Stanley Cup Playoffs 2012: 9 Individuals Most Responsible for Kings Success
When and if the Los Angeles Kings stamp their one remaining victory required for the franchise’s first Stanley Cup, goaltender Jonathan Quick will almost certainly be summoned to collect the Conn Smythe Trophy.
There is much to be said behind that nearly forgone notion, much about Quick and much about a multitude of his skating mates. Although his 2012 playoff data and value does ultimately exceed that of his peers, they are owed no shortage of credit for supplying essential offensive support and preventing the opposition from pestering Quick more than they may wish.
With a Game 4 victory Wednesday night over the New Jersey Devils, the Kings could tie the 1988 Edmonton Oilers for the most efficient championship run in the league’s history under the current format. And for each of those 18 games, there could be a story worth telling for a different individual contributor.
But being the eighth-seeded team in the Western Conference, the Kings ought to understand and appreciate the concept of competitive selectiveness. Accordingly, let us settle for spotlighting nine men who have fueled this historic run.
9. Justin Williams
If only for the fact that he is the leading playmaker with 11 assists and the complement to the Dustin Brown-Anze Kopitar line, Williams deserves a mention here.
8. Jarret Stoll
Only three Kings players have taken more than 100 faceoffs in the 2012 postseason. Only three Kings have won the majority of their playoff draws.
Only Stoll can claim to have done both so far, claiming 52.3 percent of his draws. He also leads all Los Angeles forwards in shorthanded ice time with a nightly average of 2:34.
7. Drew Doughty
Doughty’s two-way proficiency has translated to 13 playoff points and a plus-13 rating along with 40 hits and 21 blocked shots. That's not a bad way to kick ice chips over an iffy regular season that may, in retrospect, have reflected more on the team than the individual.
6. Anze Kopitar
The team’s playoff scoring leader has assisted on each of L.A.’s five power-play goals, had a hand in three out of five shorthanded strikes and trails only Dwight King with a 14.8 percent shooting accuracy.
This spring has been Kopitar’s first true opportunity to show why he was chosen with the 11th overall pick in a star-studded 2005 NHL draft. He has not exactly wasted it.
4. Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene
If the Kings have had any shortcomings lately, it has been their shallow power play. But nearly maximum success on the other side of the special teams’ spectrum has virtually cancelled that out.
L.A.’s stingy penalty kill has negated 64 out of 69 opposing power plays for a 92.8 percent success rate so far in these playoffs.
Two under-the-radar, but most appreciable individuals who can claim the most responsibility for that are Mitchell and Greene. The stay-at-home blueliners are playing a nightly shorthanded average of 3:59 and 3:46, respectively.
And even when they are not credited for it, the likes of Mitchell and Greene play an indispensable role in clearing the zone and creating shorthanded opportunities. The Kings have buried five of those in the playoffs, including one homeward-bound shot by Greene, to match the opponent’s power-play output.
In addition, regardless of the situation, Mitchell and Greene are first and third on the team with 52 and 22 blocked shots, respectively.
3. Dustin Brown
Not sure if any coach has ever been credited for using this exact expression before, but it would be an appropriate attitude.
You don’t want your best player to be your captain. Rather, you want your captain to be your best player.
In these playoffs, at least among the skaters, Brown has fulfilled that exact need for the Kings. He has flexed an impeccably exemplary balance of physicality and productivity en route to a team-high 82 hits and the second-most playoff points with 18, only one behind Kopitar.
He also leads the team with three game-winning goals and has had a hand in all five of L.A.’s shorthanded strikes.
More importantly, he has doled out his contributions with consistency.
Brown has yet to be held pointless in three or more consecutive playoff games. Only once has he dished out fewer than three hits in an individual outing. And, twice he has recorded an assist on rare nights where he was held without a shot on net.
2. Jonathan Quick
Quick enters his first potential Cup-clinching game carrying a 1.36 goals-against average, easily the stingiest of any NHL goalie in a single playoff run lasting more than two rounds. His .950 save percentage is likewise unmatched by anyone who has played more than seven games in one postseason.
Only twice through his first 17 outings this spring has Quick authorized a two-goal deficit, and only twice has he let in three opposing goals. Otherwise, he has allowed the Kings to consistently stay ahead or keep pace with the opposition en route to a 15-2 record.
1. Darryl Sutter
Incidentally, substantial credit is also owed to general manager Dean Lombardi, who enlisted Sutter to supplant Terry Murray in mid-December, at which point the Kings were only one game above .500.
Whether it happens this Wednesday, next Wednesday or sometime in-between, it will only be fair if Brown takes the Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and passes it directly to Sutter. For without him, there is every reason to think Los Angeles would not even have made the 2012 tournament.
Under Sutter’s supervision, the Kings went 25-13-11 to finish the regular season. They assured themselves a playoff spot in the penultimate game on their schedule and finished six points ahead of divisional rival Dallas for the last available spot. And the only reason that margin wasn’t closer was the Stars’ untimely collapse, losing each of their last five decisions in regulation.
Sutter’s direction proved the trick to L.A. learning how to salvage its season, which virtually was the implication of every game from Dec. 22 to April 7. The habit has only carried on through this unfathomably efficient run to the precipice of a title.