It’s the day the series begins for two teams attempting to win the hardest trophy in sports. The Los Angeles Kings are favored in the finals. The Los Angeles Kings just played twenty-one games against tough Western Conference opponents. Their star players like Drew Doughty looked worn after the Chicago series. Now they have to keep up with a bunch of New York Rangers flying around the ice. I don’t think they will last more than six games against the New York Rangers’ speed. That’s why the New York Rangers will be deciding who holds the Stanley Cup first at home after game six. The New York Rangers will go to Los Angeles as the underdogs to play the Kings at the Staples Center and surprise a lot of people. The New York Rangers keys to victory will be defense and goaltending. They are a better team than the Los Angeles Kings and hopefully they break a lot of hearts in Los Angeles. The New York Rangers have had off since 29, May to watch film on the Los Angeles Kings and to lick their wounds. The Los Angeles Kings won’t have that luxury since they played game seven of the Western Conference Finals to finish the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday the first of June. Let’s look at the Los Angeles Kings versus the New York Rangers and review the keys to victory.
New York Rangers vs Los Angeles Kings Matchup
We’ll take a look at the teams and how their styles of play matchup. Daryl Sutter’s system is the exact opposite of the game Alain Vineault employs in New York. The Los Angeles Kings play an aggressive 2-1-2 forecheck when they don’t have the puck. They dump in the offensive zone and aggressively (Forecheck) chase after it with two forwards and continue hard until the opposition can get the puck out their own zone. When they are skating well and the puck comes to center ice, they are still looking to turn the puck over with the same 2-1-2 shell. From the goal line to the red line the New York Rangers have to be careful not to give away the puck. Whereas the New York Rangers normally use a more moderate 1-2-2 forecheck. They send one forward (F1) in deep on the Forecheck but will send a second man if there looks like a turnover will happen. The New York Rangers forecheck becomes even more conservative like a trap as the opposing team gets the puck to center ice. They spread out as part of the 1-2-2 and look to intercept a pass while the opposition tries to go up ice 200 feet. If the New York Rangers can force the Los Angeles Kings into turnovers at the New York Rangers blue line or in the neutral zone. Then their speed takes over and they will use skating ability to beat the Los Angeles Kings defense to their net and goalie Jonathan Quick. That may be an important ingredient to winning this series against a very tough Los Angeles Kings team.
The Los Angeles Kings have a real solid mix of size, speed, skill, and grit throughout their twelve starting forwards. Marian Gaborik is having the best playoff run of his career. Scoring more goals (twelve) than he has in any playoff year in his career to lead the team in goals. The Centerman on his line Anze Kopitar has been the best player on the Los Angeles Kings since entering the league in 2006. He’s leading his team in points with twenty-four. Team Captain Dustin Brown of the Los Angeles Kings is a pain to play against. He’s a speedy grinder that’ll hit anyone in his way and is having a great playoffs for the first time since the 2012 season when they won the Stanley Cup. The Los Angeles Kings are a deep team at the forward position and part of that is due to the line of Justin Williams, Mike Richards, and Dwight King. They have a playmaker in Mike Richards, and a goal scorer in Justin Williams. Justin Williams has scored some huge goals for the Los Angeles Kings including goals in game 7 against the Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks. The grit on that line is provided by 230 pound Left Wing Dwight King. Lest we forget Jeff Carter, the ex-Philadelphia Flyers player that used to kill the New York Rangers. Jeff Carter is now second on his team in points and with nine goals for twenty-two points. With Jeff Carter at Center there’s two speedy young players on his wings in Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. Both youngsters have played integral roles in the Los Angeles Kings lineup scoring thirteen and twelve points respectively. This line has been the best for the Los Angeles Kings during the playoffs. They will draw top competition from the New York Rangers defense.
The Los Angeles Kings Defense has a few star players on the roster and as a group are very big. Drew Doughty is arguably the best defenseman in the National Hockey League. He’s fourth on his team in scoring with sixteen points including four goals. The New York Rangers will have to keep an eye on defenseman Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov as well. These two can skate and can bomb from the blue line. If the Los Angeles Kings have a chink in their armor it’s in their bottom three defenders. Alec Martinez, Matt Green, and Willie Mitchell are not very good skaters. They’ll have trouble keeping up with the New York Rangers skaters. Alain Vineault will try to get his top players on the ice when he sees any combination of these three on the ice for a regular shift. They skate like Molasses and Chris Kreider and Carl Hagelin will go right by them for odd man rushes and a possible breakaway. Speed kills and turnovers will be where the New York Rangers will win this series. Los Angeles Kings coach Daryl Sutter is an aggressive coach similar to ex-New York Rangers coach John Tortarella. In the defensive zone the Los Angeles Kings play a zone defense and an overload where each player is responsible for a spot on the ice or along the boards rather than a specific player. When the puck comes to the middle of the ice or the slot, all five skaters come back to protect the house. This is called the “Low Zone Collapse” like what the New York Rangers used to play the last five seasons under their previous coach.
In goal both teams have goaltenders that are capable of a shutout on any given night. Henrik Lundqvist has had the best playoffs of his career while Jonathan Quick has not performed to expectations for much of the twenty-one games in these playoffs. He has a save percentage of .906 and a goals against average of 2.86 per game. Henrik Lundqvist has a .928 save percentage and a 2.03 goals against average in twenty games played during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The New York Rangers want to come out in game one skating hard and try to test Jonathan Quick early. See if they can get him off his game from the start of game one. Jonathan Quick is one of the most athletic goaltenders in the National Hockey league. He slides from post to post so fast that he is able to take away the bottom half of the net as well as any other net-minder in the game. The New York Rangers will have to aim for the top half of the net. Henrik Lundqvist will have to be a key difference in this series. If he plays like the best goaltender in the world, he and the New York Rangers defense will be key to winning the Stanley Cup. Both teams play a very solid defensive game but during the playoffs the New York Rangers have been better in their end of the ice than the Los Angeles Kings have. The Kings have won by scoring at an unsustainable 11.3% of their shots. It’s unlikely they can continue to score at that pace in a seven game series against the New York Rangers.
The Los Angeles Kings bottom defense pair are not very good skaters. They’ll try to stay conservative against the quicker New York Rangers bottom six. Benoit Pouliot, Mats Zuccarello, and Derick Brassard will be important players in this series. If Alain Vineault can use them in offensive zone starts against those bottom pair defenseman for the Los Angeles Kings. Coach Daryl Sutter will be forced to use his top four defense against them much of their ice time as well. The bottom line will likely be made up of Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, and Derek Dorsett and if they skate hard and play shifts in the offensive zone all series long, they will be able to wear down the Los Angeles Kings players from top to bottom. Then their top six players speed comes into play late in games when the opposition is too tired to keep up. This will create time and space for the top line made up of Rick Nash, Derek Stepan, and Chris Kreider. The top line has been coming together and playing well at the right time. Brad Richards has always come up big in big games as has Martin St. Louis and these guys will give LA a hand full. With the depth and speed of the New York Rangers forwards and the mobile defenseman jumping into the play on the rush, the New York Rangers will take over the third period of games. From top to bottom the New York Rangers are the faster team. Defensively, at even strength and on the Penalty Kill the Rangers will have to protect against the Los Angeles Kings top defenseman taking slap shots from the point and getting them to the net. Their defense scored a ton of goals and points against the Chicago Blackhawks. This will also be key to the New York Rangers winning the Stanley Cup against the Los Angeles Kings.