Kings use their size to its full advantage
By Corey Masisak - NHL.com Staff Writer
NEWARK, N.J. -- Andy Greene and Marek Zidlicky had something to commiserate about after their New Jersey Devils dropped Game 1 of the 2012 Stanley Cup Final. Each was down on the ice at a critical moment just before Los Angeles scored a goal in the Kings' 2-1 overtime victory.
Kings forward Jordan Nolan hit Greene twice to knock him off the puck and to the ice behind the New Jersey net midway through the first period before sending a pass to Colin Fraser for the first goal of the series. L.A. captain Dustin Brown collided with Zidlicky near the Kings' blue line in overtime, toppling both players. That gave defenseman Drew Doughty some extra space to make the key outlet pass, leading to Anze Kopitar's breakaway goal.
The Kings' forwards are big, especially on the wings, and they have been bullying opponents in the 2012 playoffs en route to a 13-2 record.
"Obviously, when you look around the room you can see the size that we have," rookie forward Dwight King said. "We try to use it to our advantage. It is a pretty physical game in the playoffs, and you have to fight for every inch on the ice. If you have bigger bodies, some of those battles you can gain an advantage, but you also have to be aware that they have some quick guys, too. That can be hard to stop too."
Los Angeles has been hard to stop because the Kings are relentless on the forecheck -- and their big guys have been able to wear down opposing teams. It can become a vicious cycle, when one shift bleeds into the next and teams are unable to reverse the momentum after a long shift in the defensive zone.
The goals weren't the only example of guys in white sweaters making a physical impact. Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov tried to hit Dustin Penner behind the net, but it was Volchenkov who ended up lying on the ice.
"I think for any team that has won the Cup, at least in the post-lockout era, it has always had great depth and great size on the forward end," Penner said. "When I was with the Ducks [in 2007], that was what people talked about. Same way with the Bruins last year. The Canucks, it was the same way when they made their deep run. It is a big part of our game, wearing down the opposition's d-men and getting in on the forecheck. It is the same thing you're going to hear over and over again."
Nolan, who plays on the fourth line, is listed at 6-foot-3 and 227 pounds. King, a third-line guy, checks in at 6-foot-3 and 234 pounds. Penner, moved to the second line during the second round, is listed at 6-foot-4 and 242 pounds.
Add Brown, a first-liner who is officially 6-feet and 204 pounds but is a volume hitter and one of the most physical players in the League, and coach Darryl Sutter has a combination of lines that features a battering ram of a power forward on each. Every line has someone who is big and will doll out physical punishment. There are no breathers for opposing defensemen.
"I'm sure that's not by accident," King said of the line combinations. "Obviously, our team is built pretty big and it is good to have that balance. When are going well it is not just the big guys, it is everybody who is competing hard and it is not going to be an easy night."
It also goes beyond just hitting guys. It can be nearly impossible to take the puck off Kopitar, listed at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, when he controls it along the boards. Guys like Brown, Mike Richards (5-11, 199) and Brad Richardson (5-11, 191) aren't imposing but overcome any lack of size with their feistiness.
There is also a speed component in the Kings' success. When Los Angeles was struggling in the middle of the regular season, one theme of criticism was that the Kings' collective foot speed was wanting.
Nolan and Kings are big bodies, but they have also injected a little more speed into the lineup. Both arrived from the minors in early February; Jeff Carter (6-4, 199) came at the end of that month in a trade.
"Our system and our style is still the same," Brown said. "When you have guys that are 6-2, 6-3, that can execute along the walls that goes a long way, with the puck and without. You look at our first goal -- [Nolan] makes the play happen and it's because he's physical and he can skate. He's a big boy."
Added Penner: "With [King] and [Nolan] and the way their game has progressed, and also how quickly it has -- it has really helped the team out the way they have pushed themselves and learned and soaked things up like a sponge from everyone else. They've been great first-year players for us, and they've continued to get better."
The size advantage was very apparent against the Phoenix Coyotes in the Western Conference Finals. Sutter characterized the Devils as a bigger, quicker team up front than the previous three opponents in the playoffs.
Still, the three biggest forwards in the Game 1 lineup for New Jersey were Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexei Ponikarovsky and Dainius Zubrus, and the first two aren't known for being particularly physical without the puck. The Devils also have guys like Brown and Richards, namely Zach Parise and David Clarkson who "play big" despite being listed at 200 pounds or lighter, but the Kings do have a noticeable edge in size.
Greene and Zidlicky, both listed at 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds, are the smallest New Jersey defensemen. In Game 1, both got a first-hand look at what has made the Kings successful this spring.
"Yeah, absolutely -- that is a strength of our team," Los Angeles defenseman Willie Mitchell said of the size up front. "We have big bodies, good speed and [we're] strong on the puck. I don't think we did a lot of it in the last game. At moments we did. It was kind of a flat game by the Devils and a flat game by us, so I expect to see more of it going forward. When our forwards are supporting each other well, and when the D are breaking the pressure and giving them the puck, those big bodies with speed, we are a pretty effective team."