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NHL PLAYOFFS

Difference is in aggression

Kings and Coyotes have similar records, goaltenders, coaches. But Dustin Brown sees one major contrast.

May 13, 2012|Lisa Dillman
  • The differences between the Kings and Western Conference final opponent Phoenix may not be much more than the slight variation between the dazzling playoff percentages of the teams' goalies: L.A.'s Jonathan Quick (.949) and the Coyotes' Mike Smith (.948).
The differences between the Kings and Western Conference final opponent… (Harry How / Getty Images;…)

GLENDALE, ARIZ. — Jonathan Quick? We'll raise you one Mike Smith.

For Drew Doughty, there is Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

One old-school defensive-minded coach from small-town Alberta, Darryl Sutter, countered by an old-school, defense-first coach from small-town Saskatchewan, Dave Tippett, a former Kings assistant.

Strengths countered by strengths tell the picture of an intriguing Western Conference final between the Kings and Coyotes. Game 1 of the series is Sunday at 5 p.m. at Jobing.com Arena.

The teams, separated by two points in the regular-season standings, might be spiritual cousins from the Pacific Division but not twins. Phoenix finished two points ahead of the Kings in the Western Conference, but the Kings had the edge in their season series, by one point.

Surely there are more differences between the Kings and the Coyotes than the dazzling playoff save percentages of the goalies: the Kings' Quick (.949) and the Coyotes' Smith (.948).

Kings captain Dustin Brown, the team's leading scorer with six goals and 11 points in the playoffs, offered his analysis after Saturday's practice.

"I think we're probably more of an aggressive team than they are," Brown said. "You look at systems and Xs and O's -- we're similar in our personnel.

"Good goaltending. Good defense. I think we're probably a little more aggressive. On their PK [penalty kill], they tend to back in. They'll sit back a little bit."

The value of Quick and Smith to their respective teams has been widely chronicled. Quick was named a Vezina Trophy finalist, and some thought Smith's exclusion was an oversight.

If anything, the teams were closer in style and form before Sutter signed on as the Kings' coach in December, replacing Terry Murray, Brown thought.

"I guess the best way to explain it from my standpoint: We played more like them when we had Terry," Brown said. "If we were playing like we were with Terry, there wouldn't be a lot of differences. Now we're a little more aggressive on our forechecks."

The Kings, who reached the third round of the playoffs for the second time in franchise history, got to this stage by sweeping St. Louis, and that series had been expected to produce a trickle of offense and the prospect of multiple overtimes.

Instead there were no overtimes, and the Kings scored 15 goals in four games, including one five-goal game, and exposed Blues goalie Brian Elliott's weaknesses.

"Every team that's left, what do they have? Great goaltender," Kings defenseman Willie Mitchell said. "No one's left without a great goaltender. You have to try to get pucks to the net or to traffic around the net.

"From there that's usually when you get the broken coverage, create some second-chance opportunities. That's how you're going to have to score with the great goalies that are left so far."

Then there's the defense. Doughty leads the Kings in minutes played in the playoffs, averaging 25 minutes 45 seconds per game. He was called the best player in the Blues-Kings series by St. Louis Coach Ken Hitchcock.

But the Coyotes can counter with Ekman-Larsson, who at 20 is two years younger than Doughty. He had a breakout season, and his star qualities emerged in the playoffs. He is leading the Coyotes in ice time, averaging just over 26 minutes per game

The Kings have the edge up the middle with the one-two punch of centers Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards, compared with the Coyotes' Antoine Vermette and Martin Hanzal.

Phoenix won all three home games against Nashville in the previous five-game series, and four of six in the playoffs. Still, the road has not been an issue for the Kings -- far from it -- as they have won all five games away from Staples Center.

"Hey, it's conference finals," Mitchell said. "I don't care if it's here, New York. Stockholm. Sign me up."

--

lisa.dillman@latimes.com

twitter.com/reallisa

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