The Vancouver maneuver
The slipper better fit for any reasonable hope in the Kings pulling out a successful Western Conference Quarterfinals bid against the NHL’s best Vancouver Canucks.
After sealing a postseason berth Thursday evening, thanks to the Dallas Stars‘ downward spiral, the Kings did nothing to help themselves in attaining good position entering the playoffs. After failing to key in on opportunities to capture 3rd and/or 7th place in the Western Conference, the Kings fell to the edge of the playoff cliff, finding themselves at 8th at season’s end. In doing so, they forfeited a chance at home-ice in the first round, and a shot at an extremely vulnerable St. Louis Blues club.
But really, you give yourself a chance to reflect on the season that has been, and to not be grateful for a playoff bid, even as the bottom seed looking up at the Presidents’ trophy winners, you’ve got to be content.
Confident? Well, that’s another story.
- Season Series -
As is the case with inter-Conference play, the Kings met the Vancouver Canucks on four occasions during the regular season. The two clubs matched up pretty evenly in all four contests, three of the games decided by just one goal. Here’s a quick look back at the four dates between the two playoff opponents:
November 10, 2011
Vancouver Canucks (3) @ LA Kings (2)
Quick Notes: Vancouver would run away early with three 1st period goals, the first two coming on the powerplay. The Kings would chip away with one in the 2nd, and another with just 1:10 remaining. Jonathan Quick stopped 29 of 32 shots, Anze Kopitar records two assists.
December 31, 2011
Vancouver Canucks (1) @ LA Kings (4)
Quick Notes: Anze Kopitar would snap his 17-game goal drought, the Russians Slava Voynov and Andrei Loktionov combined for four points, and Jonathan Quick stopped 27 of 28 shots.
January 17, 2012
Vancouver Canucks (2) VS LA Kings (3) *Final/Shootout
Quick Notes: The Kings would pepper Roberto Luongo with 41 shots, only to credit two regulation goals. Dustin Penner scored, there’s a storyline in itself. Justin Williams and Mike Richards would pot shootout goals to solidify two points for the Kings.
March 26, 2012
Vancouver Canucks (1) VS LA Kings (0)
Quick Notes: This would be the sixth and final time during the season that the Kings lose by the score of 1-0. Roberto Luongo stood on his head, stopping all 38 Kings shots. Jonathan Quick was solid yet again, but the offense couldn’t match Manny Malhotra‘s early tally.
Keys to the series
First – Aid: The health status of Jeff Carter is going to be a major factor in how the series plays out, Carter missed the final five games of the regular season with an ankle injury. Reports, however, have signs pointing toward Carter dressing tomorrow night. If he does in fact play, it’s not sure that he’ll be 100%, you can certainly relate this to Justin Williams toughing out a shoulder injury in last season’s playoff tilt with the San Jose Sharks.
Carter’s most important characteristic is alleviating pressure off of the first line, giving the Kings two threatening lines, making Vancouver’s match-ups a bit more difficult. If Carter isn’t to play, Vancouver will target Anze Kopitar and the first line, which is a simple assignment for a team of Vancouver’s caliber. Jeff Carter just isn’t another scoring threat, but a player who can balance the Kings’ offensive threats, giving the Canucks two major lines – not just one, to implement into their defensive gameplan.
While we’re talking injuries, Brad Richardson fits the topic. Richardson is out indefinitely with an appendectomy, and Andrei Loktionov will meet the team in Vancouver tomorrow to fill his void. Richardson, who came out of nowhere to record five points in last year’s Western Conference Quarterfinals against the San Jose Sharks, is not a loss that should have much effect on the outcome of the series. However, Loktionov can prove to have an impact. How about it, Andrei?
Playing the pipes: Goaltending is going to play a huge factor in this series, and surprisingly, Jonathan Quick may have the advantage in this situation. Quick, a Vezina trophy candidate, and a favorite to take the hardware, knows very well what’s at stake. He’s used to depending on his own performance, rather than leaning on the forwards in front of him, as we’ve seen all year long. Quick will be comfortable with being behind, at a stalemate, or with a slim lead. We know this, and we know he performs under this pressure. Do you dare question Vancouver’s goaltending? I do.
Vancouver’s Roberto Luongo has been a staple in the NHL as one of the elite, if not the best goalie in the league for quite some time. However, he’s had a backup in Cory Schneider this season who threatens his playing time if the results aren’t acceptable. Schneider, who’s started 28 games and relieved in five more, holds a staggering 20-8-1 record with a .937 save percentage. This shows you that the Canucks do not have a “sure bet” in net, which can prove to be a vital weakness come postseason play.
For the Kings to score in this series is one thing, but for them to initiate a goaltending move could prove to be a major impact in the series. The Kings have two good goaltenders in Quick and Jonathan Bernier, but they know who’s going to play. The Canucks have two good goaltenders in Luongo and Schneider, but they could switch roles at any moment. This adds pressure to the shoulders of Vancouver’s netminders, who could lose their role with one sub-par game. For the Kings, playing mind games with Vancouver’s crease could be the deciding factor in having a chance in this series. Of course, that means scoring.
Early and often
Electric bill: When these two clubs met in the postseason in 2010, they combined for a whopping goal-total in the six game series, with 43 – the Kings scoring 18, the Canucks 25. Mind this, the Kings had to score 18 goals to last just six games, a straight-laced three goal average that hasn’t been too easy to meet consistently this season.
Nothing helps goal scoring better than success on the powerplay. The Kings were immaculate with their powerplay production in the last two contests against San Jose, a definite positive you can take from those two losses. In the two games they executed by scoring six goals in nine man-advantage opportunities, that’s phenomenal.
Something else worth noting, of the Kings 18 goals scored in their 2010 Western Conference Quarterfinals series with the Vancouver Canucks, 10 of those 18 tallies came on the powerplay. And in the Kings’ two victories in that series, they acted accordingly with success on five of their nine man-advantage opportunities. It was key then, and you can bet it will be just as important – if not more, this time around.
Anze Kopitar notched his first career NHL playoff goal against the Canucks on the powerplay two years back, a goal that lifted the Kings to their first postseason victory since 2002.
Let it play out as a good omen, if you will.
No series prediction here. You’ve either got to be crazy, or a ‘negative fan’ to voice one from this side. It’s going to begin to play itself out in Vancouver, BC tomorrow night at 7:30 PM. That’s the bottom line, and that’s all you can afford to focus on.