The Los Angeles Kings were overwhelmed by the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Final last season. They couldn't compete with Chicago's skill and didn't have enough firepower to match the Blackhawks, especially with Mike Richards missing three games because of a head injury.
Jonathan Quick and L.A.'s defense didn't bend much, but without enough offensive support, Chicago eventually extinguished the Kings from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a five-game series, including a double-overtime Game 5.
That won't happen to the Kings this spring, not against Chicago or any team. Los Angeles is the best possession team in the NHL, as deep as anyone down the middle, and is backed by a world-class goaltender. That hat trick of attributes will lead the Kings to their second Stanley Cup championship in three years.
The Kings' game, and their ultimate success, is predicated on having the puck as often as possible. In fact, coach Darryl Sutter laughs at the notion that people consider the Kings to be a defensive team because they give up so few goals and shots per game. He says that has nothing to do with defense and everything to do with checking and faceoff wins. Los Angeles is among the best faceoff teams in the NHL.
"The strength of our team is we don't spend much time in our zone," Sutter said. "There is very little of what is called defending done in the League now; there is a lot of checking. The teams that say they defend, they spend all the time in their own zone. Everybody has to figure out that these teams that defend backing up all the time, by April 12 or April 13, they're watching."
The Kings are never watching; they're always attacking. Their battle for the puck and hold on the puck hasn't led to a great deal of offense, but the addition of Marian Gaborik at the NHL Trade Deadline bolstered the Los Angeles attack and gave it one of the best top lines in the NHL with Anze Kopitar in the middle, Justin Williams on the right and Gaborik on the left.
Gaborik has added an explosive element to the first line which was missing when Dustin Brown was playing on it. With Jeff Carter on the second line, likely as the center to start the playoffs, the Kings have two electrifying goal scorers in their top six. Kopitar is no slouch at turning the red light on either, and Brown's position on the third line affords him the opportunity to play to his strengths as a grinding power forward.
Sutter's point about the Kings attacking and checking applies as much to L.A.'s defensemen as it does its forwards. Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov push the attack from the back. Robyn Regehr and Willie Mitchell complement them well.
Doughty is having arguably his finest all-round season while partnered with Muzzin, another puck-mover. Martinez has been an offensive revelation since March 1.
The Kings still need Quick to be excellent because they won't all of a sudden start scoring four goals per game, but they will score enough to win the Stanley Cup. No team can overwhelm them this season.