The Los Angeles Kings open up their first round series against the San Jose Sharks, tonight in San Jose. The Sharks are favored heading in, but the Kings were the team that knocked out San Jose in last year’s playoffs.
Both teams have their strengths and weaknesses and have clear advantages over each other in certain areas of the game. The series should come down to who plays better in tough games. Not only is this a playoff series, but the two teams are bitter rivals and always turn in physical games.
On the offensive side, the Sharks have a clear advantage. San Jose scored 249 goals in the regular season, compared to 206 by the Kings. The leading scorer for the Kings was Anze Kopitar with 70 points. He would have been tied for third on the Sharks. Joe Pavelski led the team with 79 points. Joe Thornton had 76 and Patrick Marleu had 70. However, the Kings should be able to bridge that gap a little bit with the recent hot play of some players. Jeff Carter did not have his best season, but is a guys who can score at will. Kopitar had 70 points this season and looked great down the stretch. The addition of Mariak Gaborik provides another scorer and depth that the Kings have not had. Along with Mike Richards and Justin Williams the Kings have some solid scorers with a lot of playoff experience.
The Kings will enjoy a solid advantage on defense. Martin Jones did a great job as the backup goalie but a big reason he saw so much success was the defense in front of him rarely let anything through. Drew Doughty has emerged as one of the top young defensemen in the league and leads the team in time on ice. The depth is the strength of the Kings defensively. Beyond Doughty, players like Slave Voynov, Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez are very solid defenseman who can all add some depth on offense. If Matt Greene can stay healthy through the playoffs, the Kings have a solid shot to ride their defense to a championship.
The Kings biggest advantage in this series will be the goaltending. Jonathan Quick has played some amazing hockey of late and always seems to turn into a whole new beast when the playoffs come around. With the solid defense in front of him, Quick should be able to keep teams at bay every night. Anti Niemmi went 39-17-7 for the Sharks with a 2.39 goals allowed average and a .913 save percentage. Quick was 27-17-4 with a 2.05 goals allowed average and a .915 save percentage. Though the save percentages are comparable, the big disparity in goals allowed average show that Quick sees a lot less shots due to the stellar defense in front of him.
The X-factor of the series will be if the Kings can get one more player to step up on offense. Carter, Kopitar and Richards are going to be the great players that they always are. The third and fourth line players such as Dwight King and Trevor Lewis will hold their own offensively as they bring the physicality. The big need will be either Dustin Brown, Justin Williams or Marian Gaborik to rise to the occasion. Brown had a stellar playoff run in 2012 and seems to play better in the postseason. Gaborik is just getting healthy and seems to also be poised to step up.
The Kings will win the series in six games. The Sharks offense will be potent and should be able to have a couple big games. However, the overall defense and goaltending will be just enough to get the Kings by. Los Angeles is in a great position where they can score only two goals and feel confident in their chances.