Kings-Knights rivalry took one whole season
April 10, 2018 3:02 AM
by Nick Pellegrino
Before the NHL season commenced, supporters of Vegas’ new hockey team dreamed about the possibility of an intense rivalry with the Los Angeles Kings – not the Anaheim Ducks! – in the future, asking what it would be like to meet L.A. in a Stanley Cup series.
Such aspirations will be answered quicker than almost anyone could’ve thought. Thanks to an obvious display of NBA basketball-style of tanking, L.A. made that decision for the Knights.
Deciding they would prefer to play Vegas (rather than San Jose or Anaheim), the Kings “conveniently” forgot to lace their skates in allowing four first-period goals to Dallas – Stars forward Jamie Benn set a club record with a natural hat trick over a span of just 5:17 – to intentionally finish fourth in order to meet the Pacific Division champions from Nevada.
How wise is the decision as the clubs enter their initial best-of-seven, division semifinal series?
The Kings own a pair of Stanley Cup rings this decade. The Knights own absolutely nothing – the Pacific crown not withstanding.
The clubs split their four-game, regular-season series but Vegas’ victories were in the first two meetings before anyone (especially L.A.) really took the Knights seriously. L.A. took the next two in a home-and-home series to close February when the Kings were still contending for first place.
L.A.: Jonathan Quick owns two Stanley Cup rings and a Vezina Trophy, and is currently on top of his game.
VGK: Marc-Andre Fleury owns three rings (including the past two seasons with Pittsburgh), an Olympic gold medal and even a Mike Bossy Trophy from juniors hockey. If The Flower is not at 100 percent, Malcolm Subban is as good a back-up as anywhere in the NHL. Advantage: none.
L.A.: The long-awaited return of No. 2 line center Jeff Carter has finally opened the Kings offense. With Carter’s 13 goals in his last 20 starts, it’s taking the pressure off Anze Kopitar, who scored 92 points, more than 30 better than his closest teammate.
In addition, everybody loves winger Dustin Brown, who recently became the 14th King to register a four-goal game. Among third-line centers, Alex Iafallo has been out for more than a week and is listed day-to-day, while Torrey Mitchell may not be back until Round 2.
VGK: William Karlsson (78 points) only won the club scoring title as Jon Marchessault (75) was held out of last week’s final road trip, along with LW David Perron. Both should return fresh and less bruised, ready for postseason action.
Also, Vegas hopes James Neal returns to his first-half form and offers some playoff scoring like he did for Nashville in its run to the Cup Final last season. Neal also scored six with the Penguins in the 2013 playoffs.
The Knights own more speed and additional depth up front compared to the Kings. Advantage: Vegas.
L.A.: Drew Doughty, the 2016 Norris Trophy winner, is considered by American media as the best defenseman in the NHL (Canadian media prefer Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson in obvious nationalism bias). Doughty also set a career-high scoring mark with 60 points, while still tending to his business on defense first. However, Jake Muzzin, Doughty’s defensive partner, may miss the first few games due to injury, although he did just start skating again at practice. Also, Derek Forbort remains on crutches.
VGK: Colin Miller and Nate Schmidt may be no-names, but they were before arriving to town, so that’s not a big deal. They are steady and reliable. Blossoming youngster Shea Theodore – how Anaheim hated to lose him in the expansion draft – has learned to cut down on his turnovers, while up to now contributing in the scoring column, too.
Advantage: L.A. still owns the physical advantage to throw its weight around… only if they can catch the Knights.
A tight-checking series means “my” L.A. Kings stay in the series and can legitimately win it. But the new NHL is all about speed, so if “our” Vegas Golden Knights get up-and-down the ice and gain more secondary scoring, figure on them to advance to Round 2 in seven-game classic.
(Schedule Pacific times)
Vegas (P1) vs. LA (WC1)
Wednesday, April 11, 7pm: @ Golden Knights; Friday, April 13, 7:30pm: @ Golden Knights;
Sunday, April 15, 7:30pm: @ Kings; Tuesday, April 17, 7pm: @ Kings;
*Thursday, April 19, 7:30pm: @ Golden Knights; *Saturday, April 21, TBD: @ Kings;
*Monday, April 23, TBD: @ Golden Knights.