CHICAGO, IL - MAY 18: Anze Kopitar #11 of the Los Angeles Kings controls the puck against the defense of Jonathan Toews #19 and Bryan Bickell #29 of the Chicago Blackhawks in the first period of Game One of the Western Conference Final during the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at United Center on May 18, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
For the Los Angeles Kings, one of the key matchups in their series against the Chicago Blackhawks is going to be the battle of centers between Jonathan Toews and Anze Kopitar.
Both players were nominated for the Selke Award this season, given to the league’s best defensive forward, and both are known not only for their face-off prowess, but also for their scoring touch too. In fact, Kopitar leads all playoff scorers with 19 points so far in the postseason, while Toews has racked up four game-winning goals thus far in the postseason.
In Game 1 of the series on Sunday afternoon, first blood went to Toews and the Blackhawks, as they secured a 3-1 victory over the Kings. Toews scored a goal and had a potential second goal disallowed in the second period, while Kopitar didn’t manage a shot on goal and ended up losing the majority of the face-offs that he took in the game.
A one game sample size isn’t indicative of a trend by any stretch, but looking at shift charts from the game, one can see how Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville took advantage of his right to final line change in the game. Whenever Kopitar’s line was on the ice, Quenneville would deploy the Toews line to try to slow him down. Along with Dustin Brown and Marian Gaborik, Kopitar’s line combined for just six shots on goal and zero points in the game, and that was due in large part to the defensive effort put forth by Toews and his linemates Bryan Bickell and Marian Hossa.
In the game, Toews and Kopitar were on the ice at the same time for 12:15, with Kopitar getting just over seven minutes of ice time away from the Blackhawks captain. Those shifts generally came on in-action line changes when Quenneville didn’t have as much power to dictate matchups, but for the most part, Quenneville put the Kings in check with that move in the first game.
For the Kings, that matchup is one that they are going to have to try to do a better job of avoiding in the series, especially when the scene shifts to Los Angeles for Game 3. There, Darryl Sutter will get to decide who matches up against who, and he will likely choose to have the Kopitar line go out against the Blackhawks’ second or third lines instead. Guys like Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp aren’t bad on the defensive side of things, but they are far from the defensive stalwarts that Toews and Hossa are, so Sutter will likely seek to get his star center some good ice time away from the Selke-caliber forwards on the Hawks’ top line.