The Kings and Coyotes are scheduled to kick off their Western Conference final Sunday at 5 p.m. PT at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz. Here’s a breakdown of what to watch for as the series unwinds.
KINGS OFFENSE vs. COYOTES DEFENSE
Throw out what the Kings did against the Coyotes during the regular season. L.A. didn’t have Jeff Carter for any of those six games. Yea, Carter has been a bit of a disappointment in the playoffs so far, scoring just one goal in nine games, but his presence has earned the attention of the opposition, giving other forwards more room to work. Dustin Brown has been his team's most productive player in the playoffs, as well as against the Coyotes this season, accounting for three goals and two assists. The defensemen have also played a big role in the offense, producing four of the 13 goals against Phoenix this season and contributing 10 assists. The main player standing in the way will be Coyotes goalkeeper Mike Smith, who went 3-1-1 against the Kings this season withnine goals against and a .938 save percentage. He’s 8-2-1 in his career against L.A. with a 1.62 GAA and two shutouts. The Coyotes had the league's fifth-lowest GAA during the regular season (2.37). The Kings had the second-lowest goals-for average (2.29), though they averaged three goals a game over the final 21 games and into the playoffs.
The Edge: Kings.
COYOTES OFFENSE vs. KINGS DEFENSE
Only four players on the Coyotes scored goals against the Kings this season and one of them, defenseman Raffi Torres, is serving a 25-game suspension for a brutal hit in the opening-round of the playoffs. Radim Vrbata has been the biggest thorn in the side of L.A., scoring five goals and registering two assists. He has been especially good on the road, scoring 21 of his 35 goals away from Jobing.com Arena, tying for seventh in the league in road goals. Shane Doan has picked apart the Kings during his career, scoring 30 goals in 87 games, including two this season. The only other team he has scored 30 goals against is the Dallas Stars. The Kings will counter with goalie Jonathan Quick, who went 3-1-2 against the Coyotes this season with two shutouts, but has otherwise struggled against the Desert Dogs in his career. In 22 starts, the most he has made against any team in the NHL, he’s 10-9-3 with a 2.57 GAA. The Coyotes averaged 2.56 goals a game during the regular season, 18th best in the league. The Kings had the second-lowest GAA at 2.07 a game.
The Edge: Kings.
The Kings were weak on the power play during the regular season and have gotten worse in the playoffs. On the other hand, they had one of the best penalty-kill units during the regular season and have become even stingier during the postseason. The Coyotes have slightly improved on both their power play and penalty kill rates in the playoffs, and were better than the Kings in both categories in their six head-to-head matchups during the regular season.
The Edge: Coyotes.
Among the goalies with at least four playoff appearances this postseason, Quick is No. 1 in goals-against average (1.55) and save percentage (.949), while Smith is third (1.77) and second (.948). The career numbers against the Kings listed above would favor Smith, who is in his first year as a No. 1 goalie, but Quick has been a lot better lately against the Coyotes. Quick has also played a big role in knocking off the top two seeded teams in the Western Conference this postseason, while Smith only had to deal with the sixth-seeded Blackhawks and fourth-seeded Predators.
The Edge: Kings.
Both coaches seem to have squeezed the most out of their players this season. Dave Tippett guided a low-budget, league-owned Phoenix team to its first Pacific Division title in franchise history. Tippett, who replaced Wayne Gretzky as coach shortly before the start of the 2009-10 season and then went on to win the Jack Adams Award that year, has pushed all the right buttons this season, most notably giving Smith a shot to be the No. 1 goalie. Kings coach Darryl Sutter took over in mid-December and gradually put his fingerprints on the team. The Kings have inherited Sutter’s intensity and emotional bond to each game. He’s given players such as Trevor Lewis, Jordan Nolan and Dwight King important roles and they’ve responded with key contributions along the way.
The Edge: Coyotes.
The Coyotes were the third-least penalized team during the regular season, averaging 9.2 penalty minutes per game. They’ve maintained a similar rate in the postseason, meaning the Kings probably won’t see a lot of power-play time in this series. As noted above, L.A. hasn’t done much with their man-advantage situations anyway, but they’ve been great on the penalty kill, wiping out 35 of 38 power plays and scoring four shorthanded goals. Both teams have also made a habit of scoring first in their playoff games. The Coyotes have scored the game’s first goal in seven of their 11 games, winning six. The Kings have scored the first goal in six of their nine games, winning five. Interestingly, the three games in which the Kings trailed first they came back to win.
Prediction: Kings in five.