Los Angeles Kings' 5 Biggest Questions in Playoff Series vs. San Jose Sharks
The Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks will meet in the NHL playoffs for a second consecutive year. The Kings eliminated the Sharks in seven games in 2013 and took three of five from their California rivals in the 2013-14 regular season.
However, the Sharks—who finished 11 points ahead of L.A. in the regular season—will have home-ice advantage. Both teams enter the playoffs having won five of their last 10 games.
No one should be surprised if this series goes seven games and features a couple of overtime battles.
With that said, here are the five biggest questions for the Kings in the series.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.
Can the Kings Contain Joe Pavelski?
Only three players topped the 40-goal mark this season: Alex Ovechkin, Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski.
Pavelski notched 41 goals and 38 assists for 79 points and appeared in all 82 games. Three of those goals came against L.A.
The Kings need to match Pavelski stride for stride and physically outwork him in the slot and the corners. Pavelski has good speed and a tremendous shot, but if he's being watched every shift by Drew Doughty, his chances should be limited.
Pavelski has been especially dangerous on the power play this season and will likely get just as many open looks as Jeff Carter will for L.A.
Holding Pavelski to three or fewer goals in the series would likely be considered a success.
Will Jonathan Quick Outduel Antti Niemi?
Jonathan Quick went 27-17-4 this season with a 2.07 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and six shutouts.
Antti Niemi went 39-17-7 with a 2.39 GAA, .913 save percentage and four shutouts.
Both goaltenders are proven playoff performers, as each has hoisted the Stanley Cup in the past five years. Niemi's championship came back in 2009-10 with the Chicago Blackhawks in his first NHL postseason.
If the Kings win the puck-possession battle as they have throughout the season, Quick should face fewer shots than Niemi. However, with Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks should generate a number of high-quality chances.
With that said, expect both goaltenders to allow fewer than two goals per game on average and a few game-winning goals to come on lucky bounces or scrums in front of the net.
How Successful Will the Kings' Power Play Be?
The Kings' power play struggled throughout the season, finishing 27th in the league at 15.1 percent. On top of that, the team scored just two power-play markers in five games versus the Sharks this season.
With that said, the combination of Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik should equal better results for the Kings in the postseason. The pair has developed tremendous chemistry in the last couple of weeks, notching a combined 11 points in four games.
Also, Slava Voynov has found his offensive touch, racking up five points—including a power-play goal—in his past four games.
It's hard to imagine the Kings going deep in the playoffs with a miserable power play—even if they did manage to win the Stanley Cup in 2011-12 with a less-than-impressive performance on the man advantage.
Will Tyler Toffoli Be a Difference-Maker?
Toffoli only played 12 playoff games last year, but racked up six points and a plus-five rating in what was a solid all-around performance by the rookie.
With 62 regular-season games under his belt this year, Toffoli has the potential to be a key player for the Kings up front.
He's spent time on the second and third lines for much of the year and has seen ice time on the second power-play unit. Toffoli has proven he can play sound two-way hockey, but also has excellent vision to create chances on offense.
The only questions now are what role he will be asked to play and whether or not he can produce at crucial times.
How Well Will Dustin Brown Perform?
Dustin Brown has been criticized throughout the regular season, but that can be erased if he plays to the level he's capable of in the playoffs.
Go back to the 2011-12 playoffs. Yes, Jonathan Quick was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner, but Brown's performance was nearly as valuable. With eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points in 20 games, Brown was the key for the Kings offensively, while also having a huge impact physically.
He followed that up with just four points in 18 games last postseason.
It's unreasonable to expect a point-per-game pace from Brown, as he's no longer getting first-line minutes, but he must consistently create chances, work effectively on the forecheck and make good, clean hits in open ice and along the boards.
Brown impacted the game in many ways in 2011-12. We'll find out very soon if he's still capable of doing that.