Los Angeles Kings Playoff Outlook: Power Ranking Possible NHL Opponents

Pat KondzellaCorrespondent IApril 3, 2012

Los Angeles Kings Playoff Outlook: Power Ranking Possible NHL Opponents

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    The Los Angeles Kings' playoff outlook is in constant flux with three games left in the regular season, and it is not a given that they will even make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    The Kings sit in first place in the crazy Pacific Division of the wild Western Conference. Taking a look at the standings on NHL.com, we can see how convoluted the division is. Anaheim is out, but four of the five teams in the division still have a chance to win the division and grab the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

    Without delving into all the playoff possibilities, we can see by looking at the standings that there are only three seeds the Kings could possibly get. The Kings could still get the third seed by winning their division. In the NHL playoff system, division winners are get the first three seeds regardless of their point total.

    Even though the Kings have a lower point total than the Detroit Red Wings, Nashville Predators and Chicago Blackhawks, the Kings would be seeded third should they be able to hold on to the top spot in the division.

    Los Angeles could also get the seventh or eighth seeds should they fall out of the division lead but are still able to hold onto one of the playoff spots.

    Since the No. 1 seed plays the No. 8 seed, No. 2 and No. 7 play and No. 3 faces No. 6, we know that the Kings can only play the first, second or sixth seeds.

    Vancouver and St. Louis have first and second locked up so they could both be first-round opponents if the Kings slipped to seventh or eighth in the conference. Detroit, Nashville and Chicago could all end up in sixth so these teams could also be first-round opponents if the Kings hold onto the No. 3 seed.

    Therefore, there are five possible first-round opponents for the Kings: Vancouver, St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville and Chicago.

    In the following slides, I will power-rank these teams from No. 5 to No. 1 from the team which I perceive to be the best matchup (less tough) for the Kings to the team I think is the worst matchup (most tough) for the Kings.

    I will analyze those teams' goals per game (GPG) and power play (PP) ranks, goals against average (GAA) and penalty killing (PK) numbers and goaltending. I will also examine the teams’ penalty in minutes (PIM) and fighting major (FM) rankings to determine their toughness rank.

    Finally, I will take into account the results of the season series and will make an analysis for a potential series between the Kings and that team and make a prediction for the series.

    Note: All rankings listed will be among these five teams unless stated they are NHL rankings

No. 5: Chicago Blackhawks

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    Record vs. Kings: 1-2-1

    Home: 0-2-0

    Away: 1-0-1

    Despite being 27-8-6 at home on the season, the Blackhawks (44-26-10 overall) dropped both games at the United Center by scores of 2-0 and 3-2 in a shootout.

    On the road for the season (17-18-4), the Hawks are a different squad and split the two games in Los Angeles, winning 2-1 and getting blanked 4-0.

    GPG/PP

    GPG: First (and fifth in entire NHL at 2.98), Kings (2.27)

    A very scary and talented offensive corps is led by overall points leader Marian Hossa (29 G, 48 A, 77 PTS) who is T-10th in the NHL in scoring. The Hawks' leading goal scorer is Patrick Sharp with 33 tallies, and Hossa heads the team in assists.

    The Hawks also have big scoring threats in Patrick Kane (23 G, 42 A, 65 PTS) and Jonathan Toews (29 G, 28 A, 57 PTS) and boast eight players with double-digit goals.

    Duncan Keith is a very capable puck carrier and is 11th in the NHL in defensemen assists with 36, and fellow blueliner Nick Leddy is 15th in the league with 34 helpers.

    Edge: Hawks

    PP: Last (15.7 percent), Kings (15.5 percent)

    The Hawks are led in points (20) and goals (nine) by Hossa.

    Edge: Push

    GAA/PK

    GAA: Last (2.85), Kings (2.05)

    Ranking 23rd out of 30 NHL teams in GAA, the Blackhawks are weak defensively. They have seven players (five forwards) who have positive plus/minus numbers led by Patrick Sharp at plus-27. Their top defenseman in this area is Brent Seabrook at plus-21.

    Edge: Kings

    PK: Last (78.2 percent), 28th in NHL, Kings (87.9 percent)

    Edge: Kings

    Goaltending

    The Hawks are shaky in net with two netminders in Corey Crawford (2.78 GAA, .902 SV, 0 SO) and Ray Emery (2.81 GAA, .900 SV, 0 SO) who have far inferior numbers to Quick.

    Edge: Kings

    Toughness

    PIM per game: Third (10.40), Kings (11.01)

    FM: First (41), Kings (29)

    Edge: Hawks

    Analysis

    It may seem crazy of me to rank the Hawks as the "easiest" opponent for the Kings. Don't get me wrong. The Hawks are a scary opponent, but they have two glaring weaknesses: defense and goaltending.

    The Kings and Jonathan Quick could neutralize the offensive edge the Hawks have, as evidenced by the fact that in the four games they played this season, the Hawks only managed four goals. Goaltending is a big question mark for the Hawks.

    In addition, the Kings won the season series and would have home-ice advantage as the No. 3 seed. The Hawks are not as good on the road, so you can see why this is a good matchup for the Kings.

    Prediction: Kings in six

No. 4: Nashville Predators

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    Record vs. Kings: 1-3-0

    Home: 1-1

    Away: 0-2

    The Predators (45-26-8) sport a 24-10-5 record at Bridgestone Arena and split the home games against the Kings, losing one 5-4 and winning another 2-1. The Preds are 21-16-3 on the road and lost both games at Staples Center by scores of 4-3 and 4-2.

    GPG/PP

    GPG: Fourth (2.82), Kings (2.27)

    Nashville is led in overall scoring by Martin Erat (19 G, 39 A, 58 PTS), who is tied for the team lead in assists with defenseman Ryan Suter. Patric Hornqvist heads the team in goals with 25.

    The Preds are very well-balanced with 10 players scoring double-digit goals.

    The Preds are dangerous on the blue line with two players who can pitch in offensively with Shea Weber (19 G, 30 A, 49 PTS) and Suter (7 G, 39 A, 46 PTS). Weber is tied with Erik Karlsson of Ottawa for the league lead in goals by a defenseman and is fifth in the league in overall points by a defenseman.

    Suter is fourth among NHL defensemen in assists and ninth in overall points.

    Edge: Preds

    PP: First in the NHL (22.0 percent), Kings (15.5 percent)

    The Preds are led by their blueliners—Weber leads in goals with 10 (T-12 in NHL) and Suter leads in points with 25 (T-10 in NHL).

    Edge: Preds

    GAA/PK

    GAA: Fourth (2.57), Kings (2.05)

    The Predators are led in plus/minus by Weber at plus-19 and Suter at plus-13 and have only four skaters in double-digits (two forwards).

    Edge: Kings

    PK: Third (83.0 percent), Kings (87.9 percent)

    Edge: Kings

    Goaltending

    The Preds have a very good goaltender in Pekka Rinne (2.43 GAA, .922 SV, 4 SO) manning the pipes. Rinne has the most wins in the NHL with 42 but trails Quick in the other three categories.

    Edge: Kings

    Toughness

    PIM per game: Last in the NHL (8.42), Kings (11.01)

    FM: Fourth and T-28 in NHL (19), Kings (29)

    Edge: Kings

    Analysis

    The Predators are a tougher matchup for the Kings than the Hawks because they are more well-rounded than Chicago.

    The Preds went 2-for-15 on the power play against the Kings in the season series. This would be an area where the Preds would seem to have a big advantage over the Kings, but the Kings neutralized that advantage in the regular season and could again in a playoff series.

    The Kings took the season series decisively and would not fear a matchup with the Preds. Throw in the fact that the Preds are not one of the toughest teams in the NHL, and this series favors the Kings.

    Prediction: Kings in six

No. 3: St. Louis Blues

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    Record vs. Kings: 1-2-1

    Home: 1-1-0

    Away: 0-1-1

    The Blues (48-21-10 overall, third in entire NHL with 106 points) are very tough at home sporting a 30-5-4 record at the Scottrade Center, but at home against the Kings, they split the series, winning 1-0 and losing 3-2. They failed to get a win in their two games at the Staples Center, losing 5-0 and another 1-0 in a shootout.

    GPG/PP

    GPG: Last (2.53), Kings (2.27)

    The Blues are led by center David Backes (24 G, 30 A, 54 PTS) who leads the team in goals and total points. T.J. Oshie (19 G, 33 A, 52 PTS) is second on the team in scoring.

    The Blues also feature offensively capable defensemen in Alex Pietrangelo (12 G, 38 A, 50 PTS) and Kevin Shattenkirk (9 G, 33 A, 42 A) who are first and tied for second respectively on the team in assists. Pietrangelo is fourth in the NHL in defensemen points and Shattenkirk is 14th.

    The Blues lack a superstar on offense but have a balanced scoring attack with eight players with goals in double digits.

    Edge: Blues

    PP: Third (16.7 percent), Kings (15.5 percent) 

    The Blues are led by Pietrangelo with 23 power-play points (T-19 in NHL) and David Backes with eight PP goals.                   

    Edge: Blues

    GAA/PK

    GAA: First in NHL (1.86), Kings second in NHL (2.05)

    The Blues are statistically the best team in the NHL in GAA and have 13 skaters (eight forwards) who are in double digits in positive plus-minus led by winger Alexander Steen at plus-24 and Shattenkirk at plus-23. The Blues practice total team defense, which is probably the biggest strength of the Blues, apart from their goaltending.

    Edge: Blues

    PK: Second (85.1 percent), Kings (87.9 percent)

    Edge: Kings

    Goaltending

    The Blues boast a tandem of very good goalies in Brian Elliot (1.48 GAA, .943 save percentage, 9 SO) and Jaroslav Halak (1.97 GAA, .925 SV, 6 SO). Elliot’s GAA and SV are first in the NHL, and he is just behind Quick in shutouts.

    The Blues could throw either of their guys onto the ice and get a solid performance. You might have to give a very slight nod to Elliot in a Quick/Elliot matchup but would have to favor Quick against Halak.

    Edge: Push

    Toughness

    PIM per game: Second (12.63), Kings (11.01)

    FM: Second (39), Kings (29)

    Edge: Blues

    Analysis

    The Blues will be a No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the West and could possibly end up with the most points in the NHL and would have home-ice advantage against the Kings. However, I like this matchup for the Kings. It would be a hard fought, defensive series.

    The Blues are not an explosive offensive team but would have the offensive edge, but the Kings could neutralize that advantage with their defensive ability, taking into account the Kings’ superior penalty kill unit.

    Having taken the season series, the Kings would have confidence knowing they could beat the very tough Blues.

    Prediction: Kings in seven

No. 2: Vancouver Canucks

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    Record vs. Kings: 2-1-1

    Home: 1-0-1

    Away: 1-1-0

    The Canucks (49-21-9) are T-first in the NHL in points (107) with the Rangers. At Rogers Arena, the Canucks are (25-10-4) and won one game 1-0 and lost in a shootout 3-2 this season against the Kings. In Los Angeles, Vancouver split the series, winning one 3-2 and losing the other 4-2.

    GPG/PP

    GPG: Third (seventh in NHL at 2.94), Kings (2.27)

    The Canucks are led on offense by the Sedin brothers: Henrik (13 G, 65 A, 78 PTS) and Daniel (30 G, 37 A, 67 PTS). Henrik is T-seventh in the NHL in overall scoring and first in assists and is the playmaker of the two, while Daniel is the leading goal scorer on the team.

    Alexandre Burrows (25 G, 23 A, 48 PTS) and Ryan Kesler (22 G, 26 A, 48 PTS) round out top-six forwards who have scored 20-plus goals.

    The Canucks are another team that is well-balanced offensively with nine total players having reached double-digit goal totals.

    Defenseman Alexander Edler (11 G, 37 A, 48 PTS) tops the blueliners in all three categories.

    Edge: Canucks

    PP: Second (third in NHL) at 20.4 percent, Kings (15.5 percent)

    Henrik Sedin is ninth in the NHL in power-play points with 26, and Daniel ranks T-10 with 25, highlighting a very potent unit.

    Edge: Canucks

    GAA/PK

    GAA: Second (fourth in NHL) at 2.33, Kings (2.02)

    The Canucks are paced by defenseman Dan Hamhuis at plus-25 and have seven players (five forwards) with positive plus/minus numbers.

    Edge: Kings

    PK: First (sixth in NHL) at 85.9 percent, Kings (87.9 percent)

    Edge: Kings

    Goaltending

    The Canucks have a solid tandem in goal. Roberto Luongo (2.40 GAA, .920 SV, 4 SO) has played in the majority of the games (52). But in the last 10 games of the season, Luongo has been alternating with teammate Cory Schneider (1.97 GAA, .937 SV, 3 SO). Luongo is 13th in the NHL in wins with 30, and Schneider, in 31 games, is fourth in GAA and second in SA.

    Edge: Kings

    Toughness

    PIM/G: First (fourth in NHL) at 12.97, Kings (11.01)

    FM: Third (38), Kings (29)

    The Canucks don’t lack in toughness.

    Edge: Canucks

    Analysis

    The Canucks are a very good team all around. They are very skilled offensively with game-breaking threats on offense, yet are still good defensively and have solid goaltending.

    The Canucks split the season series with the Kings in a low-scoring, tight series in which only one game was won by more than one goal when the Canucks lost 4-2 in Los Angeles.

    Arguably, the Canucks are the most versatile team among the potential matchups.

    Prediction: Canucks in seven

No. 1: Detroit Red Wings

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    Record vs. Kings: 3-1-0

    Home: 2-0-0

    Away: 1-1-0

    The Red Wings (47-27-5) are the NHL’s best home team and sport a 31-6-2 record (NHL's best home mark) at Joe Louis Arena. They swept the two games in their own building against the Kings, destroying L.A. 8-2 in one game and won 4-3 in another. The Wings split the two games at the Staples Center, winning one contest but falling in the other 5-2.

    GPG/PP

    GPG: Second (sixth in the NHL) at 2.96, Kings (2.27)

    The Red Wings are a scary, ultra-talented and fast offensive group. They are led by leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg (22 G, 46 A, 68 PTS). The Wings’ leading goal scorer is Johan Franzen (26 G, 27 A, 56 PTS). He is joined by Zetterberg, Valtteri Filppula (23 G, 42 A, 65 PTS) and Jiri Hudler (25 G, 24 A, 49 PTS) in the 20-plus goals category.

    Third-leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk (18 G, 46 A, 64 PTS) is arguably the Wings' best player and is well-respected in the NHL. In a NHLPA player’s poll, Datsyuk got the most votes in four categories: smartest player, most difficult to play against, toughest to take the puck away from and most difficult to stop.

    The Wings also have seven other players in double-digit goals.

    They have a fast team with players that contribute across all lines. In fact, lightning fast Darren Helm (9 G, 17 A, 26 PTS), who isn’t a top-six forward for the Wings, was voted in that same poll T-4 as the best skater in the NHLMarian Gaborik of the Rangers was firstand was voted as the third fastest skater in the league (Gaborik first).

    On the blue line, the Wings are led by Niklas Kronwall (15 G, 21 A, 36 PTS) and savvy veteran defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom (11 G, 23 A, 34 PTS).

    Shockingly, this immense skill hasn’t translated over to the power play.

    Edge: Wings

    PP: Fourth (21st in NHL at 16.2 percent), Kings (15.5 percent)

    Despite the rank, the Wings are still a feared team on the power play and are led by Datsyuk in power-play points with 23 and Franzen with 11 power-play goals (11th in the NHL).

    Edge:Wings

    GAA/PK

    GAA: Third (seventh in NHL at 2.46), Kings (2.05)

    There are three players on the Wings tied for the lead in plus/minus numbers. Lidstrom, Todd Bertuzzi and defenseman Ian White are all at plus-22. The Wings boast 10 total players (six forwards) in positive plus/minus.

    Edge: Kings

    PK: Fourth (81.1 percent), Kings (87.0 percent)

    Edge:Kings

    Goaltending

    On top of a scary offense and a solid defense, the Wings have a very good goalie in Jimmy Howard (2.14 GAA, .920 SV, 6 SO), who is seventh in GAA and T-sixth in wins with 34.

    Edge: Kings

    Toughness

    The biggest weakness on the team would be here, but their immense skill can overcome this deficiency.

    PIM: Fourth (29th in NHL at 8.59), Kings (11.01)

    FM: Last in NHL (15), Kings (29)

    Edge: Kings

    Analysis

    The Wings would hold home-ice advantage and are extremely tough at Joe Louis Arena and took both games at home in this series.

    The Kings have the defense to somewhat neutralize the Wings’ skill, but the Wings still scored a lot of goals (18) in the four-game series, demonstrating the Wings’ offense is just too tough.

    Jonathan Quick would have to stand on his head to win this series, and he has been stellar in net for the Kings this year, and he is more than capable to do so. I don’t think the toughness ranks are much of a factor here with the skill the Wings' possess.

    Prediction: Wings in six

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