GLENDALE, AZ - MAY 15: Jeff Carter #77 of the Los Angeles Kings looks on during a break in action in Game Two of the Western Conference Final between the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena on May 15, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona. Carter had a hat trick in the game as the Kings defeated the Coyotes 4-0. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Both the Kings and Devils made big in-season moves to improve their offense -- and key their respective trips to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Los Angeles Kings didn't like the look of their offense, so they did something about it.
The New Jersey Devils didn't like the look of their offense, so they did something about it.
The moves and recalls each Stanley Cup finalist made to address that issue are big reasons why they've made it this far and should play significant roles in whether they win it all.
Kings: Carter, King, Nolan Change the Mix
The Kings came into the season already boasting big threats in star Anze Kopitar (six playoff goals, nine assists), captain Dustin Brown (seven goals, nine assists), oft-injured playmaker Justin Williams -- those three make up their top line -- as well as a summer import from Philadelphia, Mike Richards. But two in-season moves helped turn what was the league's 29th-ranked offense into one that has been a much bigger threat in the final third of the season and postseason.
First, they called up Dwight King and Jordan Nolan to add more speed and size to their bottom-six mix. Though neither is a big scoring threat, they are major improvements over Trent Hunter, who was physical and responsible in his prime but whose already slow footspeed was further diminished by injuries. Hunter, who even saw power-play time at points this season, was waived and assigned to the AHL Manchester Monarchs. King, meanwhile, has popped in five goals this playoff season. His use of his size along the boards could challenge the Devils' defensemen.
The bigger headline move came close to the NHL trade deadline, when the Kings added another former Philadelphia Flyer in Jeff Carter, whose one-year experiment in Columbus came to a crashing halt. Carter is a big addition not just because he adds an excellent shooter to the Kings' previously low-scoring mix, but also because his acquisition meant the departure of defenseman Jack Johnson. Johnson's offensive output is matched only by his defensive liabilities, and his exit meant the Kings no longer had to try to shelter his defensive deficiencies in the name of his offensive contributions.
In these playoffs, Carter and Richards have joined with fellow misfit Dustin Penner to give the Kings a solid secondary threat. During the season, Penner and even Kopitar and Brown were called out at various points, and all three are in peak form at the most important time of year.
Finally, any discussion of the Kings offense isn't complete without mention of Drew Doughty, their all-star defenseman who has 10 points in just 14 playoff games.
Devils: Ponikarovsky and a New 4th Line
The Devils didn't make as big of a splash, but they too made in-season moves that altered the look of their offense.
Lately, the remixed fourth line is getting all the ink thanks to the eight combined playoff goals from Steven Bernier, Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta -- which, as Devils blog In Lou We Trust points out, is a huge increase over their regular-season scoring rate. But that line's evolution is only part of how the Devils went from a middling team at the All-Star Break to one that surged into the playoffs and knocked off two division rivals.
"Our season turned at that point," DeBoer said. "You can’t overstate its importance."
Ponikarovsky added important top-six-capable skill to the mix -- he's even seen some top-line duty when DeBoer feels like tinkering, which he's prone to do. Bernier helped solidify the bottom six, which DeBeor said had "been exposed all year" prior to the moves. And Gionta? The captain of the Devils' AHL affiliate didn't get the call to the bigs until the final game of the season.
Just as Carter, King and Nolan help complement the top-end talent for the Kings, Ponikarovsky, Bernier and Gionta help support enough top-end scoring threats with the Devils to make this Stanley Cup Final ripe for entertainment.
Zach Parise is an all-zone dynamo whose motor never stops. Ilya Kovalchuk is a world-class shooter who has learned the importance of all three zones since joining the Devils. Top center Travis Zajac is actually an in-season "addition" in his own right, having recovered from a torn Achilles tendon that stole most of his regular season. And Dainius Zubrus adds a secondary threat that has given opponents fits all postseason long.
How the two coaches match lines in this series should make a good chess game within the game. Both top scoring lines are capable of handling their offensive counterparts. But both teams have secondary and checking lines that have done their share of damage this playoff year.
And neither team could say that without the in-season moves that made their offenses worth talking about.