The Final Battle – Los Angeles Kings vs New Jersey Devils for Lord Stanley’s Cup

This is an article I am proud to write.

A preview of the Stanley Cup Finals.

An observation, speculation and evaluation of the two teams to have toppled their Conference. Two teams that have proven better than the rest. Two teams who will bare their hockey hearts and souls to each other, leave blood oxidized, sweat glistening and tears either joyous or sorrowful, embedded within Staples’ ice and that of the Prudential Center.

As the two lowest ranked teams to combine for a Stanley Cup Final, one thing is certain – when this is over, hockey history will never be the same.

As we dive into the obligatory but far from perfunctory breakdown of this series, those familiar with us will know this will not be an analysis of numbers. If you want percentages and rankings, may I recommend Rich Hammond’s Tale of The Tape as a starting point. I prefer to look at those who will suit up for the teams – who they are and how they play the game.

The Players

Their Line: Zach Parise – Travis Zajac – Dainus Zubrus

The Breakdown: The Devils’ top line is an onslaught of forechecking with top flight skill. Zajac is a big center with hands and Parise possesses a book of offensive tricks. Zubrus is a big body and while his skill level doesn’t match that of his line mates, he can give a defense fits. This line is the heart and soul of the Devils and is leaned upon heavily for offense. Fortunately for the Kings, it is average defensively.

The Matchup: This series may see top line against top line more often than not. This benefits the Kings as, 5-on-5, the line of Brown-Kopitar-Williams is better than the Devils’ top line. No other center in the Devils’ lineup has the size to match Kopitar and none will be able to contain him. Zajac and the forechecking that his line brings will hope to contain the L.A. Kings’ top line by keeping possession away from them, especially Kopitar who often seems to have his stick magnetized to the puck.

Their Line: Patrick Elias – Adam Henrique – Ilya Kovalchuk

The Breakdown: Looked to for secondary scoring, the aging Elias has been a weak link on an otherwise strong line. Henrique is the Devils’ playoff hero and has scored clutch and clinching goals. He is an even strength performer and a relentless worker. Kovalchuk is a known commodity. Left unchecked, he is as dangerous as they come.

The Matchup: The Kings will want the line of Dwight King, Jarrett Stoll and Trevor Lewis against the Devils’ 2nd line. Kovalchuk needs to be contained by defensemen as he is at his best off the rush. Lewis is solid defensively and this line works the boards well. If the Kings are able to get the puck deep against this line, the Devils’ wingers will be hard pressed to gain back possession. The Devils will want to matchup the Kovalchuk line with the Kings’ fourth of Jordan Nolan, Colin Fraser and Brad Richardson. Only Richardson has speed to rival Kovalchuk’s and is much more susceptible to neutral zone turnovers.

Their Line: Alexei Ponikoravsky – Jacob Josefson – David Clarkson

The Breakdown: The Devils’ third and fourth lines are similar. This line is the bigger of the two and can hit you hard and often. Clarkson has been a surprise playoff scorer, not unlike Los Angeles’ Dwight King. He is also perhaps the Devils’ most physical player. Josefson is a young player with strong defensive instincts, but one New Jersey hopes can unleash the latent playmaking ability he has shown in the Swedish Elite League. Ponikoravsky is a mountain with a shot, but his performance is rarely consistent. He is hard to knock off the puck. If kept to the outside and not allowed to make his way to the front of the net, he is an ineffective player. Still, his defensive instincts are strong and despite the lack of goals, he, along with his line, rank among New Jersey’s best 5-on-5 performers.

The Matchup: This can only be the Kings’ second line. The Devils will want to use their size against that of Jeff Carter and Dustin Penner and bank on Josefson being able to keep up with Mike Richards. Though Kopitar and Brown are the Kings’ top performers, this is the line the Devils must be most worried about. The Devils can match the Kings in terms of the 3rd and 4th line depth, but it is this secondary scoring line of Penner-Richards-Carter with which the Kings can overwhelm the Devils. The CPR line (as Bobby and I have coined it) have fabulous chemistry together and, when they get on a roll, can bring a blend of physicality and skill that no line on the Devils, except their top line, can match.

Their Line: Ryan Carter – Stephen Gionta – Steve Bernier

The Breakdown: The Devils’ fourth line has surprisingly been the heart of their secondary offense. They have been counted on for almost a goal every other game. This line’s ability to bury a puck has given their opponents fits. Gionta is a tiny man who spent his career in the minors until he found a home on this line in the playoffs. Carter and Bernier are physical and both are solid all around hockey players. Though none possess a scoring touch that stands out, together this line has produced through the sheer force of playoff will. So far, matched up against top lines, once this line has received the puck, it has been remiss to give it back.

The Matchup: I doubt that Peter DeBoer reuses the same strategy as he did against New York by having his fourth line play against the Rangers’ top line. None of the teams the Devils have played as of yet had top players dominating the ice even strength, as the Kings’ top players have. He may want to use this line to contain the Richards line while the Kings will want a fourth line for fourth line battle. Jordan Nolan and Steve Bernier are perhaps the most likely pair to fight, should one occur. Colin Fraser and Brad Richardson can throttle this line’s forecheck with their own.

Let us now look beyond mere combinations of even strength forwards. There are tendrils of story lines that dangle and yearn to play out.

Star Power

One of several similarities we find between the Kings and the Devils is that their top players have earned every last bit of their exorbitant paychecks. It is a difficult task with either club to point directly at a best player. Any which way your finger waggles, at minimum, 3 faces appear.

Leading the way on the ice and off it for both teams are American born Captains who, though they play very different styles, both lead by example and put work ethic at the forefront of every shift. Neither Dustin Brown nor Zach Parise will be caught coasting for a second of precious ice time. Hockey fans around the world will be mesmerized by two skaters who have never played for the sport’s greatest prize, but have played every game these playoffs as if the Cup awaits them at the final buzzer.

The skill of Parise versus the brute strength of Brown. Titans of modern American hockey.

The Kings’ Anze Kopitar has been the embodiment of a top flight center. He has brought better than a point per game scoring touch to accent an elite defensive game. His back-checking and ability to read his opponents’ intended offensive schemes is unmatched.

Ilya Kovalchuk was able to write his own paycheck two years ago by pushing the limits of the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, much to the chagrin of the Kings. This is a subplot to the series that should be saved for the irrelevant but interesting need to break up a broadcast. Far more pertinent is that while Kovalchuck rose to stardom on the back of uncanny goal scoring talent, Devils’ coach Peter DeBoer has managed to indoctrinate Ilya’s game with a commitment to defense that, while not at the level of his scoring touch, is beyond anything previous tutors were able to command. Kovalchuk is at home on the power play and will attempt to stretch the Kings’ dominant penalty kill to its limits.

The goalies, Jonathan Quick and Martin Brodeur, should perhaps headline any section that describes star power.

This contest makes Brodeur vs. Lundqvist and Quick vs. Smith look like David vs Goliath’s pet dog. We now have Goliath vs. Goliath. Young skill vs. veteran experience. History vs. Future.

Neither goalie has managed to steal a series, but both are capable. Neither has been immune to giving up an embarrassing goal against, but both have proven immune to the viral infection of the mind that may follow. It is mostly safe to say that while either can become to story of the Finals, neither may be responsible if his team loses. In Quick’s case, this must be taken on a shorter career to date and partially on faith. He has not danced this number before. Brodeur has practically choreographed it but he has done so in the long past.

This is Brodeur’s last stand. Regardless of the outcome, Marty’s ticket to the Hall of Fame was punched long ago. Quick looks to use this series as a springboard for his preliminary application. Both netminders play behind solid defenses, though they achieve success in this area in very different ways.

Systemic Nature

No team reaches the Cup finals without a coach who exercises tactical brilliance and manipulates a psychological tether over his team. Darryl Sutter of the Kings has only had his group of players for little more than 60 games, DeBoer for 100. Though both men possess an arsenal of talent, they have each achieved success in the post season by institutionalizing a rigorous system that demands each player and each line to pull its own weight. Although star players are leaned upon for results, neither coach is hesitant to match up his depth skaters with the other team’s best. I expect we will see four lines rolled consistently. When Jordan Nolan stares into the eyes of Zach Parise, when Anze Kopitar feels David Clarkson’s breath on his neck, these will not automatically be mistakes by the away team or the triumph of the home club’s last change. Balance and resilience are crucial and Sutter and DeBoer will utilize their depth with precision.

Psychosis

Mental preparedness and fortitude are paramount. Herein lies the most interesting question to be asked of this series; can the Devils withstand the Kings psychological attack?

Dustin Brown has been in the spotlight several times these playoffs, often for big goals and big hits. His debated but ruled legal blow to Phoenix Coyotes’ defenseman Michal Rozsival in game 5 of the Western Conference Finals and the outrage (often displaced and feigned) that followed, is indicative of what Brown and the Kings have done to each team they have faced. Through crushing checks and what is sometimes deemed exaggeration to gain power plays, Brown frustrated the Phoenix Coyotes, St. Louis Blues and Vancouver Canucks to the point where the latter three teams’ philosophies and player synergy was undermined. Kings fans watched as each team they played fell victim to emotions that interrupted chemistry. Will a similar story of angst be written of the New Jersey Devils?

And what of the other side to this coin? If pushed, can the Kings maintain their own composure? We saw Drew Doughty calm and cool but, in the last series, prone to agitation with phantom calls against him. Colin Fraser is sometimes over exuberant. Jarret Stoll’s favorite penalties have, in the past, occurred when his team has the puck. The Kings have been the more penalized team of the two. Fortunately, despite their own proclivity towards infractions, the Kings have found success by goading opponents into bad penalties. Though the powerplay has been absent of power, it managed to siphon momentum into its coffers every time an opponent marched to the sin bin. A frustrated, angry team is a team prone to make mistakes and it is on these mistakes that the Kings have capitalized time and again.

Kill Or Be Killed

The Kings show no signs of improving with the man advantage and the Devils have been the victim of playing teams who, not unlike themselves, garnered success predominately from fearsome powerplays. The Kings have scored almost as many goals shorthanded as they have on the powerplay. The Devils have already given up two shorthanded goals. New Jersey’s penalty kill has been atrocious during the playoffs while their powerplay, strong. Specialty teams have pundits scratching their heads. What prevails between a strong powerplay and a dominant penalty kill? What comes of a lame powerplay facing off against a crippled penalty kill? They surely can’t both fail.

Divergences

The Devils are a wing-heavy team. The Kings are bursting with centers. Two natural centers play on each line but the first. The Devils’ defense gets the job done with an assortment of journeymen. The Kings’ defense has a collection of young puck movers mixed with battle tested stay-at-home blueliners.

The defense is where this series truly splits the two teams.

The Kings defense has been offensively quiet. Drew Doughty is capable of taking over a game in a way that no Devils’ defensemen can. Marek Zidlicky and Andy Green are talented, but do not possess Doughty’s natural and Hockey God given ability. Defensively, Anton Volchenkov is a shot blocker machine and a train. Peter Harrold is a solid skater with no particular talents, but a better than average hockey sense. He can play a system but he cannot contain elite-level talent. Mark Fayne is a big body stay-at-home, much like the Kings’ Matt Greene. Bryce Salvador has had an uncharacteristic post season, registering consistent points for the first time in his career.

The Devils have a slight edge in experience as all but Fayne and Harrold have extensive playoff backgrounds. Volchenkov has been to the Cup finals with Ottawa. The Kings however sport a Cup winner on defense in Rob Scuderi. Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov are on the flip side, highly inexperienced. Both have demonstrated this in recent games against Phoenix with lapses that cost the Kings. The Devils will look to isolate them from their veteran partners and expose them individually. Easier said than done but still a small area of concern for the Kings.

Overall, the Kings sport the more talented and more resilient defense. The Devils have leaned on Brodeur more than the Kings have on Quick. Brodeur’s legendary puck handling skills allows his defenseman to recover pucks more easily and once the Devils have the puck, their ability to play defense kicks in by maintaining possession.

The Kings on the other hand must sometimes atone for Quick’s mistakes with the puck. The puck handling ability of Doughty and the precise stick work of Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi allow the Kings to recover pucks effectively. Quick is not tested often because the Kings’ opponents have a tough time of hanging onto the puck and a harder time of finding lanes to the middle of the ice when they do manage extended possession.

Of all the match-ups in the series, this is the one where the most glaring contrast is made and the advantage is to the Kings.

One could say that the Kings have not yet had to face an opponent that was playing as together and with as much of that special playoff juice that flows through only a handful of teams each year. One could just as easily argue that the Kings have simply made shorter work of their opponents than the Devils, who struggled at times against two other teams.

This may be the toughest match of the post season for both teams.

One factor that I have not seen otherwise discussed is one I’d like to finish with, as it applies partially to myself as well.

The Road More Traveled

Much is made of the Kings’ now historic road record, but what has not been considered is that New Jersey has not had to yet contend with long flights or a time change. Their road record is slightly above average at 6-4 and that is with having two series that required a bus ride and another that demanded no more than a 3 hour flight directly south. The Kings have flown to every road game and those against St. Louis constituted a trip not too dissimilar from the one they are about to make to New Jersey. Granted, the Kings benefited from extended breaks between games on the second round, but this team is more used to a long, exhausting schedule than New Jersey. This is true in general during the regular season as the West Coast team’s brutal schedule is well documented, and it is also true, specifically of this year.

I cannot say how the need to change time zones and take 5+ hour flights will affect the Devils. However with their away record only precariously hovering above .500, one must likely add in one last advantage for the Kings.

Now I say it affects me as well, because after the Kings leave for the East Coast on Monday, I will not be far behind. Tuesday I leave for New York City and then to New Jersey to see game 1 and possibly game 2. This is going to be a magnificent series of hockey and I plan to see every second of it.

Oh, you wanted a prediction? Kings in 6.

Go Kings!



Categories: L.A. Kings News

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24 replies

  1. … This is very good. I appreciate the effort you took in it, and I also think that everything’s stated credibly and reasonably. I can’t disagree all too much with any of it.

    I do think that picking the Kings to win is reasonable enough as well, although the two teams have had remarkable records over the last 35 games.

    Devils: 22-10-3, 99 goals scored, 76 goals allowed, +23 differential
    Kings: 23-8-4, 104 goals scored, 64 goals allowed, +40 differental

    Really there’s not much else left to be said. Both teams earned their way here, and I don’t imagine either one will go down quietly.

  2. Well done, extremely well done, better than the ‘so called’ experts that are paid for it. As stated above and historically, Broduer is great at puckhandling and the Kings will have to adjust their forecheck as not to get caught the other way in odd man rushes. Also, the devils have scored quite a few goals from behind the dot. They attack the puck in the corners and behind the net like rapid dogs after live game. That fourth line of theirs has 9 goals in the playoffs, very fast and effective line. And watching Henrique grow during these playoffs has been fun, he’s going to be one helluva center. Very impressed with how composed he’s been in critical, high pressure situations, he’s seems very mature.

    I think the key to the series for the Kings is the Richards line, and I’m curious to see how DeBoer deploys his lines in G1 and G2. He is a coach that adjusts on the fly, and Isaw first hand suffering thru the Flyers games how effective that is, DeBoer wouldn’t like something he saw in the first period and would adjust by the 2nd, etc, Lavvy never did…and it showed .(Second year in a row he got outcoached and it cost them again)

    Richards had great sucess against the Devils in 2010 playoffs, 8 points in 5 games and more over, he physically dominated every shift, he dictated the play. Richards seldom telegraphs and that was to the Flyers advantage as the Devils were never quite sure if he was going to pass or shoot or when or how.
    He also agitated ,irritated, and annoyed Parise and Kovy to the point of distracting them off their game at times.
    He said recently on that second line’s playing so well that he has been talking to Carter and Penner about ‘where I need them to be’ , he said they have all been communicating with each other and that they each are willing to hear from each other on ways to get better.

    Tough series, with two teams that are very fast and aggresive on the forecheck. It should be a great series ,but I think the Kings will be the victors.

    Again, great job on this, one terrfic piece of work….

  3. Hell Surly, that is absolutely stunning work. I don’t know what you do for your work, but as Deirdre points out, that’s what you would hope for from the people who do this as their work, not someone who does it simply out of passion…..

    What else can I say? Yes, everything you say makes perfect sense. Where each team is strong and each team is more vulnerable.
    Also call out to Deirdre for her enlightening comments about DeBoer and Richards.

    • Thanks Drew. I like DeBoer, I think he’s a good coach that has a way of getting the best out of his crew. It’s no coincidence that Clarkson (who had him as a coach in kitchner, like Richards) had his first 30 goal year this year under DeBoer . Look what he’s done for Kovalchuk, how he managed to get thru to him (and I think that’s hard with some of the Russian players who are taught from peewee up to play with a more “I” mentality rather than team) and made him a better all around player. His team is playing with a socialist mentality and it shows. He’s a huge fan of Richards, never gets done praising him and I’m sure that will be asked of him at some point. Richards has credited DeBoer for where he is today (in an interview in the 2010 playoffs “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for what I learned from Pete) and as the mentor, DeBoer seeing his prize pupil on the other size of the main stage is an interesting side bar to the series.

  4. Because the DeBoer and Richards connection came up, it was further amplified in the LA Times
    article that came out:

    http://www.latimes.com/sports/la-sp-kings-fyi-20120527,0,1888818.story

    I am blown away by Surly’s superb preview which instills in me and my own family even more confidence that the Kings have the “right stuff” to beat these very skilled and capable opponents.

    GO KINGS GO!!!

  5. Awesome job. Thank you for sharing your gift of “type” and analysis.

  6. Great read. I’m from Slovenia and not expecting much sleep during game nights. Wish I was there to witness it live! Kopi make us proud! Go Kings! Will your way to the Cup!

    • He makes us proud too, Ryko. Love your dedication and love our Kopi!

      • As much as I’d like to attend live games, the next best thing I have just found out is that in Kopi’s hometown of Hrusica, Jesenice, they are organizing a viewing party for each game, starting at 10 pm local time, game start is 2am local time each next morning. I have a place to spend a night just 20 kilometres away, so I’m looking into options to attend this for at least a game, without having to drive straight from my home in the capital city of Ljubljana and back, since I would want to get wasted too. I would have to somehow be back at work at 9am local time, at latest. Whether I am able to do it for any particular game or not, or just watch from home with NHL GameCenter Live, I want you to know fans in Slovenia will unite even in the odd hours to show love and support for the Kings and Anze.

  7. The only prediction I’ve gotten right this year was which vehicle at the airport belonged to Kevin Westgarth.

  8. There has been various comments in some of the media SCF previews about the Devils v Kings game last October 25 at Staples where the final score was 3 to 0 Devils. That game means nothing when it is reviewed and analyzed.

    Look over the Kings website for the recap for that game, including the box score and videos to see for yourself:

    http://kings.nhl.com/club/recap.htm?id=2011020121

    Murray rested Quick in that game so that Bernier covered that game. The game was scoreless until about 13 minutes into the 2nd period. The Devils did their damage in a span of about 5 minutes exiting the second period up by 3 goals. The post game comments indicated the NJ got some turnovers and rushes that capitalized for them.

    Drew was out of that game for an injury scratch, and Voynov filled in for him. Moreau and Westgarth had ice time, along with Gagne. Kopi was still not 100% with his recovered fractured leg that he was icing down after games. The team was under the captive commands of Murray.

    The Devils had Hedberg in the net as Brodeur was out with a shoulder injury from the Kings game in NJ on October 13. The Kings outshot them 31 to 23 for the game with a barrage of shots in the 3rd period favoring the Kings 13 to 6.

    The point being is that we all know that October game has been superseded by the team roster changes and the Sutter tactical team play course changes. The rest is history with the hot winning streak against a diverse number of opponents and elite NHL players.

    I submit that the slate is totally clean from whatever did or did not happen last October with these two teams.

    GO KINGS GO!!!

    • Thanks for taking time to recall the game. I remember being very disappointed I wasn’t able to see the icon live during his farewell tour. Who knew we’d get another shot?

      And 1 reg season hockey game, regardless of personnel or date, is basically meaningless. Most non-hockey fans have a hard time understanding that effort and chemistry are almost everything in hockey. Skill and size in that other 82 game sport will win out nearly every time, so using prior regular season games there is actually a pretty accurate barometer. And that’s ignoring the much larger variance involved due to the low scoring nature of the sport where a single event has so much more weight.

    • The Discussion about the games in October are merely a symptom of reporters not being creative enough to think of other things to write about that require thought.

      It’s just in front f their face and easy to use to draw conclusions. Useless drivel.

  9. “Kings fans watched as each team they played fell victim to emotions that interrupted chemistry”

    And that’s the mystery that — you’ll pardon the expression — bedevils those who watch the games.

    The Kings are not just playing well — (though in a couple of games they played less well than in others). They’re making their opponents look bad. So bad, in fact, that “experts” criticize L.A.’s quick-march to the finals on the ground that its Western Conference competition is overrated and nowhere near the equal of the REAL powerhouses of the east.

    I hope and pray that we can manage to do the same to New Jersey — seek out and penetrate its core, its nucleus pulposus, and jack-off into it.

    Oh, I’ll go through a long series if I must. But I’d much rather we crush the Devils, subject them to a defeat so overwhelming that it is Japanese in its thoroughness and humiliation.

    Because I feel this way I know my karma is unclean — however pure my love for the Kings. Let my team not suffer for my sins!

    • Well said. I don’t desire that my own excitement and support and faith to bring bad karma. Oh, hockey gods, please ignore me (a mere peon fan) and just look at your harding working and dedicated King players that have given you many smiles and enjoyment in the last three series. Find them worthy therefore as they play their hearts out and give you great satisfaction and happiness, by then conferring the ultimate reward upon them, Lord Stanley’s cup.

  10. Anyone else getting sick of all the coverage the Kings are getting, as far as how they are the favorite, and that stupid poll ESPN SportsNation put up. I like when our boys are the underdog. I like how no one East of the Rockies gave them a chance when the playoffs started. I expect this kind of coverage AFTER they win the Cup, not before. I guess we should all get used to it. Kings in 5! GO KINGS GO!

    • … I’m sick of people starting to mention Marty McSorley and dredging up all this shit AGAIN. Because, there HAS to be a scapegoat for everything bad that’s ever happened to the Kings and there HAS to be some sort of “curse” to explain why the Kings haven’t won the Cup yet.

      Once again – if you think McSorley’s stick penalty was the reason the Kings lost the ’93 Finals, you need to watch that series again. I don’t care how many times you’ve seen it; if you think that, you need to watch it again. I have games 1-4 on DVD and will burn you a copy if you need to watch it again.

      • Thank you, Dutch. Nothing makes me shake my head more than the blame game created by fans and helped along by media. We as Kings fans need to let that go, get over it. The Kings had the remainder of game 2, and three full games to make up for the “stick incident.” We as a team fell a bit short of our goal, but it certainly wasn’t solely Marty’s doing. Hopefully after this series this will all be a distant topic. Go Kings.

        By the way, I’ll take a burned copy if your giving them away.

  11. all I have to say is watch out Devil fans….and bring it on Surly do us proud!
    How exciting to be able to be there.

  12. Anyone going to the game tomorrow? I live in NYC, so I am glad the Kings will be coming out here. Also glad the Devils won, since tickets are sooo much cheaper than the Rangers ones would have been. I’m sitting in section 12 – anyone else going to the game?

    Go Kings Go!!!!!!!!!

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