Continuing with our preview posts, we now get to take a look at the forwards for the Los Angeles Kings. The Phoenix Coyotes will always be told that they don't have the same level of talent (especially top end talent) as the other team and I wouldn't expect anything different for this season. The Kings have a pretty strong top six and did a lot this season and last off-season to improve that roster and they are finally starting to play the way a lot of the pundits thought they would all year.
After the jump, we'll look at it line-by-line and give some thoughts. Special thanks to Niesy over at Jewels from the Crown for giving us some insight into the line combos...check out their great Kings coverage.
This is a unit that you are going to be hearing a lot about, especially with the way Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar have been killing penalties and scoring shorthanded goals (3 goals and 3 assists shorthanded for the pair so far in the playoffs) in addition to their regular offensive talents. Defensive responsibility and offensive firepower plus a lot of grit to go with it. Brown is a captain in the Shane Doan mold and I mean that with all the respect in the world to both Captain Coyote and Brown. Kopitar, despite his zombie-like appearance is probably the most talented forward playing for either team in this series and Williams really holds things together out there. Brown leads the Kings in scoring with 11 points overall (6G, 5A, +9) and Kopitar leads the team with 7 assists. I wouldn't be surprised to see the Prime Line across the ice from these guys throughout the series.
Pancakes and Flyers West - these guys are actually the line that scare me the most, but it's probably just the guy in the middle Mike Richards. As a Flyers fan, it hurt A LOT when he got traded from Philly to Los Angeles and he's the type of guy that can single-handedly put a team on his back and will them to a victory. Want some proof - check out this shift against Montreal in the 2010 playoffs or his NHL record 3, yes 3, shorthanded 3-on-5 goals. He's been reunited with another Philly cast-off in Jeff Carter and they have made some magic with Dustin Penner thus far in these playoffs. The simple numbers: Richards (3G, 5A, +4), Penner (2G, 5A, +7), Carter (1G, 3A, +3). I would expect Tippett to use the Doan - Vermette - Boedker unit to counteract these guys.
Now's where we get to the big difference between the Coyotes and Kings - the bottom six. While both teams' bottom 6 forward units are primarily energy guys, the Coyotes' players have been far more instrumental in chipping in goals along the way. Which isn't to say that the Kings bottom 6 don't have the ability to do that, or that they are hidden by the coaches in any way, but if the Coyotes can get in front in a game, those top two lines are going to feel like they are just cycling one to the other. Stoll is the biggest offensive threat here and also a really solid faceoff guy; King is a bruiser (just ask Alex Pietrangelo) and I don't honestly know too much about Lewis' game other than that he's just 25 years old, from Salt Lake City and in his third season. King is the only Kings forward who is a minus in the postseason (-3), but when your team only allows 14 goals in 9 games, that's not too surprising probably. This line has combined for just 4 goals and a single assist so while they have lots of energy, the Coyotes shouldn't be letting them score often. I would anticipate that the Gordon unit gets this match-up and Pyatt and Korpikoski attempt to assert themselves in this series.
Kinda similar unit to the third one, high energy, not a lot of offense (only 2 goals on the scoresheet for these three in the postseason). Despite King having the notoriety after the hit on Pietrangelo, Nolan actually has the most penalty minutes on the team in the postseason with 21 (interestingly, the next three most penalized Kings are Brown (20), Richards (15) and Penner (10)). This is another unit where the match-up should favor the Coyotes' fourth unit with Chipchura - Langkow - Brule out there.
Kyle Clifford (of the boarding Gilbert Brule fame) was injured early in the postseason and is now a healthy scratch given the Kings' success. Also on the injured list is another former Flyer, Simon Gagne, who has battled concussion issues for several years. Andrei Loktionov (who really played well against the Coyotes all year) has been a healthy scratch for most of the playoffs as has Kevin Westgarth (Paul Bissonnette's most frequent dance partner). You might see Loktionov if the Coyotes get up in the series, but I doubt Westgarth dresses unless there are some serious injuries.
With the way the top six for LA has been playing it would be easy to give them an advantage. Of course, those same guys went missing for long stretches throughout the regular season when this team simply couldn't buy a goal. If the Prime Line can get things rolling at all, I'd like the top six match-up a lot more, and maybe with the extra time off they can respark some of their chemistry. As for the bottom six, though, I think the Coyotes have a significant advantage up front. Given the pack mentality and the way in which the Coyotes have been attacking these playoffs, that could be a significant edge. That being said, I'll give the (very slight) nod to the Kings on the basis of how well Brown, Kopitar, Richards and Penner have played to this point.