On April 11, 2012, the Kings beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-2 in Vancouver, in game one of the first round series which the Kings won 4-1. This was the roster:
Brown, Carter, Clifford, Doughty, Greene, King, Kopitar, Lewis, Martinez, Mitchell, Nolan, Penner, Richards, Scuderi, Stoll, Voynov, Williams, Quick, Bernier (Loktionov, Westgarth, Richardson, Drewiske — scratched).
One year later, as the Kings prepare to play game one against St. Louis, the roster does not include Mitchell (injured), Loktionov, Westgarth or Drewiske (all traded — as was Simon Gagne, who didn’t play last year until the last round), and instead includes Jake Muzzin, Keaton Ellerby and Robyn Regehr (replacing Mitchell and Drewiske) and Tyler Toffoli (replacing Loktionov).
Richardson was out with an appendectomy, but would return to play 13 games in the playoffs. Clifford played 3 before going out with a concussion. Loktionov played 2 games when Clifford went down. Simon Gagne returned for a couple of games at the end of the SCF.
What this means is, the forward group is identical to last year’s, in terms of the 12 likely starters, with Toffoli in the press box instead of Loktionov. I’m going to say that the forwards should be better this playoffs than last because (1) Carter has had a full season with the team, and is on a tear, (2) Richards is fully recovered from his concussion of a year and a half ago, (3) Clifford is healthy, (4) Nolan and King have a year’s worth of NHL experience, (5) Stoll has played much better this season than last.
The defense: Willie Mitchell’s absence is a huge question mark. Robyn Regehr was brought in to replace Mitchell’s and Greene’s shot-blocking, penalty-killing, and general thorn-in-your-side toughness. Greene is (sort of) back now. But I don’t think Mitchell and Greene 2012 are adequately replaced by Regehr, Ellerby and Greene 2013.
However, the absence of Greene and Mitchell allowed Jake Muzzin to break through, and his offensive and power-play skills — combined with Voynov’s growing responsibility — make the Kings’ back-end more offensively dangerous, and faster — if not as defensively-robust in the way we normally think of successful playoff teams’.
I’m going to say that the Kings’ defense is not worse than last year’s. It’s just different.
The elephant in the room, though, is goaltending. Last year Quick played every playoff game, and his performance was stratospheric, series-stealing…truly MVP worthy. Can he do it again? The argument against is, (1) back surgery, (2) sub-par 2013 numbers, (3) the law of averages. The argument in favor: he’s generally pretty awesome.
If he does do it again, he will be in some pretty rare company.
If he doesn’t, Jonathan Bernier has just played his best regular season as a pro.
Really, the main thing working against the Kings this year is that last year’s run was so spectacular (opening a 3-0 lead in every series, etc.) that a repeat of that level of craziness seems all but impossible.
I’ll take it though.