for pulling off the upset. They have a terrific power play, but their penalty killing is just a touch below average. In Vancouver, they're facing a strong offensive team that's almost as good defensively, with a power play certainly potent enough to reduce the chances of an upset.
In the 10 closest historical matches to this series, only twice was there an upset: once by the aforementioned 1992-93 Canadiens, and the next season by the Canucks over the Calgary Flames. The good news for the Kings is that both those teams went on to the Stanley Cup. While it doesn't appear that Los Angeles has a better chance of an upset than anyone else, there's at least some precedent that the Kings could go deep if they do pull it off.

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