Saturday, April 28, 2012

Kings-Blues Playoff Preview

The Kings and Blues are the same team.  Terrific defensively.  Struggle offensively.  Fantastic goaltending.  Mid-season coaching changes that turned their seasons around.  Rosters built through the draft.  The comparisons can go on forever.  So here are three reasons to be worried and three reasons to be confident going into tonight...

REASONS TO BE WORRIED...

Jeff Carter

1.  JEFF CARTER.  After his epic pass of the skate to Dustin Penner on the Kings game-winning goal, Carter disappeared of the scoresheet. It’s easy to speculate that his ankle is still bothering him. Hopefully, the week off helped his rehab along a bit more because the Kings will need Carter to contribute in the goal column vs. St. Louis.

2.  GIVEAWAYS. Obviously the statistic varies from arena to arena but the Kings had 58 giveaways to 36 takeaways. There were times in the series where the defense was unable to clear the zone that lead to scoring opportunities for Vancouver. St. Louis is relentless on the forecheck and creates a lot of offense on takeaways. Slava Voynov struggled at times in Round 1; don’t think that Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock didn’t notice.

3.  SCORING CHANCES. The Kings defensive system is great. The Blues defensive system might be even better. The same system that turned the duo of Roman Cechmanek and Robert Esche into Jennings Trophy winners in Philadelphia has transformed Brian Elliot, statistically the worst goaltender in the NHL last year into one of the ‘elite.’ Anyone that was at Staples Center to watch their last regular season matchup saw a first period where the Kings struggled to even get a shot on goal. They finished the period with three. With that said, adjustments were made at the Kings outshot the Blues 37-35 in a 1-0 shootout victory.  The Blues don't allow their opponent many chances (26.7 shots, 1st in regular season) so the Kings will have to continue to stay the course and stay aggressive.  Pressure their defense into turnovers when possible on the forecheck.  Looking at you Trevor Lewis!

Key Matchup: Mike Richards v. Patrik Berglund
It’ll be fun to see Dustin Brown and David Backes match each other hit for hit but the matchup that intrigues me the most is the #2 center position.  The Kings finally have their #2 center after years of searching; the Blues think their #2 has finally arrived too. 

Mike Richards dominated in Game 1 vs. Vancouver.  A goal and two assists and four hits including a bone crushing hit on Alex Burrows that set the tone for the series.  After that, he was held off the scoresheet.  The Kings are going to need more from offense from Mike Richards.  Whether he looks for his own shot or looks to get Jeff Carter going; the Kings need more.  He’ll also need to carry over his 52% faceoff percentage into the second round.

Patrik Berglund

Patrik Berglund is a curious case.  At 6’4, he’s got all the tools to be a dominant forward with his size and skill.  His regular season production regressed from 52 points to 38 points this past season but he dominated the Sharks in Round One with three goals and four assists.  He was a key component to the Blues success on the power play (2 G, 1 A).  Berglund will sit himself at the top of the goalie’s crease and screen the goaltender while looking for deflections and rebounds.  Berglund struggled in the faceoff circle in the first round, only winning 35.9% of his draws.

REASONS TO BE EXCITED!

1.  JONATHAN QUICK. The Vezina Trophy nominee posted the second best save percentage in the first round (.953). In addition, Quick managed led the league in even-strength save percentage (.963) by stopping 129 of 134 shots. Quick answered his critics who questioned whether he could succeed in the playoffs after posting .884% and .913% save percentages over the last two years.

Jarret Stoll

2.  KINGS THIRD LINE. The third line of Jarret Stoll, Trevor Lewis, and Dustin Penner combined for four goals and two assists in their opening-round series. They held Vancouver’s third-line of Hansen-Pahlsson-Higgins to just two goals in the series after the trio had combined for 38 goals during the regular season. It looks like Penner will skate with Richards and Carter to start the series but the Kings top three lines all made huge contributions in Round One.

3.  PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE. The Kings have eight players that have appeared in the Stanley Cup Finals. They have four Cup winners. The Blues have three players that have appeared in the Finals; all of them won Cups. The Kings lineup has appeared in 455 playoff games. The Blues have appeared in 433 games. Pretty close right? Remove veterans Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner, who have combined for 252 NHL playoff games and three Stanley Cups. Both well-respected players around the league but both are bottom-six forwards at this point in their career. The rest of the Blues lineup has only appeared in 181 postseason games. Twelve players on their roster have appeared in five games or less entering this postseason. In a series where defense will be key. The Kings top-6 blueline has played in 160 postseason games. The Blues top-6? 23 games.


CONCLUSION...
I thought the Kings-Canucks series was too close to call. This series is going to be even tougher to predict. I expect it to go a minimum of 6 or 7 games with at least a couple OT games thrown-in. It’s going to be a low-scoring, grind it out, physical series, highlighted by two fantastic goaltenders. The series will most likely be decided by who gets a bounce or two their way.

The goaltending is even. The special teams are even. The defense is even but the Kings experience on the blueline trumps the Blues’ backend. The Kings top-six has more experience and more potential to breakout in the series. Kings in Seven Games. Mike Richards with the game-winner in 2OT.

Mike Richards SO Goal

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