Los Angeles Kings' 5 Biggest Concerns in Western Conference Final
Concern is now rightfully running through the minds of most Kings fans.
At this point in the 2013 NHL playoffs, the threat of elimination is realer than at any other time in this postseason run. Down three games to one against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Los Angeles Kings now must fight to survive in the Madhouse on Saturday if they want a shot at a repeat.
With their backs against the wall and facing one of the toughest opponents in the league, the Kings have quite a number of concerns heading into Saturday's game. Overcoming them will likely be the decisive factor in whether this team will live to fight another day or not.
Where Is Anze Kopitar?
The team's franchise center from Slovenia has performed a tremendous disappearing act through the 2013 postseason.
When looking at his stat sheet, seven points in 17 games doesn't seem all that bad. However, Kopitar has been relatively ineffective throughout the entire playoffs.
In fact, the big center has gone extremely cold offensively, with just three goals in 37 games dating back to March 18. That's not just a little cold, that's an ice age. Defensively, Kopitar has been held to an even plus/minus rating and is minus-one in the third round.
He's had little success offensively or defensively through most of the playoffs.
What About Dustin Brown?
Equally concerning for Kings fans is the play of Dustin Brown.
The club's captain has just four points in 17 games, which is just a hair off his 20 points in 20 games from 2012's postseason.
Brown has also been relatively quiet in the hit department compared to last year. Despite leading the league right now, he's nearly 20 hits off last season's playoff total in only three fewer games.
He's also enjoying much less of a presence in the mind of opposing players. There have been fewer open-ice, game-changing hits from the captain. Physicality is always going to be there with Brown, but it hasn't been the same Sedin-crunching sort of physicality we saw change the course of a game and series.
Brown was key last season in the success of the team. With his offensive production at one-fifth of last year's and less of an on-ice presence, Brown has had a very small impact in 2013.
The Status of Mike Richards
Unfortunately, the Kings lost their leading scorer and most effective player back in Game 1 of the Chicago series to a high (and legal) hit from Dave Bolland.
It seems like they haven't quite been the same since.
Despite some heroic play from guys like Tyler Toffoli, who has stepped up tremendously in Richards' absence, the team is lacking a bit of the grit and determination Richards brings. The power play looks a lot less creative without Richards directing traffic and controlling the play as well.
While Jeff Carter has done an admirable job at center and the return of Jarret Stoll has helped lessen the blow, it's hard to replace the work ethic and intelligence of Richards.
With Kopitar and Brown having playoffs to forget, the team was relying heavily on Richards. Now without him there, it's been pretty tough sledding.
Do the Kings Have the Depth They Need?
This question has been answered to some degree already with "Yes."
However, we aren't just talking about depth right now, we're talking about depth on top of depth. The Kings' top players have been hot and cold so far and this playoff run has really gone as far as it has on the backs of players like Slava Voynov, Justin Williams and Toffoli.
However, the Hawks are getting production and impact from a lot of places that the Kings aren't. Players like Bryan Bickell, Andrew Shaw, Michael Frolik and Niklas Hjalmarsson are having tremendous series and are really alleviating the pressure on the top players.
The Kings need some timely goals and big shifts from the third line on down. While the effort is there from a lot of players, L.A. needs the production right now and bad.
Winning Not Once but Twice on the Road
That's right. If the thought of winning even one game on the road terrified you, try having to win two to take the series.
Scared enough yet? How about the games having to be in the United Center, one of the most intimidating buildings in the league? How about the games being against the Blackhawks, a team that lost only three games in regulation there all year?
The Kings' road woes have been well-documented, as they were one of the worst teams on the road of the final 16 playoff squads. They now seemingly have to do the impossible and win not just one game but two away from Staples Center.