In a matter of hours, the Kings will officially become the enemy. But what not a better way to get to know thy enemy than through his or her own words. In a showing of good faith, Blueshirt Banter and Jewels From the Crown exchanged five questions to help each site get familiar with the opponent ahead of the Stanley Cup Final. (As an aside, if you didn't already know, you can get a great Kings perspective at Jewels FTC, and go ahead and follow those guys on Twitter @JFTC_Kings.)
You can find a similar feature on their website today, and here's the questions we asked them, and answers from one of the co-editors Eric (who can be found on Twitter @hailrover).
Blueshirt Banter: The Kings power play was a major factor against the Blackhawks, and a lot better numbers wise than it was in the regular season. Are we seeing a bad power play get hot, or a good power play finally finding its stride?
Jewels From the Crown: If you'd asked me this question two months ago, I probably would have been torn. Sure, the Kings were a 20% power play team during the shortened 2012-13 regular season with similar personnel, but they looked downright atrocious for most of this season. A sudden uptick would have been encouraging, but I would not have been convinced that the power play was all right.
However, I think the Kings' power play is legitimately good at this point, and much of the change can be pinned largely on Marian Gaborik. Gaborik's been consistent in chipping points; 5 in 19 games during the regular season, 6 in 21 games during the playoffs. Over a full season, that would have put him behind only Anze Kopitar in power play production for the Kings. The power play lines in the playoffs have been Gaborik-Kopitar-Carter and Brown-Richards-Williams; with Gaborik in Brown's place on that first PP unit, both the first and second units have improved considerably. You can also attribute some success to Jake Muzzin, Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, and Alec Martinez, all who have contributed at least three PP points in their last eight games. This isn't a 25% PP team, but it's also no longer a 15% team (as they were in the regular season).
BSB: Everyone knows about Drew Doughty, but beyond him, who is another Kings defenseman to look out for?
Jewels FTC: Alec Martinez has gotten the recent buzz thanks to his Game 7 overtime winner, and his 15 goals over the regular season and playoffs ranks in the top ten in the NHL among defensemen. (Ahead of Doughty!) But over at Jewels, we will bore you to tears talking about Jake Muzzin, so I might as well do it here.
Muzzin got "promoted" to play with Doughty on occasion last season and more frequently this season, and his initial success fooled a lot of people (ourselves included) into thinking that Doughty was carrying him. As time passed, though, it became evident that the unheralded free agent could stand on his own. His possession numbers are gaudy, as he led the entire NHL in Corsi among defensemen this season, and somehow they're not totally a product of playing with Doughty. In fact, Muzzin's Corsi and Fenwick are better without Doughty than they are with him. He's also a force on the power play; he's vastly improved his ability to get shots to the net over the course of the season, which makes a big difference.
Muzzin is a popular scapegoat among Kings fans because he has an unfortunate tendency to let pucks deflect off of him and into the net, and he's still not above the occasional bad turnover. But his overall impact has been sizable this season.
Oh, and his eyebrows are remarkable.
BSB: One of the biggest factors in the Rangers win in the Conference Finals over Montreal was speed. I know the Kings are a fast team, but how do you think they'll handle the pace the Rangers play with?
Jewels FTC: I guess I should provide some good news for your readers, so I'll point out that Brandon Saad, Chicago's fastest forward, gave LA fits in the Western Conference Final. Patrick Kane being on his line provided a nice distraction, but LA simply found themselves on the wrong end of too many odd-man rushes against said line.
I think that pure speed isn't going to overwhelm the Kings unless they allow themselves to be caught out of position. The potential problem for LA is that there isn't just one fast line for New York; it's not easy to deal with Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, and Mats Zuccarello when they're on three different lines. The second line of Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli is fast enough to handle the Rangers, and Anze Kopitar is a Selke nominee for a reason. But the forwards will have their hands full, so the Kings' defensemen will have to be smart behind them. I'd expect them to be a bit more conservative in terms of joining the offense in this series than they have been, and that might be enough to decrease New York's ability to skate right past them.
BSB: On paper, forward depth certainly doesn't appear to be an issue for Los Angeles, but it seems like the majority of the scoring in the playoffs is coming from the Kopitar and Carter lines. If the Rangers find a way to limit those units, is that a death sentence for the Kings?
Jewels FTC: Death is a strong word, buddy...
I think the Kings will have a hard time if both lines struggle. However, secondary scoring has actually been decent underneath them. The third line of Dwight King, Justin Williams, and Jarret Stoll finished the Western Conference Final on a high note. As mentioned above, Drew Doughty and his merry band of defensemen have done a great job of contributing. And the power play is still going to test the Rangers' excellent penalty kill. Even with all that, though, if the Kings continue to allow three goals a game, it won't be enough without the contributions of the top six.
Of course, this is the part where I try to convince myself that the Rangers will have a very hard time limiting those units. Pearson-Carter-Toffoli is the more unpredictable of the two units; if the Rangers' speed can neutralize them and allow for more focus on Kopitar and Gaborik, they might be in a very good spot. Kopitar had a good, not great, series against Jonathan Toews, but I'm expecting him to elevate his game once again in the Final. We'll see what happens.
BSB: I know you guys asked me a similar question, but I'm genuinely curious: Has the glam of Jonathan Quick's Conn Smythe performance from 2012 run out yet, and, is there legitimate concern in Los Angeles about the way he's played this postseason?
Jewels FTC: NBC's treatment of him should tell you the glam has not run out... he still gets the benefit of the doubt from most people due to his playoff performance in 2012. Given that he followed it up with another excellent playoff campaign in 2013, maybe he's earned that benefit of the doubt. Put it this way: no one is banging the drum to start Martin Jones in Game 1, even though Jones had much better stats during the regular season.
However, there's definitely been some minor panic about Quick's play in these playoffs. It's been tempered by the offensive quality of the teams LA has faced, but a .906 save percentage is simply not good enough. It reached a fever pitch after Patrick Sharp's fluky goal in Game Seven, which made it 3-2 in the first period; there were plenty of cries to pull Quick after that. So how did Quick respond to that? He only stopped 33 of the next 34 shots, including a game-saving pad stop with under ten seconds to go in regulation.
The question has never been whether Quick is capable of winning a series; he's one of the NHL's most athletic goalies, and when he doesn't overcommit to shots or go through lapses in concentration, he's a great goaltender. That's the problem, though; he's struggled to keep his form for more than a game or two so far.