Take a ground-level look at this one, because it ain’t gonna come easy.
This third-round date calls for a club the Kings are all too familiar with. Or are they?
It’s the Phoenix Coyotes tomorrow night to kick-off the Western Conference Finals, and this Pacific Division foe is the only club that stands in the way of the Kings and a Stanley Cup Finals bid. Although the Kings have seen the Coyotes six times this season, these two clubs have changed face since the postseason hit.
If not changed, they’ve both certainly hit a stride no one has seen all year.
It’s a battle of two clubs who have keyed playoff success on phenomenal goaltending, outstanding defense, special teams’ success, and production from depth. You looked at the St. Louis Blues before last series, and you saw most of this. There’s a clear-cut difference when looking at Phoenix, they’re doing it in the postseason.
As for the Kings, they’re doing the same – if not better. It’s difficult to have any doubts about this Kings team right now, especially with the play of Drew Doughty. Play it back now.
- Season Series -
As is the case with divisional opponents, the Kings met with the Phoenix Coyotes on six occasions during the regular season. The Kings had the upper hand, ending with a 4-1-2 record against Phoenix. Five of the six contests were decided by one goal, the other by just two. Three of the games went into extra time, and Jonathan Quick recorded two shutouts – Mike Smith with one.
Game Notes: Jonathan Quick would record his second consecutive shutout, stopping 28 Coyotes’ shots. Ironically, the one he recorded two nights prior to this game was against the St. Louis Blues. Dustin Brown would score the game-winner, and Kyle Clifford would add the insurance tallying the Kings’ 2nd goal – and it may be up for grabs as the most awesome celebration of the year. Not because it had style, but because they were freaking the f*ck out.
Game Notes: The Kings had won 5 of 6 games coming into this contest, but this would see them kick into a turn where they would lose 5 of the next 6 games. Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards with goals, but Radim Vrbata had two of his own – plus a Daymond Langkow OT clincher. Mike Smith was a wall, stopping 37 of 39 Kings shots.
Game Notes: Rob Scuderi would bury his only goal of the season in this contest, Willie Mitchell would follow suit chipping in with his second of five goals this season. The Kings amassed 35 shots on Mike Smith, Jonathan Quick stopped 26. Raffi Torres netted two goals for Phoenix, but the guy is a complete non-factor right now.
Game Notes: This was your typical match-up with the Coyotes. Boring, low-scoring, and probably on some crappy week-night. However, Drew Doughty ended things on exciting terms with his offensive zone rush goal. Not to be forgotten, Jonathan Quick nabbed his sixth shutout of the season, stopping all 22 Phoenix snips.
Game Notes: Goal-scoring woes shot the Kings in the foot again. Mike Smith stopped all 28 Kings’ shots, and Radim Vrbata snuck the game’s only goal past Jonathan Quick in the 2nd period. This would see the Kings and Coyotes tied for the Western Conference‘s 7th seed at the time.
Game Notes: The final matchup with the Sun Dogs, good habits turned bad, and bad habits turned good. The Kings found three early 1st period goals, but gave it up. This may have been Jonathan Quick‘s weakest game of the season, stopping 25 of 29 Phoenix shots.
- Series Look -
Starting on the same foot: It will have been an entire week since the Kings have played live-hockey come puck-drop Sunday night, ending their series with the Blues last weekend. Downtime is always a tricky variable to balance in the postseason. However, the Kings had six days off after their series win against the Vancouver Canucks, and showed up for Round 2 just fine. All are healthy, a stable mindset has been put in place by Darryl Sutter, the break in action should not cause any setback for this Kings club.
Stacking Bricks: As if Jonathan Quick wasn’t facing a good enough opposing goalie in Brian Elliott, him and the Kings now turn to standout Mike Smith. Smith, who’s regular season stats were stellar, has carried over that performance into the playoffs. Along with his .948 save percentage and 1.77 goals against, Smith has two shutouts to go with his 8-3 record in 11 playoff contests.
Quick ups the ante, though. He’s untouchable with an 8-1 record, chiming in with a .949 save percentage and 1.55 goals against. This is certainly going to be another series where the focus of outcome lays heavily on performances in the crease.
Depth’ll do it
From all faces: Balanced scoring from a roster is one of the most valuable commodities to have in postseason play. In fact, that may be the reason these two teams are surprising the NHL – output coming from defensemen and 3rd and 4th lines. Both the Kings and Coyotes have received wealthy contributions from their back-end players.
To really feed into how crucial it is, Justin Williams puts it best when addressing the importance of the 3rd and 4th lines in a postseason matchup:
“Sometimes the first couple lines offset each other, and it’s the so-called unsung heroes who get the stuff done.” – LA Kings Insider
And that’s exactly been what’s happening for both of these clubs. In nine postseason games, the Kings have had goals from 15 different players – how magical is that. 11 of those are forwards, the other four players are defensemen. It’s coming from both ends, ain’t it sweet.
Phoenix on the other hand, has seen 13 different players score. However, they’ve played two more playoff games than the Kings. They’ve struck gold with 10 forwards, and three defensemen.
Out of the box
Special opportunity: Surprisingly, the Kings have scored just as many short-handed goals (4), as powerplay goals. But really, you can’t count on short-handed scoring, keying in on man-advantage opportunity and maintaining solid defense on the penalty kill is the ultimate factor in executing and shutting down on crucial moments.
The Kings started the playoffs with three power-play goals in their first two games. Since then, they’ve scored just one in 35 chances through seven games. That may not be doing it the fancy way, because they’ve been doing it the defensive way. The Kings have allowed just three goals in 38 instances when they’ve been a man-down.
The Coyotes have been quite impressive as well, scoring on five of 33 power-play opportunities, and allowing 3 goals on 38 instances when shorthanded. These teams are so closely matched in all aspects, all you can really focus on is the Kings continuing to play aggressive in special teams situations, while staying loose and relaxed. Trying to do too much is what often kills you.
For the Kings, maintaining pressure in the neutral zone on the penalty-kill, while continuing to enter offensive territory on the power-play, will be their shot in the arm. Because when it’s a match-up this close and this familiar, finding success in the special teams department can go a very long way.
Chalk up some W’s for Foxy, deal with NBC’s horrid broadcasting
And he’s waiting
Right now you can feel it, back then you could hear it
Fourth-line production, and don’t let those faces fool you. It’ll be just as important, and just as exciting for this group to continue to roll on all ends.
Plus, if a Kevin Westgarth – Kyle Clifford connection can’t heed good luck, I don’t know what will.
No series prediction here – and that’s been working quite well.