Three keys for Vancouver Canucks to beat L.A. Kings in opening round
1) FIRST GOAL: The first goal is important in any hockey game, but in a series that could be goal-starved, the first goal on some nights could very well be the only goal. That was the case the last time the Canucks and Kings faced off, on March 26 at Rogers Arena. The Canucks scored it that night and held on for a 1-0 victory. The Canucks opened the scoring more than any other team in the NHL this season and were a remarkable 42-10-4 when hitting the scoreboard first. In last year’s playoff run, they were 11-2 when they opened the scoring. And considering the team that scored first won the last 10 playoff games the Canucks were involved in—including all seven games of the Stanley Cup Final—the first goal is critical to the Canucks' postseason success. The L.A. Kings don’t score many goals of any kind and were one of the top defensive teams in the NHL this season. If they get the first goal, they can dictate the way the game is played. But if the Canucks open the scoring, the Kings know they’ll need two goals to win the hockey game, and on many nights this season, generating a pair of goals was a tall order for L.A. The first goal doesn’t guarantee victory, but it’s a huge step in the right direction.
2) O FROM D: The Canucks had three defencemen with more points this season than the highest-scoring member of the Kings' defence corps. The Canucks need to make that mean something in this series. If the team’s leading goal-scorer, Daniel Sedin, is unavailable for some or all of the games, others will have to pick up the offensive slack in his absence. Alex Edler (49), Kevin Bieksa (44), and Dan Hamhuis (37) all set or nearly set personal bests for offensive contributions this season by jumping up into the rush, and if Edler and Bieksa are paired up, one of them will almost always have the green light to join the attack. The Canucks got 32+123=155 from their top-four scoring blueliners (Sami Salo is included in this group), while the Kings got 27+68=95 from their four highest-scoring defencemen, led by Drew Doughty’s 36 points.
3) SPREAD THE SCORING: In addition to getting support from the defence, the Canucks need to continue what they’ve done all season: they spread the scoring around, not relying on any one player to carry the load. If Daniel Sedin is out and Mason Raymond starts in his spot, the Canucks will need Raymond to contribute more than the two goals he scored in 24 playoff games last spring. But Ryan Kesler needs to snap out of his 12-game goal-scoring drought. But beyond those two taking their games to another level, the likes of Henrik Sedin, Alex Burrows, David Booth, Chris Higgins, Jannik Hansen, Samuel Pahlsson, Max Lapierre, and Manny Malhotra should all be counted on to chip in with goals. The Canucks aren’t likely to score in bunches in this series, so every contribution will be a big one. On paper, the Canucks appear to have more guys capable of delivering than the L.A. Kings, but they’ve got to make sure that’s the case once the series starts. The Canucks have shown they don’t need all of their weapons scoring every night to have success. One of the biggest strengths of the team this season has been an ability to spread the scoring load to reduce the burden on any one player and to overcome struggles by individuals. The Canucks were at their most dangerous this year when they came at teams with a multipronged, balanced attack. If they keep that up in this series, they should have enough to get past the Kings.