On Sunday night, the Anaheim Ducks fell to the Detroit Red Wings 3-2 at the Honda Center, depriving Los Angeles hockey fans of a freeway series between the Ducks and the LA Kings.
Instead, the Kings will do battle with the San Jose Sharks beginning on Tuesday night at the Staples Center, and as part of our coverage of the series, here are five key matchups that fans can look forward to in the series:
The Americans: Joe Pavelski vs. Dustin Brown
Pavelski has been one of the Sharks’ top scorers in these playoffs, with four goals and four assists in the Sharks’ first round sweep of the Vancouver Canucks. Three of those goals came on the power play, and Pavelski also played nearly 21 minutes of ice time per game.
By contrast, Brown has shone on the defensive side of the puck in the first round, dishing out 31 hits in six games against the St. Louis Blues. He may be superior to Pavelski in this area, but the offensive disparity between the two swings the edge here to the Sharks’ winger.
The Centers: Joe Thornton vs. Anze Kopitar
Both players have been around for a while, but Kopitar gets the edge based on his current play. His one goal and three assists in the first round may not stand out, especially compared to Thornton’s six points in four games, but where Kopitar gets the edge is in his defensive game. Thornton is by no means a slouch defensively, but Kopitar is able to consistently disrupt opposing attacks, as he displayed against the Blues, giving him a narrow edge.
The Defenders: Dan Boyle vs. Drew Doughty
Both players had a similar amount of regular season points (Doughty had 22, Boyle 20), and both players had very similar numbers in the realm of advanced statistics (Doughty held narrow edges in Corsi and offensive zone start percentage, while Boyle had a slightly better PDO), and even in the postseason, their numbers were similar. Doughty had a way better Corsi, and Boyle had a massively better PDO.
Even in the playoffs, each player has excelled, albeit in different areas. Boyle has been a huge part of the Sharks’ power play success, and Doughty was instrumental in the Kings’ excellent penalty killing unit.
The reason we opted for a “push” here was because both players have proven that they are experts in their respective areas of on-ice responsibility, and picking between the two would have inevitably resulted in some sort of semantics-based definition of defenseman, and the job of a blue liner is a lot more than just defense.
The Goalies: Niemi vs. Quick
Both goaltenders have been spectacular in their respective seasons, with Niemi garnering a nomination for the Vezina Trophy in the regular season and Quick earning high praise for his excellent performance in the first round of the playoffs.
The reason we are giving the edge to Niemi is because of his better numbers over a larger sample size. Neither team could go wrong with either player in net for them, but Niemi has had a special year, and like Quick has backstopped his team to a Stanley Cup championship.
Special Teamers: Logan Couture vs. Jarret Stoll
The Kings penalty killing unit was great against the Blues, but nothing can match the ridiculous performance that the Sharks put up in their playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks. Couture was at the head of the class in that department, scoring three power play goals and dishing out three assists with his team on the man-advantage.
The battle between the two special teams groups of these two clubs will go a long way toward determining a winner in this series, but if the Kings give the Sharks too many power play opportunities, it could mean a quick end to their title defense.