Off the Ice: Reliefs vs. Concerns in Coyotes vs. Kings
We finally know the dates of the Western Conference Final between the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes. This series, in my opinion, is going to be one of the craziest we've seen in the playoffs so far.
The Kings, once earlier this season a laughing stock of offensive ineptitude, are now firing on all cylinders. The partying pair of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have been reunited and hit the stride that made the pair so dangerous when the were in Philadelphia.
In essence, this series is a culmination of the Coyotes' past two opponents in the playoffs: the Kings have great offensive power in their top line much like the Chicago Blackhawks, but a top goaltender and effort plays is more reminiscent of the Nashville Predators.
Again against my better judgement, I have the Coyotes winning the series. It's going to take seven insane hockey games that will wear both teams down, but I think the Coyotes' discipline and depth will overpower a highly-talented Kings squad.
Concern: Kings top players
The Kings top players have been some of the most productive in the NHL this postseason. Players like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Mike Richards have stepped up to lead the top two lines and push the Kings going forward. These players have looked dedicated to two-way play and their work rate is almost churning out as many goals as their skill.
Relief: Coyotes discipline
When it came to Chicago, most people predicted the top line of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp were simply too skilled for the Coyotes to handle. We all know who ended up winning that battle. The Coyotes are in for more tough pairings when they take the ice against the Kings and their discipline will have to stay disciplined and tight while finding a way -- likely through physical play -- to disrupt some of the hottest players in the NHL.
Concern: Jonathan Quick
The Coyotes, having already knocked off one Veinza finalist, face another in Jonathan Quick. In my mind, he is the clear Vezina winner and will be even harder to beat than Pekka Rinne of the Preds. The Coyotes will have to keep constant pressure on him and have to force errors and rebounds, because Quick doesn't give up much.
Relief: Coyotes offense
I don't want to jinx anything, but it feels like the Coyotes have found their offense. It's not pretty, nor is it particularly high-powered, but it's working. They managed to beat one of the top defenses and goalies in the last series and will have to keep generating chances to drop the Kings. A big forecheck wouldn't hurt, either.
Concern: Mental battles
This series, by far, has the most potential to get inside the Coyotes' heads. They had beaten Chicago prior. They knew the Preds' style inside and out. But the rivalry with the Kings has boiled over a few times, most notably the Feb. 16 clash that saw four fights. Both teams take pleasure in mentally dominating a series and, with the amount of youth the Coyotes have relied on in this series, it could be a problem when the chants of "Beat L.A." dominate those of "Let's go Coyotes."
I've used this a few times, but the veterans are an important element in a playoff run. When the series begins to heat up with the Kings as it undoubtedly will, the veterans will be the guys who have to step in and settle down the young guns, who likely will be targeted by some of the Kings heavy hitters to get them mentally out of the game. Players like Mikkel Boedker and Oliver Ekman-Larsson have been notable standouts and I expect them to be roughed up a bit in Game 1. It will be down to the Coyotes veteran players to keep everyone focused on the big picture.
The battle that I'll be watching most, aside from Mike Smith vs. Quick, is the battle of the captains. Both Dustin Brown and Shane Doan lead their teams in their own ways, but this series will be decided by the play of the captains.
Like I said, I think the Coyotes can take this series. It's going to be an insane roller coaster, but I think they can come out on top in Game 7 at Jobing.com Arena.