By Resolute (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Even though the Devils are the higher seeded team in this series, the general consensus among most hockey minds is that the Kings are the better team and one of the reasons is because they have a stronger defense corps. That advantage showed in a big way in Game 1. Both teams have pretty dangerous top lines but the Kings can match up against the Parise line with their fantastic defense pairing of Drew Doughty and Rob Scuderi. The Devils do not have a defense pairing that is nearly as good to match against the Kopitar line and that ended up being one of the reasons they lost Game 1.
Nothing against Marek Zidlicky and Bryce Salvador as they are both solid defensemen, but they aren’t exactly the two guys you would want out there against a player like Kopitar. Despite being heavily outchanced for most of the game, they did manage to keep Kopitar and his line off the scoresheet during regulation. One fatal mistake by Dainus Zubrus ended that streak and the Kings took home a much deserved win in OT.
Both teams played a solid defensive game but it’s going to be very difficult for the Devils to beat the Kings with just defense and goaltending alone. They didn’t create a lot of offense, mustering up a total of 10 at all game states, and they did the best that they could limit the Kings opportunities but were nevertheless still in the red.
They might need to take a more aggressive approach if they want to win this series.
Kings-Devils Game 1 Scoring Chances
Los Angeles’ chances are in grey, New Jersey’s are in red. This is from LA’s perspective.
After seeing how this Kings team mauled the Coyotes in the Western Conference Finals, the Devils should feel relatively good that they held them to only 14 total chances. Unfortunately for them, they still couldn’t test Jonathan Quick that much.
I don’t think the Devils can afford to get into a shootout with a team like the Kings but you aren’t going to win many games when you can only produce nine even strength scoring chances. Something has to give there. We saw the Devils forecheck at its best against in the Flyers series but can they do the same against the Kings? They might have to.
Kings Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forwards: Anze Kopitar & Dustin Brown +5
Worst EV Forwards: Trevor Lewis & Jarret Stoll -2
Best EV Defenseman: Drew Doughty +8
Worst EV Defenseman: Slava Voynov -3
The old cliche tossed around by analysts is that “your best players have to be your best players” and that was the case here for the Kings. Kopitar’s line was outstanding and made great use of the territorial advantage they were given. This isn’t quite the performance they had in the Western Conference Finals, but still an impressive showing by them and you could tell that neither Kopitar or Brown were going to be held pointless on the night. Going an entire night (including an OT) without giving up a single scoring chance against is an impressive feat, particularly when you are skating against other top-six type players.
That line along with the Carter-Richards-Penner unit produced most of the Kings offense. Richards and Carter were just as effective at creating chances, but unlike Kopitar et al, they gave up just as many as they created. To be fair, the Kings second line took a lot of defensive zone draws, but they neverthess seemed weak defensively.
This was a notable problem in the Phoenix series, too. Many were wondering if their defensive issues were going to come back to haunt them and they sort of did in this game. They were the line that was on ice for Anton Volchenkov’s goal, albeit that was a bit of a fluke.
Going with the “best players” narrative, Drew Doughty was the real stud of Game 1. He, along with Rob Scuderi, spent a good amount of their ice time against both Parise and Henrique’s lines and only surrendered two scoring chances against them. To add to that, their offensive contributions were off the charts. Doughty alone was on ice for 10 of the 13 scoring chances the Kings produced at even strength. Both players were also terrific on the penalty kill. For all the crticism Doughty has taken this year, he played like a defenseman who deserves top-5 money on Wednesday night.
Devils Individual Scoring Chances
Best EV Forward: Ryan Carter +3
Worst EV Forward: Travis Zajac -5
Best EV Defenseman: Mark Fayne +3
Worst EV Defenseman: Marek Zidlicky -6
Pete DeBoer changed up his lines a bit and had Dainus Zubrus playing on the first line with Travis Zajac and Zach Parise. Not a bad approach because it gives each of his first three lines a big offensive threat, but he also decided to match the top line against Kopitar. You can tell here that this strategy didn’t work out as the Zajac line was completley ineffective. The only chance they created was the shot Parise had before he gloved the puck into the net in the third period.
Those three guys need to be a lot better, but they could benefit from an easier matchup. My guess is that DeBoer is using Parise/Zajac against Kopitar because he moved Elias to the third line and has him playing on the wing instead of at center. The Devils coach might have to change things up after how poorly the Zajac line played at both ends of the rink in this game though.
What he will do with the defense pairings is anyone’s guess. He used Zidlicky and Salvador against the Kings’ top line and that clearly didn’t work out. Fayne and Greene appeared to do well but they weren’t really matched against anyone in particular. That second pairing haven’t been getting the toughs for the entire playoffs so that probably won’t change next game. He might have to do something to shut down the Kopitar line but that could be a lost cause because not many teams have been able to do that.
Head-to-Head at Five-on-Five
Here you can see that matching Zajac up against Kopitar’s line was probably the wrong strategy but you can also see how great Scuderi and Doughty were against that line. Carter, Richards and Penner did a pretty good job against the Henrique unit, but couldn’t do much against the Josefson and company.
Having Elias moved back to the top-six could strongly benefit the Devils. He would at least be an upgrade over Ponikarovsky on the second line even if he’s playing on the wing. As for Zidlicky & Salvador, this was either “just a bad game” for them or they might need to be kept away from the Kings’ top-six.
|LAK||1||10:04||Fraser – GOAL||7||8||15||24||32||71||6||8||9||19||29||30||5v5|
|CUP||2||1:12||Volchenkov – GOAL||10||25||26||32||33||77||16||23||26||28||29||30||5v5|
A scoring chance is defined as an unblocked shot from a “dangerous scoring area” which is roughly defined as the “home plate” area in front of the net between the faceoff circles. Chances were tracked using Vic Ferrari’s time on ice scripts. Many thanks to him for creating these scripts and making this entire project possible.