In a rematch of last year’s Western Conference championship game, the Presidents’ Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks will face-off against the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. The Canucks are the top seed in the West; the Kings are the eighth seed.
Goals: Daniel Sedin (30)
Points: Henrik Sedin (81)
Goaltending: Roberto Luongo (54 starts, 31 wins, 2.41 GAA, .919 Save %)
Goals: Anze Kopitar (25)
Points: Anze Kopitar (76)
Goaltending: Jonathan Quick (69 starts, 35 wins, 1.95 GAA, .929 Save %
2011-12 Head-to-head Matchup: They split their season series, as each of these teams won two of the four games in which they squared off against each other.
Offense: This one’s not even close. Los Angeles had one of the worst offenses in the NHL this year, ranking 29th in total goals scored. Vancouver, on the other hand, ranked fourth overall in goals per game, and has great scoring depth (nine players with double digit goals, as compared to Los Angeles’ five). Vancouver has one of the top forward corps in the league with Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Alexandre Burrows and Ryan Kesler; Los Angeles has an All-Star forward of its own in Anze Kopitar, and a decent supporting cast in Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Justin Williams, but the team just hasn’t produced enough offense for this comparison to even be close.
Defense: Both teams have great defenses. Vancouver allowed the fourth-fewest goals in the NHL this year; Los Angeles allowed the second-fewest (and 19 fewer than the Canucks). Each team has a quality defense corps. Vancouver boasts Alex Edler, Sami Salo, Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamuis in their top-four; Los Angeles has Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell, Slava Voynov and the underrated Matt Greene in theirs.
Goaltending: Vancouver has better depth, but Los Angeles has the better individual starter. Either Roberto Luongo or Cory Schneider (28 starts, 20 wins, 1.96 GAA, .937 save %) could be called on as a capable starter in net for the Canucks, giving Vancouver security in the case of injury, or insurance in case one of them falters. Los Angeles, on the other hand, has a highly touted backup in Jonathan Bernier, but he won’t be supplanting Vezina Trophy candidate Jonathan Quick, who is pretty much the reason the Kings made the playoffs this year. Los Angeles had the 29th ranked offense this year; without Quick making sure that they also allowed the 29th fewest goals, more than likely Los Angeles would be golfing right now. Vancouver’s depth is great, but it doesn’t take precedence over the elite level of netminding the Kings get from Quick.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Special Teams: Vancouver was one of the top power-play units in the league, coming in at fourth best in the NHL with a 19.8 conversion percentage. Los Angeles was thirteen spots behind, having converted 17% of their power-play chances. The penalty kill was a different story; both the Canucks (86%-sixth best in the NHL) and the Kings (87%- fourth best) were able to prevent scoring when down a man. This is close, but the Canucks’ powerplay superiority gives them the edge here.
Prediction: Vancouver finished the year at the top of the NHL standings for a reason. They’ve got a good offense, a good defense and a couple of great goaltenders. Los Angeles has an elite netminder and a great defense, but their offensive shortcomings are going to haunt them in the playoffs. They’ll probably steal a game or two, but Vancouver should advance to the next round.
Forecast: Vancouver in six.