Mike Richards isn’t thought of as a small man.
The 5’11”, 196-pound Los Angeles Kings center plays a physical game. He has an edge.
But Richards is the wee one when it comes to the Kings lineup. The lone man under 6’0" on the roster, he is the exception to the Kings’ rule: the bigger, the better.
Using forward depth that features meaty men on all four lines, the Kings are able to grind down the opposition rolling all four lines throughout the playoffs. It paid off during the first few rounds as the Kings took a lengthy path to the Stanley Cup Final. They played three seven-game series, winning on the road in every single finale to get to this point.
It’s been a difficult journey, perhaps only more so for those they’ve left in their wake—the San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks.
Their physical style of play is a stark contrast to the smaller Rangers, a team fueled by speed.
Their emotional and physical leader has been Martin St. Louis, generously listed at 5’8” and 180 pounds.
Although they have a behemoth in center Brian Boyle at 6’7” and a power forward in Rick Nash—when the 6’4” winger feels like playing with intensity—the Rangers are primarily built on speed and skill.
Only half of their top 12 forwards are 6’1” or taller. Their average weight up front is boosted wildly by a few players: Boyle, Nash and Chris Kreider.
The Kings’ front end is consistently beefy, but the defensive group is where the biggest physical difference lies in this series matchup.
When you add up and average the starting six on each back end, the Kings rearguards have an 11-pound average weight advantage over the Rangers blueliners—even with Robyn Regehr, the Kings' most fierce and nasty asset on defense, out with an injury.
|Weighing the Kings' Back End|
|Drew Doughty||6' 1"||213|
|Matt Greene||6' 3"||234|
|Alec Martinez||6' 1"||209|
|Willie Mitchell||6' 3"||210|
|Jake Muzzin||6' 3"||214|
|Slava Voynov||6' 0"||194|
|Robyn Regehr||6' 3"||222|
All of these seemingly arbitrary observations of size and style lead to one major theme when it comes to the Stanley Cup Final: It will be a battle of wills.
These two teams, both backed by top-tier goaltenders in the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist and the Kings’ Jonathan Quick, will try to suck the other side into their style of game.
Physical, defensive and opportunistic favors the Kings.
Rapid transitions and back-and-forth swings favor the Rangers.
If the Kings get caught up in swapping glorious scoring chances, they could be in trouble. In their Western Conference Final against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kings were somewhat fortunate to escape overtime in Game 7 with the Clarence S. Campbell Bowl after trading their sound defensive style for more of an open exchange.
They scored a whopping 28 goals in the series but allowed an uncharacteristic 23 against—an area they’ll want to tighten up knowing they’ll be facing Lundqvist and might not net the kind of offensive output they managed against the Blackhawks.
The Rangers were no slouches on defense this season either. They were the sixth-best possession team in the league (the Kings were first, according to ExtraSkater.com) and allowed a fourth-best 2.32 goals-against average during the regular season.
|Defense Wins Championships: Top NHL Teams This Season|
|Los Angeles||2.05||83.1 (11)||2.42 (26)|
|Boston||2.08||83.6 (8)||3.15 (3)|
|St. Louis||2.29||85.7 (2)||2.92 (7)|
|NY Rangers||2.32||85.3 (3)||2.61 (18)|
|San Jose||2.35||84.9 (6)||2.92 (6)|
Where they’ve focused their energy as a smaller club is making the most of their offensive chances—and creating some very quickly—with dynamic speedsters and playmakers. Kreider and Mats Zuccarello are masters of the fast break, and defensemen like Ryan McDonagh are more than capable of feeding a stretch pass the length of the ice.
St. Louis is a true sniper and doesn’t need much room to make his shots count.
The Kings will try to keep them to the outside, slow the game down with their physical play and keep things to their advantage with possession and plenty of shots and traffic in front of Lundqvist.
The big bodies come into play there, too. If Lundqvist can’t see the puck, it’s much tougher for him to stop it.
The Kings came out as favorites among bettors Monday, and the big bodies are a part of that train of thought.
But don’t discount the Rangers.
The bets were heavy on the Boston Bruins when facing the diminutive Montreal Canadiens in the second round—and we know how that turned out.