Kings know they’ll face a Phoenix team much like themselves
Time off hasn’t dulled Jonathan Quick’s reflexes.
The Kings’ stellar goaltender took two days off the ice but still displayed excellent speed and lateral moves while trying to dodge onrushing reporters at the team’s practice facility Tuesday.
The media horde succeeded where the No. 1-seeded Vancouver Canucks and No. 2-seeded St. Louis Blues had failed, cornering Quick as the Kings began preparing to face the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference finals later this week.
The Kings are hoping that was the last time Quick gets swarmed, though that’s unlikely.
The Coyotes, who passed the Kings for the Pacific Division title in the final days of the regular season, are built much like the Kings. Both rely on superb goaltending, a defense that balances mobility and muscle, and hardworking forwards who are conscientious at both ends of the ice. Coyotes Coach Dave Tippett was a Kings assistant coach from 1999 to 2002 and is still well-regarded for his class and his genius with the power-play unit.
“They’ve got a quick team,” said Quick, who refreshed his memory by watching the telecast of Phoenix’s second-round clincher against the Nashville Predators on Monday.
“I feel like they get a lot of speed coming in on the rush. They always get four guys joining the rush. They always have a defenseman jumping up. Guys like [Oliver] Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle are very skilled defensemen at jumping up on the rush.
“They’re playing well. They’re playing with a lot of confidence now. They have Mike Smith, who’s playing as well as anybody in the league in net, and it’s going to be a challenge.”
Quick’s 1.55 postseason goals-against average and .949 save percentage are almost equaled by Smith’s 1.77 and .948. Smith has faced more shots — 400 in 11 games against Chicago and Nashville — than Quick’s 274 in nine games. Yandle and Ekman-Larsson are the Coyotes’ equivalent of the Kings’ puck-moving defensemen, Drew Doughty, Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov.
Kings Coach Darryl Sutter also cited the Coyotes’ speed as a possible factor in the series.
“It’s not like it’s top end or there’s a dropoff. It’s right through their lineup,” he said. “They have two really top-end defensemen that make a big impact on that in Yandle and Ekman-Larsson. A lot of teams, there’s sort of a top end and bottom end but I don’t think with their team that is there. I’d call them a quick team right through their lineup. There’s probably similarities in there with ours, also.”
Extending the parallels, each team had one player in the top 25 regular-season scorers. Veteran Phoenix winger Ray Whitney, who turned 40 on Tuesday, ranked 13th with 24 goals and 77 points, while Kings center Anze Kopitar ranked 17th with 25 goals and 76 points. And both teams have benefited from depth scoring in postseason play, with the Kings getting at least one goal from 15 players and the Coyotes getting goals from 13.
Each team won three games in their season series too. The points awarded for overtime or shootout losses meant the Kings gained eight points in six games to seven for the Coyotes.
“We both want to work hard. We both want to do everything right for each other,” Doughty said. “We’re huge on the forecheck. Both really good defensive teams. That’s why it’s going to be a battle and we’ve got to win every single battle in every area on the ice.
“I think they get everything they want from every single guy. It’s not like they have those big, big superstars or anything like that on their team. They have a lot of guys who want to work hard, who want to play for each other and I think that’s the biggest part about their team.”
What will make the difference between teams that are so alike?
Likely, their ability to add a new element to what has worked for them so far. Besides looking to Smith and their defense, the Coyotes will need more from winger Radim Vrbata, who had 35 goals this season but has only two in the playoffs.
For the Kings, the difference could be production from a power play that was one for 21 against St. Louis and is four for 47 overall. The Kings shredded the Blues’ vaunted team defense with physical and opportunistic play, killing all 17 disadvantages in the series and scoring two short-handed goals. Their top players were outstanding.
“But I think our bottom guys chipped in too, guys that work hard and try to chip in whenever they can,” fourth-line center Colin Fraser said, citing goals by Jordan Nolan, Brad Richardson, Trevor Lewis and Jarret Stoll.
“In the playoffs you do need everybody, and so far I think we’ve done that but we’re halfway there. We’ve still got a big series ahead.”
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