The Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues may have played each other in last year’s playoffs, but that is where the similarities between these two series end.
Last season, the Blues were the huge favorites, despite the Kings upsetting the Vancouver Canucks in the first round, but it was Los Angeles that buried the Blues in a four-game sweep. Jonathan Quick had a great series for the Kings, and the team’s offense picked Brian Elliott and company apart in a dominant stretch of play.
What makes this season so different from that playoff series? A look at which team holds the advantage in each area of the game should provide us with some clues.
The Blues’ offense has some skilled components, including Kevin Shattenkirk on the back end and Chris Stewart up front, but it’s the Kings who have the advantage in terms of firepower. Anze Kopitar is a huge part of the reason for that, as his 16 power play assists helped the Kings to a top-10 finish in terms of man-advantage success. Dustin Brown’s 18 goals were also a boost.
The much maligned Jeff Carter, who was traded twice last season, is the big bopper. His 26 goals and penchant for scoring in bunches make him a lethal threat, and put the Kings over the top in this battle.
Both teams are stingy in terms of giving up goals, and both teams play a physical style that wears down opponents, but the Blues have to be given the slight edge here. They already had two players in Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo who were capable of shutting down a team’s top line, but then the team went out and added Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold before the trade deadline in April.
In six of the Blues’ final seven games, they only allowed one goal, and went 12-3 in their final 15 games to clinch home-ice advantage in the first round. Yes, they benefitted from some inferior competition, as well as a depleted Chicago Blackhawks team, over that stretch, but it’s still remarkable how the team has tightened the screws on opposing offenses since those two acquisitions.
If this were a regular season-style series, with a team switching between goaltenders to get more favorable matchups, then the Blues would hold a slight edge. Their tandem of Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak is barely better than the Kings’ duo of Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier, but it would still be close.
In the cauldron of playoff hockey, with only one goalie getting the reins as “the guy,” Quick beats out Elliott. No, Quick’s statistics are not better than Elliott’s, but his workload has been higher, and he had to deal with the ups and downs in the Kings’ defense as they have tried to heal from the multitude of injuries that has devastated that blue line corps. Now, with his defense finally showing some normalcy, Quick has regained his edge heading into the playoffs, and his level of play could ultimately determine whether the Kings win or lose this series.