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Kings need Quick at his best to slow Canucks

by Staff

Vancouver Canucks

Seed: 151-22-9111Pts.

Los Angeles Kings

Seed: 840-27-1595Pts.
Jonathan Quick had the kind of season goaltenders usually only dream about. His 10 shutouts led the League, and while his 35 wins ranked fifth in the League, he had another 15 games where he allowed two goals or fewer and suffered a loss in regulation, overtime or a shootout.

He'll need to continue that level of play when he and the Los Angeles Kings face the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks in the first round.

The Canucks can attack in waves, and their power play is among the best in the League. But will they be able to penetrate the Kings' stingy defense and its outstanding goaltender?
The Canucks have plenty depth and no shortage of options up front, but finding the right mix has been problematic at times, especially on the second line.

Even if top goal scorer Daniel Sedin (concussion) isn't back to start the playoffs, Maxim Lapierre has done a fine job in his spot on the top line. A shut-down unit anchored by trade-deadline addition Samuel Pahlsson is getting it done at both ends of the ice, and whether it's Lapierre or Manny Malhotra in the middle, the Canucks have faith in their fourth line.

The biggest question mark going into the playoffs is what will happen on the second line, centered by Ryan Kesler. Linemates David Booth and Mason Raymond have struggled, with Booth ending a 10-game goal drought on the final day of the season, and Raymond finding himself a healthy scratch once.

It may not matter as long as the other three lines keep playing well, but getting the second line rolling at some point will become vital.

The awakening of the Kings' offense is related directly to Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, who finally got going to become the team's most productive forwards since the trade deadline. Kopitar reached a career high in assists and led the team in scoring, while Brown recorded almost half his points after Feb. 22.

Statistically speaking, Mike Richards hasn't been the same since his concussion in December. But he probably is the team's most important two-way player because of his penchant for shorthanded goals, penalty killing and faceoff prowess.

The addition of Jeff Carter has forced opponents to address the Kings' depth. Carter is a 46-goal scorer on the second line, and L.A. has averaged more than a goal more per game since Carter's arrival. He's expected to return from a bone bruise in his ankle in time for the postseason.

This year's group is even deeper than last season. That's especially true if Keith Ballard, who rejoined the team at practice in early April, returns during the first round after being out since early February with a concussion.

The top four is set with Alexander Edler, Kevin Bieksa, Sami Salo and Dan Hamhuis. Steady second-year pro Chris Tanev has played his way into the starting mix after a strong late-season performance, and the versatile Aaron Rome figures to be in the Game 1 lineup.

With Ballard, the Canucks can go nine deep on defense, adding big, physical Andrew Alberts or power-play threat Marc-Andre Gragnani depending on the opponent, situation and health.

In his first full season in three years, Willie Mitchell re-discovered his shut-down identity and became the team's best defender. He's paired with rookie Slava Voynov, who had 20 points in just 54 games.

Drew Doughty hasn't been his usual dynamic self (just 10 goals in 77 games), but his playoff history -- 11 points in 12 career postseason games -- suggests he elevates his game. Coach Darryl Sutter tends to use Doughty and Rob Scuderi against the oppositions' top line.

Matt Greene finished third among all NHL defensemen in hits this season and was more dependable in his own end.

All indications are Roberto Luongo starts Game 1, but with Cory Schneider finishing in the top three in the League in goals-against average and save percentage, the leash will be shorter than last year, when Schneider started Game 6 of the first round against Chicago. That Schneider didn't make it through that game in part because he cramped up after getting beat on a penalty shot, may be one reason Luongo starts. But the way Schneider played this season the sense is he won't give the net back as easily this time. Where would the offensively-challenged Kings be without Jonathan Quick? All he has done is turn in a Vezina Trophy-worthy season and made L.A. among the top third-period shut-down teams in the League.

Quick led the NHL in shutouts and would have reached 40 victories if the Kings provided more offense in the first four months of the season. He also took on a heavy workload and excelled.

Quick is perhaps the most competitive player on the team and it's likely he's motivated to get out of the first round after two straight early exits.

Alain Vigneault has presided over the best six seasons in Canucks history, and followed a trip to the Stanley Cup Final by guiding the team to a second-straight Presidents' Trophy. But with expectations at an all-time high, anything short of the conference finals will be seen as disappointing, and the heat will be on the coach, especially if he mismanages the goaltending.

A stagnant offense cost Terry Murray his job back on Dec. 12. Darryl Sutter took over and has done his best to help the Kings put more pucks in the net. While problems remain, Los Angeles managed to go 25-13-11 with Sutter behind the bench. The Canucks provide Sutter with a huge challenge, but one has to believe he'll have the Kings raring to go.
Special Teams

The Canucks had the League's fourth-best power play, but only because they were so dominant during the first half. It's dropped off a bit in the second half of the season, however. The penalty kill also ranked among the League's best, closing the season killing 18 of 20 opposition power plays in the season's final seven games.

The Kings were in the middle of the pack on the power play, as they finished 17th in the League at 17 percent. With Drew Doughty leading the way on the blue line, the penalty kill ranked among the League's best, as it finished fourth in the NHL at 87 percent. The PK will be especially important in this series as it goes up against Vancouver's high-octane offense.

Series Changer

Daniel Sedin, Canucks -- The Canucks went on their longest win streak of the season after Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith concussed Sedin with an elbow March 21. His twin brother, Henrik, had a goal and 10 assists in the next nine games; those 11 points nearly match his production from the previous 16 games. But make no mistake -- Vancouver is better with its leading goal-scorer in the lineup, especially on the power play, where the twins really get the space they need to work their back-and-forth magic.

Mike Richards, Kings -- The Kings' center came within two wins of a Stanley Cup championship as captain of the Philadelphia Flyers two years ago. While he only managed to put up 44 points in 74 games during the regular season, his previous experience at this time of year is arguably the biggest reason why the Kings acquired him last summer. Richards will need to provide more offense if Los Angeles is going to advance past the first round.

What If ...

Canucks will win if … Ryan Kesler rediscovers his pre-hip surgery form from the first three rounds of last year's playoffs and somehow manages to pull David Booth along with him. A couple of power-play goals wouldn't hurt, either, but as long as the goaltending -- no matter who is in net -- and strong play in the defensive zone continues, then much like the late-season win streak, it may not matter.

Kings will win if... Quick manages to steal a game or two. Given his team's inability to score a lot of goals, it will ultimately come down to Quick's play that determines if Los Angeles can oust the Presidents' Trophy winners.

Analysis by Kevin Woodley and Curtis Zupke

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