May 8, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New Jersey Devils left wing Ilya Kovalchuk (17) celebrates his power play goal with defenseman Adam Larsson (5) and center Travis Zajac (19) against the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period of game five of the 2012 Eastern Conference semifinals at the Wells Fargo Center. The Devils defeated the Flyers 3-1, to win the series 4 games to one. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE
Given the Kings' success in 5-on-5 play, the Devils are the team in greater need of a special teams edge. If they get that edge, they can make this a long series.
Special teams alone cannot win you the Stanley Cup, but they can win or lose a pivotal game or two you need along the way.
Of the 37 non-empty-net goals the Los Angeles Kings have scored on their way to the Stanley Cup Final, 26 have been at even strength, six have been on the power play (including three 5-on-3 goals) and an incredible five have come while shorthanded.
Of the 47 non-empty-net goals the New Jersey Devils have scored in the first three rounds, 35 have been at even strength while 12 have come on the power play.
Devils Power Play (18.2%) vs. Kings Penalty Kill (91.2%)
You can see the collision here: The Kings penalty kill has been very good -- so good they've broken even while down a man, scoring five and conceding five. Meanwhile, the Devils power play has been both good (18.2 percent) and important, accounting for a full 25 percent of their non-empty-net goals.
If the Devils can continue their hot trend while forcing the Kings to stop theirs, it could be enough to turn a game or two in this series -- a turn the Devils will likely need to pull off what many would consider an upset. If they're going to do it, they'll need to figure out a way to diffuse, or pass around, the Kings' notoriously aggressive pressure on the point men.
Which means they'll need more precise movement like they displayed against the New York Rangers in Game 6:
Kings Power Play (8.1%) vs. Devils Penalty Kill (74.2%)
In the other special teams matchup, something has to give.
The Kings have been so good at 5-on-5 hockey that they haven't much needed their power play -- which is a good thing, because the power play has been completely ineffective. Its 8.1 percent success rate is the second-weakest among the 16 playoff teams. They've scored nearly as many shorthanded goals as they have power play goals.
Will the Kings power play find a tonic in the Devils penalty kill? Possible, but don't count on it. Although the Devils have killed off only 74.2 percent of shorthanded situations in their run to the Cup final, two of their opponents have had the best power plays in the playoffs. And during the regular season -- over a much larger sample -- the Devils had the most successful penalty kill unit in the NHL with a 89.2 percent kill rate.
In the playoffs, both the Devils and Kings have managed to keep shots against down while playing shorthanded. If that continues, the Kings should continue to be stingy while the Devils should perform closer to their preseason form.
As already stated, given the two teams' 5-on-5 play the Devils are the team in greater need of a special teams edge. If they get that edge and leverage it into a win or two, look for this to be a long series. If they don't, look for the Kings' merciless march through the playoffs to continue.