May 22, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA; Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (8) celebrates after beating the Phoenix Coyotes 4-3 in overtime of game five of the Western Conference finals of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Jobing.com Arena. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-US PRESSWIRE
The Devils' run to the final is marked by a surprisingly faceless blueline, while the Kings are led by star defenseman Drew Doughty.
Doughty, the Kings' star at both ends of the ice, has logged an average of 25:52 per game in the playoffs to lead Los Angeles in ice time.
The Devils' playoff ice time leader is defenseman Marek Zidlicky (24:08), who does not measure up to Doughty, though Zidlicky's 19:33 at even strength exceeds Doughy's 18:18. Doughty is also the Kings go-to power play anchor, although his 5:08 per game on that unit has not kept it from being the second-least productive power play in these playoffs, finishing a paltry 8.1 percent of its opportunities.
Doughty has collected points though -- a fantastic 10 in 14 games, seven of them at even strength -- and his other counterpart on the Devils is a shock: Bryce Salvador leads the Devils blueline with three goals and 11 points in 18 games, and a plus-10 to boot.
Salvador is 36 years old, missed the entire 2010-11 season with concussion issues and has scored more than 3 goals in an entire season only twice in his career, which was spent mostly with the St. Louis Blues. To see him among the top scorers of any kind three rounds into the playoffs is beyond shocking.
Zidlicky, an in-season acquisition after the Minnesota Wild couldn't get rid of him quickly enough, is who you'd sooner expect to see on the offensive leaderboard -- and it's no shock that Salvador has collected his points while paired with the 35 year old.
The Devils' blueline is marked by castoffs from other teams who have made good in their new home:
Bryce Salvador - Marek Zidlicky: Again, it's almost shocking that the Devils have made the Stanley Cup final with a top pairing of Salvador and Zidlicky, but they have done the job so far. Whether they can continue that against the Kings, who have two threatening scoring lines to contend with, could dictate the direction of this series.
Andy Greene - Mark Fayne: The Devils' second pair is similarly unsung, and though it doesn't the same ice time, it is more of the shutdown pair. Fayne, demoted to AHL Albany as recently as last season, has come into his own as an NHL defenseman at age 25. He uses his 6'3, 215-pound frame judiciously.
Anton Volchenkov - Peter Harrold: Harrold is the ex-King who needs a little sheltering, and Volchenkov is the big free agent pickup you'd expect to be playing a bigger role. But Volchenkov, a stalwart physical and shot-blocking machine as an Ottawa Senator, has been a disappointment as a Devil. Nonetheless, having Volchenkov solidify your third pair is not shabby at all, even if it's not the same Volchenkov you saw in Ottawa.
Adam Larsson: The wild card here is Larsson, the 2011 NHL Draft prize the Devils landed by winning the draft lottery a year ago. Some were surprised to see him scratched to start the playoffs -- he played 65 regular season games -- and given the Devils' lack of big-name defensemen you'd have figured if the Devils made it all the way to the finals this year, he'd play a big role. He hasn't, but his brief appearances -- just five playoff games -- have been noteworthy, including a big goal in his playoff debut against the Philadelphia Flyers. When Larsson has played, it has been Harrold who sits for him.
If the Devils' blueline is marked by unfamiliar names (to the casual fan) who you'd never peg for a Stanley Cup contender, the Kings' crew is marked by a nice mix of puck movers and shutdown defensemen on each pair. It's a group that helps them withstand pressure and also diffuse opposition forechecks by moving the puck quickly.
Drew Doughty - Rob Scuderi: Even if he had a slow start (perhaps due to a training camp holdout), it's difficult to overdo it with hyperbole about how good Doughty is. Even tossing the offensive contributions aside, he routinely gets tough matchups and is used for faceoffs in his own zone, the hallmark of a defenseman who has his coach's trust. Scuderi, a veteran "shutdown" type who won a Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins, makes a perfect partner.
Willie Mitchell - Slava Voynov: Mitchell is similarly adept at the defensive arts, though he brings a little more offensive punch than Scuderi, and in fact, also sees significant power play and penalty kill time. Slick-skating Voynov is the fine rookie the Kings have groomed in the AHL for several seasons, and whose emergence made it even easier to part with Jack Johnson in the Jeff Carter trade.
Alec Martinez - Matt Greene: Martinez draws the easier assignments befitting a third pair, but he gobbles them up and generates shots. Like Voynov, Martinez also helps on the power play. Greene, meanwhile, is a primary penalty killer and a generally mean, hard-hitting defenseman who occasionally takes stupid penalties and generally scares the crap out of opponents.
Yet also like the goalie matchup, a best-of-seven series is short enough that things don't have to play out according to talent. Outliers can emerge -- hey, Bryce Salvador could be a playoff scoring leader. But in both cases it depends on how well these characters play to their abilities and how well the forwards for each team take advantage of their opportunities. Given the state of the Devils' blueline, the opportunities will be plentiful for the Kings' forwards.