Ryan Reaves of Vegas and Drew Doughty of Los Angeles
While the Golden Knights have been the biggest surprise of the NHL season, the Kings have all the tools to dispose of the expansion team in the first round
All season long, we’ve been waiting for the fairytale to end in Vegas, and so far midnight has yet to come. Had the Golden Knights drawn Anaheim or San Jose in the first round of the playoffs, I would have easily picked the Vegas side to win; the vibes are just too good not to believe in them.
But in Los Angeles, I see a harbinger for the Knights.
I know, I know; it would be a lot of fun to see Vegas make a magical run during the expansion team’s first year of existence, but in my opinion, the Knights are gonna get a wake-up call from the Kings.
Without a doubt, the Golden Knights play fast, exciting hockey and that’s why the won the Pacific Division during their maiden voyage. But under new coach John Stevens, Los Angeles played a lot faster this season than the squad did for previous bench boss Darryl Sutter. Now, Sutter’s reign featured two Stanley Cup victories - so let’s not pretend he was some incompetent rube holding the team back. But the NHL changed and Sutter didn’t, hence his ouster. But those years of success taught the Kings how to win and after barely missing the playoffs last year, Los Angeles is back to looking like those dangerous Kings of old.
Think about it: champions are forged by having strength at the top. You cannot win a Cup without a dominant No. 1 center and Los Angeles has one in Anze Kopitar. He might win the Selke and he’ll probably get some Hart votes as well. The Kings also have a Norris Trophy favorite in Drew Doughty on the blueline and one of the most intimidating goalies in the world in Jonathan Quick. All the elements are there.
In Vegas, we have a beguiling team that has re-written the rule book on the fly. Sure, Marc-Andre Fleury is a legitimate No. 1 netminder and Cup winner himself, but otherwise the Golden Knights are a collective the likes we have rarely ever seen in the NHL.
Do they have a dominant No. 1 center? Well, William Karlsson scored 43 goals this season, so I suppose it would be unfair not to consider him in that conversation, especially since he was also a solid possession player and one of the NHL’s leaders in takeaways. The Knights had three other players with 60 points or more (Jonathan Marchessault, David Perron and Reilly Smith), so clearly depth of scoring is not an issue.
On defense, the Knights do not have a star and while I’m not saying that would be the specific reason for their downfall, it doesn’t help. Again, the collective has been excellent this season, but the playoffs are a different beast.
I also think that the Kings will be immune to the ‘Vegas flu.’ I mean, they play in Los Angeles: distractions are everywhere in that town and the Kings have been successful nonetheless. Head-to-head, the Kings were 1-1 when travelling to Vegas and the loss came on the second night of a back-to-back. It’s also worth noting that Los Angeles won the past two meetings between the two teams.
Given how magical this season has been for Vegas, a playoff run wouldn’t shock anybody at this point - I get that. But when I look at all the experience and talent the Kings bring to the post-season, it’s just hard for me to bet against Los Angeles.