If the playoffs started today, guess who the Canucks will play in the first round. That’s right. None other than the defending champions, the Los Angeles Kings.
(*shudder* I still can’t get used to saying that.)
Who knows how the standings will unfold in the next 18 games, but given the recent history between the two teams, which includes some cheap shots by the Kings’ organization over social media, and that both will play in the same division after realignment next season, perhaps we’re seeing the start of a brand new rivalry.
Like the Canucks, the Kings have been dealing with their share of injuries. Especially on the blueline, where they’ve missed Willie Mitchell all season and Matt Greene for pretty much all season, they’ve shown some depth. In particular, two young defensemen, Slava Voynov and Jake Muzzin, have stepped up and become big parts of the Kings’ success this season.
Voynov, who is only playing in his second NHL season, leads all Kings’ defensemen in scoring with 19 points (4G-15A). His 19 points also places him among the top-10 scoring defensemen in the entire league.
Muzzin is a good story. Drafted late – and then left unsigned – by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Kings took a chance on him and he has responded with 13 points (6G-7A) in 27 games, 1 more point than Drew Doughty, and a team-best plus-13 rating. His 6 goals rank 3rd among all NHL defensemen; only Brian Campbell and PK Subban have more.
On top of their injury woes, the Canucks will now be dealing with losing Alex Edler for this weekend’s games. Edler, who leads all Canucks skaters in ice-ime (24:01 minutes per game) and all Canucks defensemen in points (5G-12A-17P), has been suspended for 2 games after his, ummm, run-in with Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith on Thursday night. If there was ever a time for guys like Kevin Bieksa and Jason Garrison to really earn their new contracts, this would be it. Both Bieksa and Garrison have just 7 points each this season.
15-9-6, 36 points (2nd in the Northwest Division, 5th in the Western Conference)
Anze Kopitar has points in 5 of his last 6 games (1G-5A) and currently leads the Kings in assists (19) and points (28).
It’s safe to say that Cory Schneider is playing one of his better stretches of hockey of the season. He has won his last 2 starts and has been the deciding factor in each game. In both starts combined, he’s allowed just 3 goals on 68 shots (.956 save %) – a welcome sight for the Canucks, who have struggled to find consistency between the pipes in the last few weeks.
Back in June, after the Kings won the Stanley Cup, they also signed goaltener Jonathan Quick to a 10-year contract extension and sent out this tweet: “To clarify, that’s 10 years after next year — so 11 years in total of our goaltender being better than yours.”
Fast-forward to today, and Quick is a so-so 10-9-2 on the season with a 0.897 save percentage – 40th among all NHL goaltenders – and a 2.54 GAA – 22nd among all NHL goaltenders.