Stanley Cup Final 2014: Kings' Biggest Weaknesses and How Rangers Can Capitalize
According to Lance Pugmire of the Los Angeles Times, the Kings are nearly 2-1 favorites in Las Vegas to take home the big prize.
All year long, we've heard proclamations of the superiority of the Western Conference, but as the Final begins, the playing field is level. The Kings and the Rangers have each won 12 of the 16 games required. The first team to win four more will hoist the Stanley Cup.
The Kings are a formidable foe, but like all teams, they have their weaknesses. Rangers coach Alain Vigneault sounded like a man with a plan at media day at Staples Center on Tuesday.
"The experts probably favor the L.A. Kings quite a bit," he said, per Andrew Gross of NorthJersey.com. "That’s not going to change our approach, what we think we need to do. We know we have to play a certain way. There’s a couple areas that we think we can do real well on the ice. That’s what we’re going to try and do starting tomorrow."
Here's a game plan for the Rangers to exploit those weaknesses and prove the pundits wrong...because it's the Cup.
The Letdown After Beating Chicago
The Weakness: After winning the Stanley Cup in 2012, the Kings lost their chance to repeat when they were dominated by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2013 Western Conference Final. Los Angeles lost the series in five games.
This year, the Kings got their revenge with an intense seven-game win over Chicago that has left the team buzzing. Will the players be able to maintain their intensity against a less-familiar rival?
How the Rangers Can Capitalize: Use the Montreal game plan. The Rangers caught the Canadiens after they'd just beaten their archrivals the Boston Bruins in a tough seven-game series. By jumping all over the Habs with their 7-2 victory in Game 1, the Rangers left the home team reeling and set the stage for a series win.
Probability of Success: 7/10. The Kings have won Game 1 just once so far in the playoffs and might not be able to avoid relaxing a little bit against a group they don't know all that well.
Marian Gaborik is one King who knows his way around the Rangers roster; the playoffs' leading goal scorer will be looking to show up the team that traded him in 2012.
Disinterested When They're Not Desperate
The Weakness: The Kings have grown so enamored with spectacular Game 7 wins that they've put themselves in big holes in these playoffs. After falling behind the San Jose Sharks 3-0 and the Anaheim Ducks 3-2, they let a 3-1 series lead against Chicago slip away and then fell behind 2-0 in Game 7 before they finally got to work.
How the Rangers Can Capitalize: The Kings' modus operandi has worked for them so far, but they're playing with fire. If the Rangers can take advantage of LA's lulls to post some wins and keep the series close, the outcome could come down to a lucky bounce. Those can go either team's way.
Probability of Success: 3/10. Los Angeles' double-deflection overtime winner in Game 7 against Chicago shows that the Kings' bounce-o-meter is cranked to 11 right now. Though the Rangers have also had their share of good fortune in these playoffs, the Hockey Gods have given LA a whole lot of help this year. It's unlikely they'll suddenly stop being so generous.
The Fatigue Factor
The Weakness: The Los Angeles Kings have played a full-plate 21 playoff games so far. They've had just two days to travel home from Chicago, fulfill their media obligations and grab a bit of rest before the Stanley Cup Final begins on Wednesday.
As the adrenaline from the win over the Blackhawks subsides, the Kings may find they're a little more bruised and battered than they realize. One such player might be faceoff whiz Jarret Stoll, who left Game 7 midway through the second period with an undisclosed injury. He returned to action in the third, playing a key role in the Los Angeles win, but what bothered him on Sunday could still trouble him going forward.
How the Rangers Can Capitalize: Come out fast and furious. The rested Rangers will have had six days off since eliminating the Canadiens and should have a step on the Kings. Once play begins, it shouldn't take long to see who's hurting after dishing out Los Angeles' heavy, physical style of play over the past seven weeks.
Probability of Success: 8/10. The fresh Rangers should have a real advantage in this area, especially with their natural team speed. They'll need to attack out of the gate to give themselves a chance to win.
Unsettle Jonathan Quick
The Weakness: The Los Angeles Kings are in the Stanley Cup Final despite Jonathan Quick, not because of him. His play has been up-and-down throughout the playoffs—sometimes stellar but sometimes very shaky.
Quick has also shown that he can be easily rattled when opponents get too close for his comfort. He makes sure that no contact goes unnoticed and has been known to come up swinging when crease crashing gets too intense for his liking.
How the Rangers Can Capitalize: Make Quick uncomfortable by going to the net. This doesn't necessarily require a full-speed Chris Kreider crease-crash like we saw against Carey Price in Montreal. A consistent net-front presence and commitment to digging for rebounds and loose pucks should do the trick.
Probability of Success: 7/10. Coming into this series, Quick is definitely the weaker of the two goaltenders and the more easily rattled. The Blackhawks did a good job of getting to Quick as they mounted their comeback in the last series. New York needs to follow that lead.
Defense After Doughty
The Weakness: The Kings roster includes one of the best all-round defensemen in hockey, Drew Doughty, who's averaging nearly 28 minutes per game in the playoffs.
Other than Doughty, the blue-line corps has flaws that can be exploited.
Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez are relatively inexperienced players who still make mistakes. Veteran Willie Mitchell is maxed at a solid 20 minutes per game and is prone to taking untimely penalties. Slava Voynov has lost some of the prodigious skill that made him such a wonder during the Kings' 2012 Cup run. Matt Greene lost his roster spot during the regular season, playing only 38 games, but has been called upon to fill in for injured Robyn Regehr.
How the Rangers Can Capitalize: Make hay while Doughty is resting. It seems like he's always on the ice, but Alain Vigneault should work hard to match his offensive stars against LA's other pairings. New York needs to try to score while the Norris Trophy candidate is on the bench.
Probability of Success: 4/10. Darryl Sutter's defense looked suspect during the early days of the San Jose series, but the coach has done a better job since then—getting the matchups he's after and shutting down the top scorers on the other side. Doughty was recovering from a regular-season shoulder injury when the playoffs began. He now appears to be fully healed and playing some of the best hockey of his life.
Subpar Penalty Killing
The Weakness: The Kings' power play is red-hot going into the Final with a 25.4 percent success rate, but the penalty kill has been less than stellar. The Kings rank ninth in the playoffs with an 81.2 percent kill rate and have taken 80 penalties so far in the playoffs—far more than any other team.
How the Rangers Can Capitalize: Get the power play going! The Rangers infamously rode a 0-of-36 stretch of futility with the man advantage during nine games across the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh series. Since bumping the slump, they've scored six goals in their last seven games, including a three-goal outburst against Montreal in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final.
Probability of Success: 5/10. The early power-play success in the Montreal series helped the Rangers go on to win the series, but with just a 13.6 percent success rate overall in the playoffs, they may have a hard time capitalizing on the opportunities they receive from the Kings.