Advantage or disadvantage, it can change so fast it may be little more than conjecture but here goes.
- Home Ice is the intangible played for all season and even though Vancouver had it last year it didn’t help when it mattered most. This year it is more of the same with the Kings starting every series on the road but sporting a perfect road record, so far. Simply keeping the road streak alive guarantees them the Cup regardless of what happens in Los Angeles. The Devils have clinched two of the three series with wins on the road, (as have the Kings) yet still sport a solid 6 and 2 winning record at home. Advantage L.A. only because the trend is still in play, until it isn’t.
- Goal tending is often the deciding factor in winning the cup and is a huge reason why L.A. rolled over their first 3 opponents making it look easy in doing so. Quick’s numbers are better than Brodeur’s, .946 vs. .923 save percentage and a stellar 1.54 goals against vs. a solid 2.04 for Brodeur. The intangible is experience. It is doubtful anything could rattle Brodeur for long but if L.A. gets behind or faces adversity of any kind, Quick may unravel, he is overdue for a mediocre outing. Overall, a tie in net with sentiment going to Brodeur.
- Readiness to play. L.A. will have been off for over a week and that is too long anytime of the year. The Devils will have the ideal amount of rest and be ready to continue the roll they got on in taking the last 4 of 5 against the Rangers. That is the same as L.A.’s record in their last 5 starts. Anybody injured? Probably but we will never know. L.A. has played fewer games so are less banged up combined with a longer break to heal any injuries they may have so should be stronger the longer the series goes. Still, out of the gate, advantage to New Jersey as L.A. will need a game to get their legs back.
- During the regular season the Kings lost just 27 games in regulation, 1 less than the Devils yet New Jersey managed 8 more victories over 82 games. Goal differentials were close with New Jersey coming in at +19, the Kings at +15. They met twice back in October with New Jersey taking both games by an aggregate 5-1 score shutting out Kings by 3 in Los Angeles the second time they met. Advantage to New Jersey only because they are used to beating the Kings in the most recent meetings.
- Special teams are also a conundrum. Like the away ice advantage reversal, L.A. has been as offensive on the penalty kill as the power play scoring 5 times while netting just 6 with the man advantage this post season. Over the regular season, that was New Jersey’s secret weapon as they lead the league with 15 short-handed markers, (1 every 6 games). The Kings power play isn’t at just 8.1% compared to 18.2% for the Devils. Overall special teams are +6 for the Kings with their penalty-killing unit scoring 5 and surrendering 5 while New Jersey is -3 overall on special teams. Advantage to the Kings.
- Two American captains leading by example, hard to chose between them. The Devils leadership will also come from Brodeur, Kovalchuk and Zajac. The trio of forwards Parise included, have combined for 21 goals but are –8 collectively this post season. The Kings will need Kopitar, King, Richards, Carter and the captain Dustin Brown to keep it going. Those 5 players have scored all but 15 of L.A. goals thus far in these playoffs. For the Devils to win, Brodeur will have to match or likely outplay Quick. Advantage to the Kings.
I always place great import on games 2 and 4 in any series but this time game 1 is huge. L.A. has yet to face adversity in these playoffs. Should they drop game 1 everything changes including their road invincibility. Overall, the Kings are slightly better with more balanced scoring and special teams that have been working in their favour although clearly not their power play. As L.A. is a bigger club and very well rested, a long series works to their advantage too. My sentimental choice is Brodeur to win another cup at 40 years of age and if the Devils win, I think he will be the story. Based on the breakdown above, it will be L.A. in 6, winning their first ever cup before a home crowd and igniting hockey fever in Los Angeles for some time to come.