As the Kings wait to see who they'll be facing in the next round, let's take a look at how some the matchups brokedown in their first round series against the Blues. Going into the playoffs, one of the more intriguing aspects of the Kings-Blues series was seeing how two deep and strong puck possession teams would fare against one another.
Which matchups would win out? Would the Kopitar line continue its recent dominance over the Backes line? Would the new acquisitions along the Blues blueline improve their fortunes against L.A? Both teams featured two very strong 3rd lines, which one would gain the edge?
Kings Forward Lines
- Matchups in the series went power vs power as expected. The 1st line (Brown-Kopitar-Williams) spent most of their time against David Backes and his linemates Jaden Schwartz & Alex Steen. They struggled mightily in their matchup as the Backes line logged tons of zone time against them. This didn't translate into many goals for the Blues, the line only combined for two. But that was not for want of trying as they recorded 24 total even strength scoring chances in the series. So most of the credit for their suppressed goal total should go to Jonathan Quick. When not matched against the Blues top unit, the Kings top line did very well and actually came out ahead overall in their possession numbers.
- The 2nd line (King-Richards-Carter) were handed a tough assignment and performed reasonably well under those conditions. They spent 70% of their minutes against the top 6 and started more of their shifts in the defensive end than any other forward group. They kept the 1st line at bay and had the edge on the 2nd.
- Interesting to observe how Hitchcock deployed his defensemen. He paid more attention to hard-matching them to various forward groups than Sutter. He put Shattenkirk and Leopold out against softer competition presumably to help generate offense. The strategy seems to have worked. Shattenkirk was deployed against the bottom 6 and helped hem them in their zone for long stretches. The Kings 3rd line also had a really tough time containing McDonald-Sobotka-Stewart. Stewart registered the 2nd most chances of any player on the Blues.
- L.A.'s 4th line had a surprisingly strong series in very limited minutes. They were able to have a lot of success against the Blues' top pair and ended up in the black in overall possession numbers.
- The only real matchup was the Kings top pair of Regehr-Doughty going up against the Backes line. The Backes line was a handful for the Kings and their top pair was no exception. In addition to losing the possession battle the Kings top pair was out-chanced by the Blues top line 16 to 8. Outside of the 1st line, they had strong results and were the only pair to end up in the Black.
- The Kings 2nd pair consisted of Slava Voynov and a mix of Scuderi and Muzzin. They were deployed evenly across the Blues top 9. They were the only Kings defensive unit to come out ahead against the Backes line, yet they peppered by the 3rd line. They were -14 in attempts and -4 in chances versus the dangerous Sobotka line.
- The 3rd pair, mixture of Alec Martinez, Keaton Ellerby, Rob Scuderi and Jake Muzzin, had really interesting numbers. They weren't necessarily sheltered and their minutes were evenly spread out across all four Blues forwards groups. While they found a lot of success against the Blues 2nd line (+13), they were shelled by the Backes line (-16). Overall, the 3rd pairing lost the possession battle and were out-chanced 16 to 23.
- The Blues found most of their success with Backes and Sobotka lines and the Shattenkirk pairing. These units were able to generate copious amounts of zone time and scoring chances. The Kings were able to make headway against the Blues second line (Perron-Berglund-Oshie) and top pair (Bouwmeester-Pietrangelo).
- The Kings top players were able to hold down the fort, but the 3rd line and bottom 4 defensemen all struggled mightily. Depth has been a strength for the Kings this year, but it looks like in their round one matchup they met a team that may have been slightly deeper. Although, one consideration is that the Kings had the lead more often in the series than the Blues and score effects had a large impact on possession numbers. Luckily for LA, they had stronger goaltending and that ended up being the difference in a very close series.