Stanley Cup Finals 2012: 4 Factors the LA Kings Will Need to Beat the Devils
At the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs on April 11, few believed in the Kings.
Despite starting off with high expectations, the team underachieved during the regular season and limped into the playoffs as the eighth and final seed in the Western Conference. In particular, the forward corps struggled to score, despite the addition of former Philadelphia Flyers captain Mike Richards in the off-season.
But the Kings have performed quite differently in the playoffs, having lost only lost twice in their improbable run to the Stanley Cup Finals, in which they faced the conference's three highest-seeded teams in Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix.
While Los Angeles' opponent in the finals, the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils, will be the lowest-seeded team they have faced to this point, the Kings will need the following factors to be working in their favor if they want to win the first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
The Powerplay Needs to Get Better
If there has been one weakness to the Kings so far in their playoff run, it has been their power play. While the Kings' power play was at a decent clip of 17.0 percent during the regular season, it has dipped to a meager 8.1 percent during the playoffs.
Several of the team's scorers, including Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Dustin Brown, have yet to score on the power play so far in the playoffs.
While New Jersey led the league with an 89.6 success rate on the penalty kill during the regular season, they have struggled so far in the playoffs with a rate of only 74.2 percent. The Kings would do themselves a huge favor by exploiting this potential weakness.
Goalie Jonathan Quick Will Need to Be at His Best
The Kings have had the stingiest defense in the league so far these playoffs, allowing an average of only 1.57 goals per game.
Perhaps the biggest reason for this has been the play of fourth-year goalie Jonathan Quick, who has put up a staggering save percentage of .946 while playing every minute of Los Angeles' games so far in the playoffs.
If Los Angeles' offense struggles or is shut down by New Jersey's defense, Quick will need to continue his extremely high level of play, and maybe even steal a game or two for his team.
Win the Face-offs
Although Mike Richards has excelled in the face-off dot so far with a winning percentage of 51.2 percent, the team's other centers, Anze Kopitar and Jarret Stoll, need to step up. Despite both players winning over 50 percent of their draws during the regular season, both have struggled below their normal rates in the playoffs.
Kopitar's winning percentage has been only 46.8 percent in the playoffs, down from a 53.8 percent rate during the regular season. Stoll, who has a reputation of being one of the league's better face-off men, has only won 49.6 percent of his draws, well below his regular season average of 55.1 percent.
While the Kings actually have a better face-off winning percentage then New Jersey so far in these playoffs (48.2 percent to 47.5 percent), every bit of possession matters. That face-off in the defensive zone late in the game can be the difference between an easy clear or a goal against.
The Big Names Need to Keep Producing
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Kings' overall success so far in their playoff run has been the performance of their marquee players, who have all seemed to have stepped up their games.
Dustin Brown, the team's captain, is third in the playoffs in scoring with 16 points, and is providing the grit, toughness and leadership that every team needs.
Richards, after a bad regular season in which saw his point production drop 22 points from the previous year, has lived up to the Kings' expectations when they traded for him, scoring 11 points in the 14 games with his usual excellent two-way play.
Drew Doughty, who didn't have the Norris-Trophy-caliber-type of season he did last year, is playing more closer to that high level in the playoffs.
Dustin Penner, who had looked like a bust for the Kings since they acquired him at last year's trade deadline, has put up 10 points in this playoff run, only seven fewer than what he put up in 67 games during the regular season.
Los Angeles has gotten this deep into the postseason mainly because of the performances of their big-name players, many of whom underperformed in the regular season. If those players keep producing and stepping up the way they have, the Kings have every right to believe they will win the Stanley Cup.