We're used to outdoor hockey in the NHL, at least when it's played Jan. 1. But this year, riding the success and popularity these open-air games have created, the NHL will be playing five additional outdoor games as part of the Coors Lite Stadium Series.
The first of five will take place on Saturday when the Kings play host to the Ducks in a Pacific Division showdown. Anaheim if a full five points ahead of the Blackhawks for the top seed in the Western Conference, and is seven points clear of the Penguins for the best record in hockey. Los Angeles is comfortably in a playoff spot, sitting in sixth in the West, and nine points ahead of ninth-place Phoenix (while the Coyotes have two games in hand).
The forecast is calling for a balmy high of 79 degrees, which, as many times is the case in an outdoor hockey game, could effect the ice conditions. Fortunately, both coaches and teams will likely remind us that "both teams have to play on the same ice."
Anaheim is far and away the biggest surprise in hockey this season. While the Ducks finished second in the West last year, Chicago was by all accounts still considered the cream of the crop entering this season. It was only two seasons ago when the NHL last played a full schedule that Anaheim missed the playoffs entirely. But thanks to a potent Ducks offense mixed with stellar goaltending, Anaheim has sat atop the conference most of the season.
Ryan Getzlaf is playing like an MVP, with a line of 25-34=59. Corey Perry has been effective as his right-hand man, right behind him in offensive production with 27-29=56. With Bobby Ryan now in Ottawa, Dustin Penner has slotted in on the Ducks' top line, providing size and grit alongside the two other big, bruising forwards.
Anaheim's quality goaltending and depth in the crease is really what's buoyed the team to its top spot in the standings. Jonas Hiller is still the ace, while rookie Frederik Andersen has given the Ducks a great number-two option with a .933 save percentage in 16 games.
The Ducks have also been unbeatable (almost literally) at home, running up a record of 21-1-2 at the Honda Center. Luckily for the Kings, this game will be a road game for Anaheim.
Since the Kings caught fire and ran through the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs as the eight seed, the team has had a swagger and just feels like a team that just needs to reach the playoffs and again can "get hot."
Jonathan Quick missed 24 games earlier this season with a groin injury, and wasn't his regular self early on. Luckily for Los Angeles, backup Ben Scrivens and rookie Martin Jones came out of obscurity, both filling in more than adequately to carry the Kings through the stretch without its No. 1.
Quick has been better since making his return from injury, as he gears up for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. Meanwhile, it's been the Kings depth down the middle, with the likes of Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter leading the club in scoring.
Five Questions to Answer
1. Is Jonathan Quick back to his old level of play?
While his record is mediocre since returning from injury (4-4-1), Quick has looked better at times in that stretch, including a 28-save shutout against the Canucks. A former Conn Smythe winner, the Kings postseason success will most likely be predicated by Quick's ability to replicate that 2012 MVP performance.
2. Can the elements slow down the Ducks offense?
Only the 2009 Winter Classic between the Red Wings and Blackhawks produced a very high-scoring offense game, with the Wings taking it 6-4. Anaheim is the third-highest-scoring team in the league, at clip of 3.34 goals per game. If the Ducks can score three, it might be all they need for two points.
3. Can the Kings make a push into the West's top-four?
Los Angeles is sort of stuck in the middle of teams battling for the last few playoff spots in the West, and the group separating itself from that pack. Sitting in sixth place, Los Angeles is looking good for a playoff spot, and have a chance to host a playoff series in the first round with a late-season push. Los Angeles would need to leapfrog both the Avalanche and Sharks, who they still play a combined three times this season.
4. Can Anaheim's depth guys keep it up?
Getzlaf and Perry will get all the attention, but the Ducks have seen big numbers from their second-tier guys like Nick Bonino and Andrew Cogliano. Any sustained success in the playoffs usually requires some depth scoring, and Bonino has already set a career-high in goals, while Cogliano is one away from tying his previous mark.
5. How are they going to play hockey in temperatures north of 70 degrees?
Outdoor hockey and warm weather don't quite go hand-in-hand, but according to Dan Craig of the NHL, it won't be an issue. Ice level will be kept right around 20 degrees, and Craig seems confident everything will be fine. In any of these outdoor games though, look for teams to simplify their games. That means getting pucks in deep, making hard, short passes and throwing whatever they can on goal.
|2014 NHL Stadium Series :: LOS ANGELES|
1st in Pacific Division
Ducks blog: Anaheim Calling
Kings blog: Jewels From The Crown
|Saturday, January 25, 2014 :: 9:30 p.m. ET / 6:30 p.m. PT|
|Dodger Stadium :: Los Angeles, California, USA|
|More from Battle of California | Coverage of every Stadium Series game|
|Anaheim: Jonas Hiller||34||2013||23||6||81||2.41||920||839||.912||3|
|Los Angeles: Jonathan Quick||25||1491||14||8||52||2.09||617||565||.916||2|
|Penner - Getzlaf - Perry||1st Line||King - Kopitar - Lewis|
|Maroon - Perreault - Selanne||2nd Line||Frattin - Richards - Carter|
|Silfverberg - Koivu - Cogliano||3rd Line||Brown - Stoll - Williams|
|Beleskey - Bonino - Jackman||4th Line||Clifford - Fraser - Nolan|
|Beauchemin - Lindholm||1st D Pair||Muzzin - Doughty|
|Fowler - Lovejoy||2nd D Pair||Voynov - Mitchell|
|Fistric - Allen||3rd D Pair||Regehr - Martinez|
|3.34 (3rd)||GF/G||2.42 (24th)|
|2.38 (7th)||GA/G||2.04 (1st)|
|19.0 (T-14th)||PP%||14.7% (24th)|
|82.3% (14th)||PK%||84.2% (8th)|
|49.0% (21st)||Faceoff %||53.1% (3rd)|
|50.8% (12th)||Fenwick %*||56.1% (1st)|
|10.8% (1st)||Shot %*||5.1% (30th)|
|92.6% (3rd)||Save %*||94.2% (3rd)|
|103.4 (1st)||PDO*||99.3 (22nd)|
|*stats counted at 5v5 while score is close (why?)|
|need a primer on advanced hockey stats?|