For some crazy and inexplicable reason, I’ve seemed to notice a resurgence of interest in the LA Kings lately. Since I’ve proudly proclaimed myself to be a Kings fan for the last 15 years, many people have been coming to me with a barrage of questions about how this has happened. Right now, the cool new thing in LA is to be a Kings fan, and while my first instinct is to be annoyed with these people for previously telling me that “hockey is lame” or “the Kings will never come close to winning the cup,” I’m too damn elated to waste my time with I told you so’s. Instead, I figured I’d do my part as a good citizen and provide some of the bandwagoners with some important Kings knowledge to at least make it sound like you know what you’re talking about.
Much like we’ve seen all throughout this postseason, game two of the Western Conference Finals was completely dominated by the LA Kings. In the 4-0 Kings victory, the Phoenix Coyotes learned that there is no solution for Jonathan Quick and that stifling the deep and powerful Kings offense is just not that easy. The Kings have unquestionably been the best team in the 2011-2012 playoffs, being the first # 8 seed to knock off a # 1 and # 2 team back to back. They have a perfect road record of 7-0 this postseason, and have tied an NHL record with nine consecutive playoff road wins dating back to last season.
The beauty of this Kings team lies in its depth. That word “depth” is one that you hear often in the playoffs because it’s unlikely for a team with only one successful top line to keep advancing. The Kings have three lines that score on a consistent basis. The top line of Brown, Kopitar, and Williams have dominated with 36 points this postseason, but they are getting lots of help from the Carter, Richards, and Penner line (25 points), as well as the King, Stoll, and Lewis line (12 points). The simple fact that Jarret Stoll is centering the third line is reason enough to call this team “deep.” On any other team, he would likely be placed in a top six forward role. He is consistent in the faceoff circle and puts a ton of focus on mastering the little parts of the game. Let’s also not forget about the 18 points that have been recorded by the Kings six defenseman.
That takes care of the offensive side of things. If anyone had expected the Kings to be in the Western Conference Finals, they would have probably attributed it to a strong defense. Fortunately, the Kings haven’t had to sacrifice their defensive game in order to give life to the goal scoring. The penalty kill has been outstanding, giving up only three power play goals in 11 playoff games (all to the Vancouver Canucks). When I watch the post-game interviews, I keep hearing these teams on the losing end saying that they haven’t yet played their best hockey. There’s a really simple reason for this: The Kings aren’t giving these teams a chance to do that. With the way that they have been able to shut down Vancouver, St. Louis, and in these last two games, Phoenix, it’s unlikely that any team will be able to play “their best hockey” against them.
Another strength of the Kings has been their ability to get under the skin of the opposition. Dustin Brown draws more penalties than anyone I’ve ever seen. Somehow, as a group, they’ve managed to cause teams to take stupid and unnecessary penalties, thus putting the Kings in a position to gain momentum, regardless of whether or not they’re scoring on the power play. At about halfway through game 2, the Coyotes got frustrated and completely lost their cool. Shane Doan boarded Trevor Lewis and got a 5-minute major penalty and a game misconduct. Mike Smith got pissed and hacked Dustin Brown with his goalie stick for no apparent reason, and then came Martin Hanzal with a vicious act of boarding against Dustin Brown, which got him ejected from the game and suspended for Game 3.
It will be interesting to see how the Coyotes will handle the absence of Hanzal in the lineup. Game 3 is tomorrow night at 6pm PST in Los Angeles. I’m anticipating a good fight or two and of course, another Kings victory. We’ll see if the Coyotes have what it takes to fight back, but at this rate, I’m not sure if any team will find a solution for the Kings. Here are some highlights from Game 2: