Monday, April 9, 2012

Kings-Canucks Playoff Preview Part II: Forwards

Anze Kopitar
The Kings can score now.

Each team relies on their top-line to lead the way offensively.  The line of Kopitar-Brown-Williams were the Kings' top three point producers this season.  Vancouver's top line of the Sedins and Burrows also led the way for the Canucks.  Both lines have produced at a similar pace this season.  L.A.'s top trio has combined for 69 goals while Vancouver's has combined for 72 goals.  Both lines led their respective teams during their four regular season matchups this season.  For Los Angeles, Anze Kopitar (goal, 3 assists) and Justin Williams (2 goals, 1 assist) led the way.  Vancouver was led by the NHL’s favorite Swedish twins, Daniel (goal, 3 assists) and Henrik Sedin (2 assists). 

The Kings offensive struggles have been well-documented.  They were shutout a league-high 10 times this season.  With that said, the Kings have only been shutout once since the acquisition of Jeff Carter (vs. Vancouver 1-0).  The Kings have actually averaged three goals per game over the past month which is a far cry from their 2.29 (29th) goals per game season average.

While the Canucks goals per game is down from a year ago (3.15 GF/G).  Their 2.94 goals per game was still good enough for 5th best in the NHL.  But coming into the series, it’s actually Vancouver’s offense that has sputtered a bit, averaging 2.44 goals per game over the last month of the regular season.

The key for both teams will be finding secondary scoring.  The Canucks have six players outside their top line who reached double-digit goal totals.  Ryan Kesler (22 goals), Chris Higgins (18), David Booth (16), Jannik Hansen (16), Alex Edler (11), and Mason Raymond (10) will all be looked upon to provide offense.

For Los Angeles, only three players outside their top-line reached the 10-goal plateau: Jeff Carter (21 goals), Mike Richards (18), and defenseman Drew Doughty (10).

FIRST LINE 
Anze Kopitar
Anze Kopitar is playing the best hockey of his career.
Brown-Kopitar-Williams
After disappointing for much of the regular season; all it took were a few trade rumors involving the Kings captain, a Hall of Famer calling out the team’s #1 center, and the addition of a perennial 40-goal scorer to the second line to get the Kings top line rolling.  And boy are they rolling.  The trio combined for 20 goals and 34 assists over the final 18 games of the season.  After being singled-out by former Kings captain Marcel Dionne in early March; Kopitar responded to the criticism by taking his game to a level that hadn’t been seen before, scoring seven goals and 15 assists down the stretch.

Daniel Sedin
A healthy Daniel is bad news for L.A.
D. Sedin-H. Sedin- Burrows
The most dominant pair of twins the NHL has ever seen were at it again this season until Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith had had enough and delivered a vicious elbow to the head of Daniel. The youngest Sedin hasn’t played since suffering a concussion on that play in Chicago on March 21st.  Sedin is skating on his own and is expected back in time for Game 1 of the series but as we saw when Mike Richards came back from suffering a concussion in December, it takes time to get back up to speed.  Every player recovers differently but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Los Angeles tested Daniel early and often to see if he truly is 100%.  The Sedins are two of the best offensive players in the game and perform magic together.  They turn former ECHL fodder into legit 30 goal NHL scorers (Burrows) and extend the careers of failed Kings’ trade deadline acquisitions (Anson Carter’s career-high 33 goals in 2005-06).

SECOND LINE 
Jeff Carter
A healthy Jeff Carter is bad news for Vancouver.
King-Richards-Carter
The acquisition of Jeff Carter has rejuvenated the entire Kings offense but especially Carter’s former running mate in Philadelphia, Mike Richards (who finished with 44 points; his lowest point total in five seasons).  The line of Carter, Richards, and rookie Dwight King could be the key to the series for Los Angeles.  The three combined for 11 goals and 13 assists in 16 games before Carter went down with ankle injury on March 28.

Raymond-Kesler-Booth
Some may call this line the only blemish on Vancouver's sparkling 2011-12 resume.  Three more than capable scorers who haven't quite lived up to their expectations.  Mason Raymond (10 goals) saw his goal total drop for the second consecutive season; down from 25 two years ago.  Ryan Kesler has also struggled (See Key Matchup).  While David Booth (16 goals) doesn’t look like he’ll ever reach that 31-goal mark of three years ago. 

Mike Richards

KEY MATCHUP: Richards vs. Kesler
While Richards is having a down year offensively for the Kings, the same could be said of Ryan Kesler for Vancouver.  After putting up 41 goals last season and consecutive 70+ point seasons; his offensive numbers dropped to 22 goals and 49 points (ironically, the lowest total for him in five years…sound familiar?). 
Richards and Carter are two of the premier two-way centermen in the NHL.  Both are expected to shutdown the other team’s top line while also contributing offensively.  Both played similar roles for their countries at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver; Kesler for the US and Richards for Canada.  Richards was drafted one pick after Kesler in the 2003 NHL Entry Draft.  The series could sway depending on which of these premier centerman step up their games in the postseason.
THIRD LINE
Jarret Stoll
Stoll is L.A.'s 'go-to' faceoff specialist.
Penner-Stoll-Lewis
This line of misfit parts and specialized skills was thrown together by Coach Darryl Sutter and it’s actually turned into a pretty solid line.  Penner (7 goals) has completely lost his scoring touch and is now relied on to use his 6-4 frame to throw his body around (90 hits, new career-high).  Jarret Stoll (6 goals) hasn’t been able to find his offensive game since being dumped to the third line following the acquisition Richards in the offseason.  But Stoll is still one of the best in the faceoff circle winning 55% of his draws this season.  And finally, Trevor Lewis is by far the most dangerous forechecker the Kings because of his skating.  Sutter realized Lewis couldn’t center the fourth line because he couldn’t win a faceoff (43%) but his speed makes him the perfect safety net to Penner.

Higgins-Pahlsson-Hansen
Without a doubt, this is Vancouver’s “shutdown” line.  Coach Alaine Vigneault will try to shut down the Kings top two-lines by deploying this trio.  Their Relative Corsi Quality of Competition are top three among forwards on Vancouver.  If all they do is neutralize the Kings top-six forwards, Vigneault will be happy but the trio has some scoring touch too.  It’ll be interesting to see if Higgins (18 goals) and Hansen (16) can create offense on their own line without the aid of the Sedins and Kesler.  Their speed makes them dangerous in any situation.

FOURTH LINE
Kyle Clifford
Kyle Clifford needs to improve last postseason was no fluke.
Clifford-Fraser-Nolan
The enforcer, agitator, run-the-goalie, hit everything that moves line.  This line is key for the Kings.  This trio will be the first to test Vancouver’s toughness that’s been in question ever since being pushed around by Boston for seven games.  If Clifford and Fraser can play physical and stay disciplined it’ll be a huge advantage for Los Angeles.  Clifford netted three goals and two assists in the Kings first-round matchup vs. San Jose a year ago.  Any offensive output from this line will be an added bonus though because they’ll have their hands full trying to stay disciplined against agitators like Lapierre and Hansen.

Maxim Lappiere
Maxim Lapierre: Hard-nosed player or Rat? Somewhere in-between.
Weise-Malhotra-Lapierre
Weise is the added muscle.  He and Clifford fought to a draw back in November in the only fight between the two teams during the regular season.  Malhotra who wins 58% of his draws is likely to see a lot of Stoll in the faceoff dot.  He can still skate and should provide a tough matchup for L.A..  Maxim Lapierre is the real key to this line. He’s an in-your-face, never keeps his mouth shut kind of agitator.  He racked up 244 hits along with 130 PIM (both led the team), his eight major penalties are second only to Weise.  He’s also managed five misconduct penalties and a game misconduct.  Only Zac Rinaldo and Derek Dorsett have racked up more misconduct penalties than the Lapierre this season.

EXTRA FORWARDS
Los Angeles
Brad Richardson- The speedy forward filled-in adequately for Carter.  Recording two goals and an assist in the final five games of the regular season.  Richardson also delivered in the postseason with two goals and three assists in the Kings first-round loss to San Jose.
Kevin Westgarth- The Kings enforcer hasn’t appeared in a game since February 16.  Should tell you a lot about how this series is going if we see him anytime soon.

Vancouver
Byron Bitz- Bitz missed the entire 2010-11 season with a sports hernia injury.  Was placed on waivers and recalled by Vancouver this season.  Should provide some grit to the 4th line especially if Weise or Zack Kassian stumbles.
Andrew Ebbett-  This year’s Jeff Tambellini.  Small. Fast.  Offensive-minded.  Not quite good enough for the NHL.
Zack Kassian- Canucks GM Mike Gillis acquired Kassian at the deadline to provide another element of size and grit for the postseason.  In 17 games with Vancouver, Kassian had a goal, two assists, 31 PIMs, and delivered 40 hits.  The young winger is still raw but has comparisons to Boston tough guy Milan Lucic.  Kassian’s playoff experience includes three games with the Portland Pirates of the AHL and 47 games over four seasons in the OHL including a Memorial Cup with the Winsor Spitfires two years ago.  It’ll be interesting to see if Kassian has shown Vigneault enough over the past month to prove that he’s ready for the big-stage.

EDGE- EVEN.  The Kings have proved over the last month that they can score goals now.  Their top six forwards are as strong if not stronger than Vancouver.  The Kings have acquired two world-class talents since falling to San Jose a year ago in six games and now roll two legitimate scoring lines and are light years ahead of the team that lined up against Vancouver  two years ago.  The health of Daniel Sedin and Jeff Carter will obviously have a major impact on the series.

The most interesting matchup will be seeing how effectively the Canucks third-line of Higgins-Pahlsson-Hansen can neutralize the Kings top two lines.  Without a true shutdown line, the Kings rely on their top two lines to matchup alot against other team's top offensive lines.  Also, Look for Lapierre and Clifford to start jawing and hitting everything that moves from the drop of the puck.  

3 comments:

  1. Thanks for the nice series preview! I can't wait until Wednesday!

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  2. Helluva breakdown! Great work and, of course, the photos are a nice addition. We have to have a motivated, healthy Carter to win this IMO. Hopefully he can withstand a tough first round.

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  3. @ Reuben- Thanks for reading! Wednesday is here!!!!

    @KingsNewsDaily.com- Thanks for checking out the blog! Agree. Whichever injured star comes back first and plays closest their potential takes the series!

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