Commentary

Two for the road help Kings

Updated: May 14, 2012, 12:45 AM ET
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Eyebrows were raised when the Los Angeles Kings traded young, puck-moving, top-four defenseman Jack Johnson in late February.

Not in the Kings' front office.

Because they had known for a long time they had his replacement in their organization, a player they felt would be just as good, if not better, once he filled Johnson's skates.

Slava Voynov gave a glimpse of why that faith was justified Sunday night when his superb outlet pass found a streaking Dustin Brown and the Kings captain snapped the game-winner past Mike Smith 2:11 into the third period.

The 4-2 victory, an opening game with lots of pace, handed the Kings a 1-0 series lead in the NHL's Western Conference finals, making Los Angeles a perfect 6-0 on the road this spring.

Voynov's assist on Brown's goal is a reminder that this series isn't only showcasing the terrific offense of the Kings' Drew Doughty and the Coyotes' Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle, but that of the slick Russian rookie as well.

"He's a pretty skilled guy, not many people know about him, he has the ability to make those long stretch passes, which are not easy," Brown said. "I kind of caught one of their D sleeping a little bit, and he put it right on my tape."

Voynov was a second-round pick, 32nd overall, in the 2008 NHL draft, a selection that is beginning to look like a steal. He was up and down to and from Manchester (AHL) and Los Angeles this season, filling in when Doughty was injured but had to wait for full-time NHL work until after Johnson was dealt. His 20 points (8-12) in 54 NHL games this season -- going with a plus-12 -- suggests GM Dean Lombardi was bang-on when deciding to include Johnson in the Jeff Carter deal and promoting Voynov. The latter knew his chance had finally come once he heard of the trade.

"Yeah, I knew because some guys told me it would open a spot for me," Voynov said after Sunday's game. "I knew it was a good trade for me, it would give me a chance."

Don't be surprised if the 22-year-old ends up on the Russian Olympic team in Sochi come February 2014. He's that good.

His final recall from Manchester is just another ingredient in helping the Kings make a dramatic, late-season turn.

"He's been making plays, he's a big part of our power play, he's scored some big goals for us, too," said Kings star center Anze Kopitar. "Against St. Louis in the first game, he got the first goal for us. He's put up some minutes on the board which is huge, takes a little bit of pressure off Drew. If you can have that 1-2 punch, it's a good thing."

And really, Voynov, a right-handed shot, is a better fit with Willie Mitchell on the second pairing than than the left-handed Johnson was.

"I feel great because I played here earlier this year and I got a lot of experience. I feel comfortable now," said Voynov, tied for second on the Kings Sunday night with six shots.

With the right-handed Doughty playing alongside the left-handed Rob Scuderi, I'd put the Kings' top two defensive pairs up with any in the playoffs. L.A.'s third pairing -- Matt Greene with Alec Martinez -- has been terrific as well, giving the Kings nice balance.

Another important story from Game 1 is a recurring one in these playoffs. Brown's magical carpet ride continues with the game-winner, the Kings' leading scorer now with seven goals and six assists in 10 playoff games, also assisting on Kopitar's opening goal 3:53 into the game.

"I've seen him play like that," Kopitar said. "This is obviously a big stretch he's putting together right now. There were spurts during the six years where I've seen him play like that, but definitely he's playing like that at the right time."

Brown was plus-2 and tied for the team lead with six hits while clearly aggravating the Coyotes right off the bat Sunday night. No surprise there. Kings teammate Brad Richardson played against Brown when both were juniors in the OHL.

"He's the same player," Richardson said. "He was annoying to play against. I couldn't stand him.

"But now I love the guy that he's my teammate. He's the kind of leader you want to play with. He doesn't say much in the dressing room, he just goes out and leads by the way he plays."

The Kopitar unit with Brown and Justin Williams murdered the Coyotes all night long with stretches in the Phoenix defensive zone and created numerous scoring chances aside from the two goals the line produced. The line combined for 15 shots, Brown leading the team with seven and Kopitar had six.

Know this: It's going to be a short series unless the Coyotes find an answer for L.A.'s top line. Martin Hanzal's top line with Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata were mostly matched up with Kopitar and it wasn't a good result for the Coyotes.

"I didn't see it as just the Kopitar line," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "I thought their whole team was better than our team.

"We weren't close in that game. We got beat in every facet of the game. Hopefully we take some lessons from it and we can be better next game."

Tippett mixed up his top two lines in the third period, putting Whitney with Antoine Vermette and Shane Doan to try to find an equalizer.

There have been nights in these playoffs when the Coyotes were able to pull a rabbit out of the hat, badly outshot but still victorious thanks to netminder Mike Smith.

Well, you can only go to that well so many times. Outshot a whopping 48-27 Sunday, the right team won.

"I felt like our execution was so poor," Tippett said. "The execution and the will to get things done is going to have to improve greatly if we're going to have a chance in this series."