Why the Kings Match Up Better with the Blackhawks in 2014 Than 2013
But, the Kings were the better team for much of the game, out-shooting Chicago 17-6 in the second period and 26-20 overall.
This won't be a five-game series like it was in 2013. With the help of Marian Gaborik, a couple of young forwards and the ability to dominate with their backs against the wall, the Kings match up much better against Chicago this year.
The Kings played back-to-back games versus the Blackhawks to open the series last year, after defeating the Sharks in seven games. Coming off a seven-game series against the Ducks this year, the Kings get a couple of days off before playing Game 2 on Wednesday.
With that said, here's a detailed look at why the Kings match up better with the Blackhawks this year.
The biggest difference between the 2013 Kings and the 2014 Kings is Marian Gaborik.
L.A. is a team that outworks its opponent physically, dominates puck possession and plays strong team defense. Perhaps the one element that's been missing from the team is an all-star caliber forward with speed, skill and an incredible shot.
Gaborik is that player. Since joining the Kings at the trade deadline, he's transformed back into the elite forward who regularly scored 40 goals.
The Kings only scored two power-play goals against the Blackhawks in the 2012-13 playoffs and their top unit wasn't a huge threat at even strength. Gaborik's vision and ability to find open spaces in the offensive zone should lead to a number of quality scoring chances, even if he's matched up against a defenseman like Duncan Keith.
Gaborik's chemistry with Anze Kopitar can't be overlooked. Gaborik's offensive abilities take a lot of pressure off Kopitar, who can concentrate more on shutting down Jonathan Toews. Although they weren't at their best in Game 1, the Kings' top line should be far more effective than St. Louis and Minnesota were in limiting Chicago's scoring chances.
The Kings had youth on their side last season, but not in the form of skilled forwards.
Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson combined to play 13 games in last year's playoffs. Toffoli—who played 12 of those games—showed signs of potential, and he's living up to that potential this year.
The 22-year-old has four goals and four assists and is playing on a line with Pearson, age 21, who has two goals and five assists. Centering the youngsters is 29-year-old Jeff Carter, who is fourth on the Kings with four goals and eight assists for 12 points.
Carter had praise for his linemates, according to Jon Rosen of LAKingsInsider.com.
It seems like yesterday I was that young guy kind of going out there and just wheeling around and playing hockey, having fun. You can definitely see that in them when they get the puck and they create chances, they put the puck in the net. Tyler scores [Sunday afternoon], you see them laughing at each other. They have a blast out there. It’s a lot of fun.
Toffoli and Pearson offer great speed and skill which can combat that of the Blackhawks. This is especially important on the breakout and when the Kings look to dump and chase the puck. Both players have shown great defensive awareness and should be able to disrupt Chicago's attack in the neutral zone.
On top of that, Toffoli's career stats versus the Blackhawks are impressive. He has four goals and four assists in nine career games—regular season and playoffs—against the Blackhawks.
Depth and Desperation
L.A. was unstoppable on their way to winning the 2011-12 Stanley Cup, never once facing elimination.
In 2012-13 they faced elimination twice and went 1-1.
This year they've been tested again and again, going 6-0 in elimination games. The Kings showed signs of fatigue against the Blackhawks last year and never played their best hockey late in any of their three series. This season they've shown they can dominate when their backs are against the wall. This is largely due to their depth, which should be a difference-maker again late in this series.
The Kings have four excellent centers in Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards, who are capable of playing a variety of roles. The Blackhawks are more limited. Jonathan Toews matching up versus Kopitar may be a wash, but with Michal Handzus, Peter Regin and Marcus Kruger filling out the middle, it's L.A. with a distinct advantage.
On defense it's the Blackhawks who have an edge, allowing an average of 2.15 goals per game to the Kings' 2.67. But remember, those numbers are heavily influenced by Quick's poor play early against the Sharks and Crawford's incredible play of late. With Jeff Schultz proving he can play big minutes if needed and Willie Mitchell healthy again, the Kings may have a tiny advantage on the blue line, at least in terms of depth.
As for Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford, that looks like a tossup.
Stats courtesy of NHL.com.