May 11, 2012
Not much separates Kings, Coyotes
By CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency
GLENDALE, ARIZ. - One team has never been this deep in the playoffs.
The other has made it this far once and that was 19 years ago.
The Phoenix Coyotes, the league-owned underdogs, backed by an underdog goaltender in Mike Smith who has become a star at the age of 30, have the desert rocking with their unprecedented run.
The eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings, a gang that couldn't shoot straight for most of the season, have knocked off the first-seeded Vancouver Canucks and ran over the second-seeded St. Louis Blues, dusting them both off in five and four games respectively.
Now they have their sights set on the third-seeded Coyotes to make the set.
The records of most of the so-called experts are in shambles as the teams that dominated regular season are now shanking golf balls and three-putting and the teams that were 11th and 13th in the NHL during the regular season will now meet in the first game of the Western Conference final Sunday night.
QMI Agency turned to a Western Conference coach -- who knows both of these teams after the regular-season battles -- to break down the series.
We're only halfway through the Stanley Cup tournament, but first off, our coach wanted us to know the price both teams have already paid just to get this far.
"I've seen the look on our players' faces before. You get to this point in the playoffs and it's already been a tremendous drain. Getting your team's emotional level back up is a huge challenge," said the coach. "Playing at this time of year is such an emotional drain.
"I think something that is going to help both these teams is they haven't been this deep in a long time. You look at the teams that have been through this consistently the last few years, the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Vancouver Canucks, they were all out in the first round. I think the years take their toll.
"These teams have have had a bit of a break, so I think they are going to be fresh physically, but, more importantly, I think they are fresher mentally because this is new to them.
"It won't be a high-scoring series, but that doesn't mean it won't be exciting."
Los Angeles Kings: Jonathan Quick
Phoenix Coyotes: Mike Smith
The coach's take: "You couldn't have more contrasting styles of play. Smith is a big goaltender who plays deep in his net and his still able to protect the top half of the net because of his size. He plays so square to every puck.
"Quick moves laterally better than anybody in the league. He's aggressive. He plays out of the paint. Smith never leaves the paint. (Quick) plays a challenging style because he doesn't have the size of a goaltender like Smith.
"Two different size goaltenders, two different styles and two teams that protect their goalies with the style they play. Both teams do a good job of allowing their goaltenders to play their styles."
ADVANTAGE: NONE. "This is a sawoff. There's no advantage, none."
Los Angeles Kings: Rob Scuderi-Drew Doughty; Slava Voynov-Willie Mitchell; Matt Greene-Alec Martinez.
Phoenix Coyotes: Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Michal Rozsival; Rostislav Klesla-Adrian Aucoin; Keith Yandle-Derek Morris.
The coach's take: "There's definitely more mobility from the Kings' standpoint. Voynov, people who don't know him, he can skate and has skill. Martinez, Doughty, of course, they can jump up in to the play. Yandle and Ekman-Larsson can do that for Phoenix, but I give the advantage to Los Angeles when it comes to their defence moving up and being able to go back and retrieve pucks. I think they are going to be able to beat the Phoenix forecheck because of their ability to get back and move the puck.
"Defensively, both of them are good at protecting the house. They are solid and reliable."
ADVANTAGE: KINGS. "You talk about trying to find goals in this series? I think the difference will be the offence of the L.A. defence."
Los Angeles Kings: Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams; Jeff Carter-Mike Richards-Dustin Penner; Dwight King-Trevor Lewis-Jarret Stoll; Colin Fraser-Jordan Nolan-Brad Richardson.
Phoenix Coyotes: Mikkel Boedker-Antoine Vermette-Shane Doan; Ray Whitney-Michal Hanzal-Radim Vrbata; Taylor Pyatt-Boyd Gordon-Lauri Korpikoski; Kyle Chipchura-Daymond Langkow-Gilbert Brule.
The coach's take: "The Kings have six guys in their top nine forwards who are 220 pounds or more. They just wear you down. They spent a good part of the season figuring our their needs and then they went out and got Carter. They gave up Jack Johnson, but they had Voynov to take his spot. They took 60 games, but they found the right guys and put them in the right roles. King is good, versatile guy nobody really talks about. He gives them the option of using Penner on the second or third line, whoever is going better that night.
"I know Carter hasn't done much, but with his size and speed, he's the type of guy if you go to sleep, he'll hurt you. Brown, Kopitar and Williams have been incredible. This is the best they've ever played, they are kind of coming of age at the right time. Brown is the guy who gets that team going. He does everything for them, power play, even strength, penalty killing.
"They just keep coming at you. Look at what they did to St. Louis. When they had the puck and when they didn't have the puck, they wore them down. They come at you with that first line and then they can come back with Richards and Carter? C'mon, are you kidding me?
"Phoenix relies on Vrbata and Whitney. They can create offence, but they are not going to wear you down like the Kings. They are a little easier to contain. I look up front and Los Angeles has got the strength in the middle. Vermette, Gordon, the Kings' key guys are bigger, they've got the size up top."
ADVANTAGE: KINGS. "The Coyotes just can't match up down the middle."
Los Angeles Kings: Power play: 4/47, 8.5% (15th); Penalty killing: 35/38, 92.1% (second).
Phoenix Coyotes: Power play: 5/31, 16.1% (ninth); Penalty killing: 34/38, 89.5%) (fourth).
The coach's take: "These are both excellent penalty-killing teams and the penalty killing is going to dominate the power plays of both teams. It starts with the goaltenders; they've both been outstanding. All the adjustments in this series are going to be made by the power plays. Whenever someone scores on the power play in this series, it's going to be a lucky goal, a shot from the point through five bodies that finds the back of the net. It'll be a shot that's going wide that hits a skate. It won't be off a set play. There will be a power play goal, but it won't be the fault of the penalty kill. That's just the way it is at this point."
Los Angeles Kings: Darryl Sutter
Phoenix Coyotes: Dave Tippett
The coach's take: "Let me start off by saying all the guys who got nominated for the Jack Adams are great coaches, but Tippett should have been the third guy. He's just gotten so much out of that team. He's gotten the most out of that team that is humanly possible. Los Angeles is playing to its potential, but Phoenix is playing way above expectations. They are both outstanding coaches, but what Tippett has done is unbelievable.
"Sutter has got his guys in the right roles and playing to their potential. Believe me, anybody who can get Penner going..."
ADVANTAGE: NONE. "The big question is can Tippett keep his team playing the way it has?"
The coach's take: "Injuries are the one thing you can't predict. Who is going to stay healthy because this is going to be a physical series. Who could have predicted what would happen to Nashville last round with two guys breaking curfew? Nobody could predict that. That left their team in disarray and then they spent the rest of the series trying get their identity back and overcome that. They spent the rest of the series trying ro refocus, but the damage was done."
THE COACH'S PREDICTION: Los Angeles Kings.
STEVENSON'S PREDICTION: Kings in six.