Fans are so deliriously happy with the New York Rangers that the two biggest sources of outrage leading up to Game One were over
A) the NHL Shop’s handling of mistakenly priced $63 jerseys that eager fans tried to buy by the truckload, only to have their orders canceled,
B) the secondary market ticket prices north of $1,500 for games at Madison Square Garden that prompted some fans to ponder whether it was a more sensible option to fly cross-country to see the team on the road in Los Angeles at a “discount” price-tag exceeding $1,200.
That’s the kind of frenzy New Yorkers are in right now over the team’s hockey team, 20 years removed from its last appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The undeniable truth of the matter is that the Rangers are facing a superior team. The Los Angeles Kings won a Stanley Cup two seasons ago and have been to the Western Conference Finals in each of the last three seasons.
To get here, they had to defeat the gauntlet of San Jose, Anaheim and Chicago, who combined for a regular season record of 151-63-32 (in comparison to the combined record of the Flyers, Penguins and Canadiens of 139-82-25). The eye test confirms that the Kings are indeed a powerhouse, and advanced metrics near universally point to Los Angeles as the best possession team in the league.
Does all that really matter though? The Kings might sound like an insurmountable opponent if there wasn’t a certain kind of magic around the Blueshirts right now. The team has as close to a superhuman goalie as has ever existed, a man that could single-handedly transform the series.
Then there’s Martin St. Louis and Dominic Moore, who have endured personal tragedies and become rallying points for a tight-knit team that is playing its best hockey at the perfect time. New York is not the slouch many are making it out to be, the Rangers have earned their way here and are a very viable contender.
If you want me to try to evaluate this series practically, that follows. But as the saying goes, “you can throw that all out the window at this time of year.”
I’d love to tell you that Marian Gaborik’s shooting percentage is unsustainable, but in a short series, that means nothing. The annoyingly named “That 70s Line” along with the addition of Gaborik has transformed the Kings from being one of the league’s most anemic offenses into a group that can suddenly match, and perhaps exceed the Kings’ trademark team defense. The Los Angeles forwards are very talented and are built for the postseason style of play, plus they’re extremely defensively responsible.
Figure Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi will be tasked with containing the trio of Gaborik, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown while Marc Staal and Anton Stralman will start off against Tanner Pearson, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli. On paper, you’d think both Blueshirt D pairs would be able to hold their own. The problem is that the Kings just keep coming. This is a team that has persevered against three giant opponents because they outlasted them all with shift after shift of puck possession.
Systems by Suit: If the Kings’ forecheck looks familiar, that’s because it’s a very similar 2-1-2 to the one John Tortorella preferred.
Drew Doughty alone tips the scales the Kings’ way, but one through six, Los Angeles isn’t quite as balanced. Slava Voynov and Jake Muzzin are both young and very much on the rise, but Alec Martinez is still a work in progress and Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell are both in their twilight years. Behind them are Robyn Regehr and Jeff Schultz, so the Kings would be in some trouble if they needed a sub.
Finding a line that can create chances against Doughty and prevent them going the other way will be absolutely crucial for Alain Vigneault early in this series. Doughty been probably the best player in the postseason thus far, and he will have a much greater impact on this series than P.K. Subban did in the Conference Finals. As the Rangers did against Montreal, they might be able to generate some opportunities with stretch passes against the young King defenders and their slowing veterans.
Systems by Suit: On defense Darryl Suter utilizes a 2-1-2 zone defense off the wall and will either attack the blueline or collapse once the puck goes high, depending on the matchup.
Justin chronicled the negative developments in Jonathan Quick’s game earlier, and we all know what Henrik Lundqvist has been doing. Quick’s reputation has taken a nosedive of late, but the Rangers will really need to cash in on their chances against him. Not only do the Kings have the puck a ton, but they ranked first in goals against during the regular season because their team defense was so solid. New York will need to exploit its opportunities because there won’t be many of them. Keeping Quick’s confidence shaky would also be a huge boon.
On the flip side, the Rangers will need Lundqvist to continue playing at his very best. That shouldn’t be an issue, but Lundqvist may really need to steal one or two to keep the Rangers in this.
Stellar special teams played a huge role in the Kings’ comebacks against both San Jose and Anaheim, and without dramatic improvement on the power play from the regular season, there’s no way Los Angeles would be in the Finals. The Kings have racked up 17 power play goals in just 21 postseason games, converting at a clip of 25.4%. That’s a tremendous increase from their regular season rate of 15.1%, which ranked 27th in the league.
L.A.’s penalty kill has been middle of the pack throughout the year, and is operating at an 81.3% success rate during the playoffs. LA’s penalty kill did struggle a bit against Chicago – the Kings are just seven for their last 11 on the PK.
As we all know, the Rangers’ power play has come up dry for most of the postseason. The penalty kill is as dependable as ever, but it will be important for New York to at least match the Kings’ special teams production.
Systems by Suit: The Kings run a hybrid PK and a 1-3-1/modified umbrella on the power play.
Should be a heck of a ride. Let’s Go Rangers!