Feb. 21, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (32) stretches across the goal to stop Phoenix Coyotes left wing Ray Whitney (13) on a break away during the first period at Jobing.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE

Western Conference Finals Preview: The Bulldozer and the Tarpit.

Seriously, that’s the best analogy I could come up with.

As of right now, I’m firmly planted on the Kings bandwagon. But the Coyotes have been impressive, and have been absolutely stellar in shutting down the Blackhawks offense and turning Nashville transition game against itself. They block shots, they’re deep in the defensive areas of expertise, and Mike Smith is a man possessed. The inspired play of Smith is befitting of a team led by Shane Doan, Ray Whitney, and Derek Morris who might not have much more time and chances at the big hunk of silver. Truth be told, Nashville had no answer for Martin Hanzal, and the Coyotes defense smothered every chance out like a weak candle.

The Kings though, are a different animal. Chicago was able to score some on Smith and create chances. And while you haven’t heard as much about them, the Kings’ top-6 forwards may be a slight step above the Blackhawks in both execution and in physicality. Dustin Brown is a player that every team could use, and Anze Kopitar is downright scary. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have resurfaced, and Dustin Penner is now reporting for work. What terrified me about the Kings as a Predators fan was their size. Up and down the lineup, they’re big. Their defense especially. Other than Drew Doughty, they stay at home and don’t play a risky game (Slava Voynov does play some protected minutes, but that’s a welcome trade-off with his power play game).

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Brown/Kopitar/Williams vs Hanzal/Vrbata/Whitney line- Size, technique, and some moxy. These guys all have it. After Brown and Kopitar undressed the Blues, keeping it up against a Phoenix team that is built with a similar mindset would be another notch in their belt.

Shane Doan vs Dustin Brown- Every successful team in the west has guys like these two on their team. They’re tough, leaders, scorers, selfless, and generally good guys. (Mike Fisher, David Backes, Brendan Morrow, Jonathan Toews, etc all fit this bill) Doan and Brown tangled earlier this year in a game that nearly got out of control.

Though I doubt we’ll see Kevin Westgarth, Paul Bissonnette, or Raffi Torres in this series (especially Raffi). But while we’re at it, we will see Mike Richards and Martin Hanzal in this series. Behold…

Best YouTube comment: “looks like a father fighting his son”.

Drew Doughty vs Dave Tippett’s scheme- The Coyotes owned the Preds in their transition game. Nashville has always been known for playing a style with an active defense, similar to the style that Drew Doughty can play. Will Sutter quell his star blueliner’s offensive pressure in favor of security? It may not be the worst idea.

Keith Yandle vs Mike Richards and Jeff Carter- Yandle isn’t the most talked about member of the Coyotes anymore, but he’s still darn good. Stanley Cups aren’t won with top lines, they’re won by teams. And while Yandle’s pairing doesn’t always see the top line due to Phoenix’s outstanding depth, you can bet that the Richards/Carter/Penner line can cause some havoc unless held in check.

Daymond Langkow and Boyd Gordon vs Kings Centers- Langkow and Gordon were amazing on the dot during both the first two rounds. LA does a lot of things right, but aside from Richards they aren’t too strong in the face-offs. That will need to change if the Kings want to keep up the trend of knocking out opponents quickly.

PREDICTION

If you purchased NHL GameCenter Live like I did, you likely ended your night watching some Pacific Division hockey. Both teams have good qualities to them, and usually played some entertaining hockey in the second half of the year. With that said, they get it done in two totally different ways. Much like the regular season, Phoenix plays a tight defensive game that blocks shots and takes away passing and scoring lanes. The one weakness is to a quicker and crafty team that can get the Coyotes to overcommit and put themselves out of position. Enter the Kings, who made the Blues look like middle schoolers on a construction job site. The Kings have size, have two lines that can open up chances, and have comparable goaltending to Smith. When it comes to technique, Jonathan Quick is among the elite in the league. If you were to put the best goalies in the league in a car, quite a few days of the year Quick is driving the car. He’s that good.

Phoenix is strong up and down their lineup, but their undoing could be the talent and size of Los Angeles. The Kings are as talented as they are big. And with Kopitar, Brown, Richards, Carter, Williams… their forwards are quick and crafty enough to get Phoenix out of position. With that said, the Coyotes did work against the Kings during the season, but mostly without Jeff Carter in the lineup.

Is LA the team of destiny? It’s hard to argue against it. This is a hungry roster filled with players who’ve come close to winning it all, and those who’ve grown up playing for a team that’s struggled to crack the first round. Because I picked the Kings and the Caps from the start of the year (I conveniently can’t find that tweet, but it’s out there), I have to stick with the Kings in six games.

For their sake, it can’t turn out like the Feb 16th encounter…

 

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Tags: Anze Kopitar Drew Doughty Dustin Brown Jeff Carter Jonathan Quick Justin Williams Martin Hanzal Mike Richards Mike Smith Oliver Ekman-larson Radim Vrbata Ray Whitney Shane Doan

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