Joey Kenward: Home Ice Key Against Kings
Shutting Down L.A.'s Olympic stars will be a priority for the Canucks.
The first time the Canucks and Los Angeles Kings met each other in the NHL Playoffs came the same year Vancouver hockey fans saw their team make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.Die hard fans will remember the 1982 Smythe Division final, one that saw Vancouver need five games to eliminate the club that had just performed the “Miracle on Manchester”. Whether or not that proves to be a good omen in an Olympic year, only time will tell.
This series marks the fourth time the Canucks and Kings lock horns in a playoff series. This year’s edition of the Kings is riding a real high entering the playoffs. It’s the first time the club is competing in the post season since 2002. Los Angeles finished with 46 wins, a franchise record. They also wrapped up the season with 101 points, which is just the third time the organization has hit triple digits in that department.
Home ice advantage will certainly need to be an advantage for Vancouver in this series. Vancouver finished tied with the Washington Capitals for the most home ice wins during the season (30). The Kings joined the Caps and San Jose Sharks for the most road victories (24). You have to go back all the way to 1981 to find the last time Los Angeles had more than 20 wins on the road.
There’s no question the Canucks will need to key in on Anze Kopitar, who will definitely be the go-to-guy offensively for L.A. Not only did Slovenian-born sniper lead his club in goals (34), power play goals (14), and points (81), he was able to have eight-game point scoring streaks on two separate occasions this year.
Perhaps more importantly the Canucks will have to focus on the Kings supporting cast, which includes a handful of players that called Vancouver home during the Winter Olympics last February. Among this group:
Dustin Brown: The memory of Brown’s hat-trick performance against the Canucks at the beginning of the month is pretty fresh in the minds of Vancouver fans. In the past few seasons, the 25 year-old team captain has quickly become one of the best young power forwards in the game. He was 2nd overall in the league in hits (287) and the way he plays the game was a big reason why he had a letter on his jersey for the USA silver medal-winning squad. He’s one of three Kings to appear in every game this season and his point production didn’t fall off down the stretch, with six goals and four assists in the month of April. Canucks fans can only hope that fatigue will creep into Brown’s game as he prepares for his first taste of post season action. By the way, in 21 career games against Vancouver, Brown has eight goals and six assists.
Drew Doughty: You could make a strong argument he’s the best 20 year-old hockey player on the planet. If he doesn’t win the Norris Trophy this year, he’ll definitely win many in the future. He was third in NHL scoring among blue-liners (59 pts) and he logged an average of 25 minutes of ice time every game. Doughty was a pivotal two-way performer for Canada’s Gold Medal winning team and will definitely look to elevate his game in his playoff debut this series. For what it’s worth, the Canucks did a good job keeping Doughty in check this season, as he collected just two assists and was a -4 in the head-to-head meetings.
Jack Johnson: The 3rd overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft has capped off his third and most productive pro campaign. Fresh off a silver medal performance for the United States, Johnson posted 36 points for the Kings. On the flip side, his defensive play was disappointing, as he was a team-worst -15. Keeping Johnson in his own half of the rink will be a priority for the Canucks whenever he’s on the ice.
Michal Handzus: Although he’s not getting any younger, the 33 year-old quietly had a productive year for the Kings. 20 goals and 22 assists for a third-line forward is pretty decent in today’s NHL. He also had a strong showing for Slovakia, putting up three goals and three assists en route to a fourth place finish. Handzus will also be leaned on heavily for his playoff experience as he has 60 career post season games on his resume.
Jonathan Quick: Much has been made about the goaltender’s recent performances and his history against the Canucks. The 24 year-old has failed to post a victory in his last eight straight starts. He also has just one win in six career meetings with Vancouver. However, this was a year where he established club records for wins (39) and games played (72). His performances in the first half of the season were a huge reason why he was named to the list of goalies for the American Olympic squad. Despite his recent woes, it’s a safe bet Quick will start this series and will need to play a major role if they want to knock off the Northwest Division champions.