Why a Healthy Matt Greene Would Provide Significant Boost to 2014-15 LA Kings

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Why a Healthy Matt Greene Would Provide Significant Boost to 2014-15 LA Kings
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Though he hasn’t had an opportunity to show it consistently as of late, Matt Greene is a key component of the Los Angeles Kings’ tough and relentless identity.

Over the past two campaigns, he’s only played 43 of a possible 130 regular-season games due to back and upper-body injuries. He has suited up for 29 postseason contests in that span, but his impactwhile mostly positivewas limited by those nagging issues.

The 31-year-old’s return to full health would represent quite a boon to the reigning Stanley Cup champions, providing a younger L.A. blue line with a nasty demeanor and sound understanding of the system.

Despite solid contributions in the past two years, Greene still has much more left to give.

 

Fit

Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

When the Kings are brought up, puck possession usually isn’t far behind. When possession is mentioned as it pertains to defensemen, puck-movers (Duncan Keith, Drew Doughty, etc.) spring to mind almost immediately.

Greene, for his part, excels in possession when it’s viewed as a team concept.

He’ll never drive play forward with deft stick-handling or deadly outlet passes. With that said, he facilitates for his teammates very well, placing them in a position to succeed by nipping the opposition’s attack in the bud and keeping the other team hemmed into its zone with judicious pinches at the offensive blue line.

At first blush, the goal below appears to be the simple result of Mike Richards’ craftiness:

The replay shows Greene’s value, though, as he overwhelms the forward at the point of attack along the boards and chips the puck deep for Richards to recover. Seconds later, the Kings have tied the score.

With Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov in the fold, L.A.’s defense isn’t at all afraid of jumping up into the play.

Specifically in the matter of holding the line, however, Greene may be unmatched on his club.

Any time a realistic chance to keep the puck in is presented, the rugged veteran races lower into the zone to either maintain possession or jar the biscuit loose for a fellow King to pounce on.

This was no different in the playoffs. In the Western Conference Final, Greene steamrolls Marcus Kruger and allows Alec Martinez to save the play:

Achieving this on a regular basis extends shifts on attack and tenders the forwards further cracks at the net.

It’s no surprise, then, that L.A. controlled a stellar 58.5 percent of shot attempts when Greene was on the ice last season. As Jewels From the Crown notes, this is no fluke either. He’s almost always on the positive side of the team’s relative on-ice Corsi ratings.

For a player who doesn’t make his money with the puck on his stick, that’s quite impressive.

As a strong shot-blocker to boot—his 59 blocks in 38 games last season prorate to 127 over a full 82 games, good for second on the team—Greene is instrumental in L.A. winning the possession battle night in and night out. Two Cups in three seasons suggest that formula might be working.

Moreover, he’s surprisingly adept at reading and reacting to various situations. Take this sequence against the San Jose Sharks in early April:

Sensing that Anze Kopitar is lugging the puck close to the blue line, he sags deeper to create space for pairmate Martinez to unleash a shot and then positions himself to support the play. Sure enough, the rebound finds his stick and he fires a bid on goal.

This, in a nutshell, is how the Kings attack in waves.

Now that head coach Darryl Sutter’s squad is as potent as it’s been in his tenureMarian Gaborik will flank Kopitar while Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson should start on the second unit, which will push Richards and Justin Williams down to the bottom sixGreene’s knack for keeping plays alive should pay even greater dividends.

He may not look the part of a typical puck-possession defenseman, but he fits the Kings scheme like a glove.

 

Physicality

Victor Decolongon/Getty Images

The most obvious trait of Greene’s game is his tendency to dole out punishing hits, as he makes full use of his 6’3”, 234-pound frame.

He does so while sticking to the game plan, too, seldom looking for the highlight-reel, open-ice collision that could lead to an odd-man break against his team. Instead, he gets his nose dirty in the trenches by crunching forwards along the boards and in front of his net.

Beyond the practical benefit of his checksseparating man from puckGreene sets a tone with his physicality. Nothing comes easy when you’re playing the Kings.

Every inch of ice will be earned the hard way.

Against the Florida Panthers, he keeps a smart gap on Scottie Upshall in the neutral zone and runs him over once he becomes the pass recipient. With no time to place the puck in an advantageous spot, Florida’s offense isn’t allowed to get off the ground:

Earlier in the year, Greene takes on a tough customer in Ottawa’s Chris Neil. If this had been any other Kings blueliner, Neil would have likely absorbed the contact and initiated a cycle.

Unfortunately for him, it was Greene. In the blink of an eye, Neil is sprawled out on the ice and the Senators’ offensive foray has ended before it could begin:

Now, it is worth pointing out that Greene isn’t as disciplined as he could be. He led the Kings in 2013-14 with 1.6 penalties taken (excluding coincidental infractions) per 60 five-on-five minutes, which is an area he needs to work onespecially since he’s a trusted penalty-killer (third in short-handed time on ice).

In the big picture, though, that number doesn’t come close to cancelling out what Greene brings to the table.

From holding pucks in on offense to busting up the other team’s cycle with brute strength, the soon-to-be 10-year pro is continually breathing down the opposition’s neck, pinning it on its heels and preventing it from tilting the ice in another direction.

This is a defenseman you simply don’t want to wage war with.

He doesn’t discriminate, laying out playmakers and power forwards alike. Even the 6’4”, 233-pound mammoth Bryan Bickell has felt the brunt of Greene’s bruising nature:

With a combination of solid puck possession and intimidating play, he managed terrific defensive numbers last season. He posted a plus-six rating and the second-lowest goals-against average per 60 five-on-five minutes (1.50) among Kings defensemen.

Paired with an eager puck-moving blueliner like Martinez, Greene formed the backbone of an outstanding third pairing.

His performance should only improve with a full offseason to reach optimal fitness.

 

Outlook

Noah Graham/Getty Images

With his guts and aggressiveness, Greene's style puts L.A. at an advantage when he's on the ice. That hasn't been the case often enough in the past two seasons, but the difference in the Kings' energy with him in the lineup is palpable.

Robyn Regehr, a similar rearguard on paper, just doesn't inspire the same level of confidence.

Greene's steadiness and ability to establish a swagger in the back end round out the Kings defense. He leads by example. That will surely come in handy next season as youngsters Voynov, Muzzin and possibly Brayden McNabb patrol the blue line.

At this point, there's no telling whether the veteran will be able to stave off the pesky injury bug in 2014-15. If he can, he'll offer Sutter a wealth of experience as well as the ill temper that makes this club such a pain to play against.

 

Advanced statistics courtesy of Behind the Net and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com.

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