After just missing the postseason last year, the Los Angeles Kings come into this year’s playoffs as the #2 seed in the Pacific. The team has be slightly disappointed it didn’t win the division when they let a 3-0 lead against the Winnipeg Jets slip away in their final regular season game. That game would have clinched first for the Kings and seen them win only their second division title in 49 years. With the Kings we all know seeding doesn’t matter in the playoffs, but for a team who held the division lead for 90% of the season, you have to wonder if letting the Anaheim Ducks overtake them affected their psyche in any way.
Los Angeles Kings vs San Jose Sharks First Round Series Preview
Much like the Kings, The San Jose Sharks are back in the playoffs after narrowly missing out in 2015. San Jose was locked into the third spot in the division for much of the second half of the season. Struggling to win at home have been an issue all year for the Sharks, but they finished the season with a league leading 28 road wins. Perhaps the Sharks have a road ice advantage.
This will be the fourth time in six years that the Kings and Sharks face each other in the playoffs. The Kings have a 2-1 edge in past playoffs series. The Sharks won the season series 3-2.
Both teams in this series are going to come in fairly healthy. Kings’ forward Marian Gaborik was sidelined for the team’s final 28 games, but appears to be almost ready to return. The Kings offense has been lacking, as is normal with them. Perhaps where Gabroik will make the biggest impact is on the power play. At one point earlier this season the Kings had the league’s second best power play. Since then they’ve slipped to 8th.
Defensemen Alec Martinez should return from a brief spell on the IR to start game one. Matt Greene has missed the team’s entire season after having shoulder surgery but has been practicing with the team this week. The Kings have had issues finding defensive pairings that work well together this season. With Matt Greene returning will he help stabilize the blueline or will his lack of playing time this season lead to poor chemistry? The Kings finished the season as with the third best defense in the league, so Greene might not make any noticeable difference but it’s hard not to think he playoff experience could be a factor.
The Sharks come into the playoffs with a full squad for the first time in awhile. Most importantly, Marc-Edward Vlasic is healthy for the first time in over a month. Vlasic is the Sharks best defensive defenseman and will be counted on regularly to help shut down the Kings top offensive line.
Kings Will Need Consistency
The Kings’ lack of consistency has frustrated their fans all season. From a lack of secondary scoring to mental lapses on defense, almost the entire team needs to be better if they expect to win this series.
Anze Kopitar lead the team in scoring for the ninth straight year, but as is normal he was streaky at times during the regular season. Jeff Carter was nowhere to be found at times in March. Tyler Toffoli finished with 30 goals, but went a stretch of 15 games where he only scored twice. Milan Lucic was perhaps the most consistent offensive player for the Kings this season, but didn’t exactly wow anyone with his total numbers. The rest of the Kings forwards were spotty at best, or spent time on the IR. The Kings need to find a way to get two lines rolling in the playoffs.
Defensively, Drew Doughty has had a Norris Trophy winning season, but the rest of the Kings’ defense has been infuriated at time. Even Doughty has had a problem with untimely penalties throughout the year. Jake Muzzin continues to be an advanced stats freak, but the mental gaffes in his own end are something he’s always dealt with. Brayden McNabb has not yet reached the potential the Kings hoped he would. Luke Schenn has been fine since coming over in a trade from Philadelphia, but he’s not a dynamic gamechanger. Rob Scuderi played well when he first returned to the team this season, but his age and lack of mobility have been costly several times. At this point, it appears Drew Doughty will have to play about 40 minutes a night.
Jonathan Quick has been perhaps the most consistent player for the Kings all season. He’s not going to win a Vezina this season, but he didn’t have the slumps he faced last year. He’s a few bad games here and there, but that’s to be expected from any goalie. We all know what he’s capable of in the playoffs. Will we see a return of 2012 Quick? The Kings have to hope so.
San Jose Needs Certainty In Net; Improved PK
Nobody needs a goalie controversy come playoff time. The Sharks traded for Martin Jones on draft day prior to the start of this season, and he’s been solid, but perhaps not spectacular.
At the trade deadline the team brought over goaltender James Reimer from Toronto Maple Leafs. Since that trade Reimer has been the better goalie, with an impressive .938 SV% and 1.62 GAA. However, even with his numbers the Sharks have declared Jones the starter for game one. Will this become an issue for the Sharks? Splitting goalie duties hasn’t worked well historically, but we did see the Chicago Blackhawks bring in their backup last year to help them win in the first round. Obviously Martin Jones was with the Kings last year, so perhaps head coach Peter DeBoer feels he’s more comfortable facing shots from his former team.
Special teams will eventually play a part in every series, and the Sharks will need to find a way to fix their penalty kill before it costs them a game or series. San Jose finished with the league’s 21st penalty kill. Vlasic returning should help the team in this department, but even with him playing earlier this year the team struggled when a man down. Fortunately for San Jose, as mentioned above, the Kings’ power play hasn’t been great down the stretch.
The Kings have home ice, where they’ve been good all year, and they had the regular season’s best shot attempts percentage. They have the experience and a goaltender in Quick who seems to shine in the postseason. While the Sharks are a good hockey team, it’s hard to see them overcome the pounding the Kings dish out over the course of a full series.
The Kings Win In 7.
Here are other predictions from the LWOS Hockey department:
Ken Hill: Sharks in 7
Catherine Dore: Kings in 7
Zachary DeVine: Sharks in 7
Connor Ferguson: Kings in 7
Nic Hendrickson: Sharks in 6
Ben Kerr: Kings in 6
Mark Grainda: Kings in 5
Cristiano Simonetta: Kings in 6
Markus Meyer: Kings in 7
Griffin Schroeder: Kings in 6
Nick Di Giovanni: Kings in 7