Of the matchups that are going to take place in the second round of the playoffs, the one between the St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings just might involve two of the most evenly matched teams to make the postseason. Forget that Los Angeles is a No. 8 seed, because it doesn't matter. I've been saying all along they're better than your typical eighth seed, and have been playing some of the best hockey in the NHL over the past two months. Especially after picking up Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Everything about the way these teams have played this season has been nearly identical from any sort of objective point of view.
They both have great goaltending. They're two of the best puck possession teams in the league. And for teams that have great reputations for their defensive play, neither one is forced to spend much time in its own end of the ice because they always have the puck, which is the best way for a team in the NHL to defend.
I don't know how many goals you're going to see in this series, but it has the look of one that could require all seven games to determine a winner.
St. Louis offense vs. Los Angeles Defense
The Blues earned a great reputation this season for their stingy defensive play, but they spend a bit more time in the offensive zone than people may realize (they average over 30 shots per game and allow just 26).
They don't have an elite scorer, but they do have a pretty nice collection of young, talented forwards and are pretty deep and balanced at their forward spots.
They had nine players this season score at least 10 goals, and they've had quite a boost offensively, especially on the power play, since Andy McDonald returned to the lineup. But the Kings aren't exactly an easy to team to play against. Their ability to keep teams out of the offensive zone is pretty much equal to the Blues, and they not only have a solid defense anchored by Drew Doughty, but their forwards are all defensively responsible as well.
Los Angeles offense vs. St. Louis Defense
At the end of the regular season, only one team in the NHL scored fewer goals than the Los Angeles Kings. And while that's never a good spot to be in, their offensive performance steadily improved as the season progressed. Even though they didn't always have the type of finishing ability you need around the net, they've had no problem generating chances and shots throughout the season.
The addition of Carter has helped in a couple of ways. Not only has it given them another top goal-scoring threat and another player that is capable of burying his chances, but it's also given them a second scoring line to take some pressure away from Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Is it a coincidence that Brown's production spiked shortly after the Carter trade? Maybe. Maybe not. But don't overlook the importance of having a second scoring line that's been able to draw some attention away from Kopitar and Brown.
The Kings have outshot 23 of their past 30 opponents (and that includes the playoffs, where they went up against a pretty good defensive team in Vancouver) and I think they're going to be able to give the Blues defense a challenge and could force them to spend more time in the defensive zone than they're used to. I don't know that either team has a decisive advantage here, and it's probably going to be a lot closer than expected.
Brian Elliott and Jaroslav Halak have been great for the Blues this season, but I still give Jonathan Quick a slight edge in this series as he's been one of the best goalies in the league all season with almost no margin for error. While the Kings offense struggled to finish its chances in the first half of the season Quick was there to make sure they were able to stay in contention for a playoff spot. If his play slumped even a little this season could have been lost for the Kings.
Like the rest of the matchups in this series, there isn't much to seperate these two units. Both their power play and penalty kill units finished the regular season in similar spots compared to the rest of the league. In the first round St. Louis' power play outperformed the Kings, thanks in large part to the presence of McDonald, but that's such a small sampling of games it's difficult to put much weight on that performance.
PredictionKings in 7
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