Despite Recent Dominance, Kings Cannot Afford to Overlook Surging Blues


Previewing the Los Angeles Kings’ 2012-13 season:
Western Conference Quarter Final vs. St. Louis Blues

Including last year’s playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings have won eight-straight against the St. Louis Blues with their last coming on February 3, 2012 when the silver-and-black lost 1-0 in the Gateway City. On paper, it’s exactly what the Kings want to see. But I don’t need to remind anyone that wins (or championships) are built on paper.

With the exception of a Boston/Ottawa makeup game today, the 2013 regular season is in the books and the playoff matchups in the Western Conference are set. As of Saturday morning, the Kings knew they were opening the postseason against one of three possible teams: the San Jose Sharks, Vancouver Canucks or the Blues.

Mar 28, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) runs into Los Angeles Kings goalie Jonathan Quick (32) after taking a shot during the second period at the Scottrade Center. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

After the Blues won their finale against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday, they had clinched the conference’s fourth-seed and with that, the result of the late game between the Kings and Sharks was simple: the winner plays St. Louis and the loser plays third-seeded Vancouver.

After Los Angeles’ 3-2 win over San Jose on Saturday, it was set. The Kings were to travel to the Midwest to open the playoffs against the Blues who they not only swept in this year’s season series but also in last spring’s playoffs. But to a man, no one in the Kings’ locker room is taking this matchup lightly.

In three meetings this season, Los Angeles outscored St. Louis 14-7 winning all three times including two in Missouri (a 4-1 win on February 11 and most recently, a 4-2 win on March 28).

But the Blues enter the postseason winners of three straight and seven of their last ten outings. At 29-17-2, the Blues finished the regular season just a single point ahead of the fifth-place Kings and hope Los Angeles’ subpar 8-12-1 record away from Staples Center this season is just what they need to gain the upper hand. After all, St. Louis’ 15-8-1 record on home ice isn’t anything to take lightly.

Despite the outcome of the season series, the Kings and Blues have been fairly even overall. St. Louis’ 129 goals for this season is just slightly below Los Angeles’ total of 133. St. Louis was tied for fifth-overall this season is goals against with 115 but the Kings weren’t far behind having allowed only 118 tallies. St. Louis’ goal differential this season was +14 while Los Angeles did one better at +15.

While players like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown haven`t been spectacular down the stretch, they`ve played well against the Blues this season. Each registered a pair of goals and an assist each while accumulating plus-minus ratings of +6 and +5 respectively. Jeff Carter scored twice against St. Louis this season as did Jake Muzzin who added an assist to his total while Justin Williams recorded three helpers and Drew Doughty registered two. In the aforementioned plus-minus category, a number of Kings weren’t far behind Brown and Kopitar’s totals. Williams was also a +5 against the Blues, Slava Voynov a +4 while Carter, Muzzin and Keaton Ellerby were all +3.

As for the Blues, against the Kings this season, Alex Pietrangelo and David Perron were the most productive this season recording three assists each. Rookie Vladimir Tarasenko added a pair of goals while Barret Jackman helped out with two assists. Unfortunately for the Blues, not one player on their roster finished on the positive side of the plus-minus category against the Kings this season.

In goal, there wasn’t much to write home about for the Blues and despite a setback, the Kings’ goaltending was right where it needed to be during the three meetings.

For St. Louis, as great as Brian Elliott has been down the stretch, he’s been anything but against the Kings.

Against Los Angeles, Elliott has posted a mediocre save percentage of just under .851 and a no-more-impressive 4.14 goals-against average, allowing five goals on the 31 total shots he faced. In his two appearances against Los Angeles this season, Elliott has a record of 0-1-0 which includes a relief appearance at Staples Center six weeks ago.

Elliott’s partner-in-crime, however, fared no better against the silver-and-black this season. Jaroslav Halak went 0-2-0 against the Kings this season posting a shoddy GAA of 4.55 and a forgettable save percentage of .842. Halak was also pulled in Los Angeles in early March.

As for their third netminder, St. Louis does have rookie Jake Allen but he has yet to play the Kings in his career much less having a playoff game under his belt. But it seems as though the most logical choice for the Blues is to go with the hot hand and Brian Elliott, despite his struggles against the Kings, fits that bill.

But outside of a disastrous start by Jonathan Bernier six weeks ago in Los Angeles, the Kings’ goaltending in the 2013 season series has been superior.

Despite having an up-and-down year after coming off back surgery in the off-season, Jonathan Quick found his groove against the Blues this season, racking up a 2-0-0 record with a spectacular 1.28 GAA in addition to a .871 save percentage which really isn’t anything to brag about but still and all. Even Jonathan Bernier had success against the Blues this season making 21 of 22 saves and a .955 save percentage in St. Louis in February. However, he was pulled early in Los Angeles just a couple weeks later after allowing three goals on eight shots. Of course, in the risk of sounding bias, Bernier did play the previous night (and admirably at that) so fatigue definitely played a factor.

On paper, the Los Angeles Kings definitely have the advantage heading into their first-round series with the St. Louis Blues. Of course if anyone were to discourage you from relying on what it says on paper, it would be the Kings who upset Vancouver in last year’s opening round despite being heavy underdogs. After all, with the likes of Kevin Shattenkirk, Chris Stewart and David Backes just to name a few, the Blues have the potential to break out of their slide against the Kings at any moment and since the playoffs are a whole new season, there’s no reason to believe that can’t happen this coming week. The Kings have swept the Blues in four-straight last spring but that was last spring. A lot can change over the course of the year and when the puck drops on this series, the recent history between these two clubs will be just what that: history.

Whether the series starts on Tuesday or Wednesday has yet to be determined but either way, the Kings and Blues should make for a well-balanced, competitive series.