Western Conference Finals Early Preview
After a lengthy layoff, the Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes are set to begin their Western Conference finals matchup Sunday night at Jobing.com arena.
Both clubs are in an usual spot still playing in mid-May, as this will be the Coyotes first ever trip to the Conference Finals, and for the Kings just their second time, with the other being in 1993, under then Head Coach Barry Melrose.
Despite finishing within 2 points of each other during the regular season, one can argue that both teams had very different seasons in connection to pre-season expectations around the league and national media.
Coming into the season, many felt the Coyotes would be on the outside looking in come playoff time. With goaltending questions surrounding Mike Smith and his past consistency issues, as well as off-ice issues(Ownership) still lingering over the club, many of these questions or potential negatives have turned into positives. Smith, has finally turned into the goaltender that he was projected to become when he was first coming up as a youngster through the Dallas Stars organization.Thus, leading the Coyotes, not only back into the playoffs for the third year in a row, but also elevating his play to a whole new level, with playoff series victories over the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators.
Coming into the 2011-2012 season the Kings were a club that many felt would challenge for the top spot in the West. With their off-season additions of Mike Richards and Simon Gagne, the club not only appeared to be much improved offensively, but the young core would continue to get better as a unit. This did not happen and it took a coaching change as well as a blockbuster trade to get this team back on track. Despite being the 8th seed out West and underachieving for most of the regular season, the Kings are finally playing up to their potential that made them an early season favorite. It took this club only 9 games to send both the Vancouver Canucks and St. Louis Blues to their summer vacations on the golf course.
This series will feature arguably 2 of the top 3 goaltenders in hockey right now. Another great similarity these teams have is there attention to detail in the defensive end. Both clubs are terrific defensively in large part due to the high hockey IQ on the backend for both clubs. Players like Willie Mitchell for the Kings and Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Coyotes are great students of the game. While these two defensemen play different styles, they both make terrific plays that look routine on a consistent basis.
Over the next few days we will continue to preview this series, with a look at the offensive side of the equation for both clubs, as well as a more in depth look on some key players for each team.