The Canucks kick off the season on Wednesday with a game against a Pacific Division rival. They’ll wind up playing 29 of their 82-game season against the Pacific Division. That means how they match up against the other teams in their division will play a large role in where they finish in the standings this season.
So, I decided to take a closer look at each of the Canucks' Pacific Division rivals to see how the Canucks might stack up against them this season. It's been painful.
Next up in the Pacific Division Preview of Pain is a team that is getting long in the tooth, but still has some bite: the Los Angeles Kings.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
OFFENCE The Kings are led offensively by Anze Kopitar, who had a career-high 35 goals and 92 points last season. He was a finalist for the Hart Trophy and won the Selke as the best defensive forward in the NHL.
The question is who will score in support of Kopitar? Dustin Brown had a bounceback season with a career-high 61 points, but will that last? Tyler Toffoli, Adrian Kempe, and Tanner Pearson all have some scoring punch, but were inconsistent at times last season, while Jeff Carter couldn’t stay healthy.
Still, Toffoli has 30-goal potential, as does a healthy Carter.
The Kings also added Ilya Kovalchuk, but just how good will the 35-year-old sniper be in his return to the NHL after five years in the KHL? When he left the NHL he was a perennial point-per-game player capable of scoring 30+ goals. If he can do the same five years later, the Kings’ offence will be formidable.
Even if he can’t, the Kings’ forward group and the offence they get from the blue line puts them well ahead of the Canucks.
DEFENCE In Drew Doughty, the Kings have a consistent Norris-nominated defenceman who will average between 25 and 30 minutes per game. Along with the perpetually-underrated Jake Muzzin, that should form the backbone of a great defence.
The issue is that the rest of the defence is somewhat suspect. Derek Forbort is mostly a passenger, Alec Martinez is coming off a rough season, and Dion Phaneuf is a shadow of his former self. Defence has been the Kings’ strength for years, but you could make an argument that it could soon become a weakness.
That said, they still allowed the fewest goals against in the NHL last season. For now, it’s still a strength.
GOALTENDING Jonathan Quick reasserted himself as one of the best goaltenders in the NHL last season with a superb .921 save percentage. He also won the Jennings as the goaltender for the team with the fewest goals against.
The one concern with Quick is that he’ll turn 33 this season and plays an aggressive, acrobatic style that can be hard on the body. He was limited to just 17 games in 2016-17 because of a severe groin injury.
After Quick, the Kings have 26-year-old Jack Campbell, who has looked good in his few NHL games, but has limited experience. If all else fails, they have veteran Peter Budaj waiting in the wings. He struggled last season with the Tampa Bay Lightning, but had a .917 save percentage in 2016-17 when he took over for the injured Quick.
SPECIAL TEAMS Led by Quick, Doughty, and Kopitar, the Kings had the best penalty kill in the NHL last season. They killed a whopping 85% of their opponents’ power plays, which was a big reason why they led the league in fewest goals against.
Their power play, on the other hand, was just average. Despite some excellent component parts, the Kings finished middle of the pack in power play percentage at 20.4% and finished 20th in power play goals.
The addition of Ilya Kovalchuk, who once scored 27 power play goals in a season, should help. He had 13 power play goals in the KHL last season and has the shot and hockey IQ to provide a big boost with the man advantage. As a right-hand shot, he’ll likely line up at the left faceoff circle and provide a trigger man that will force penalty kills to spread out to the flanks and leave the middle of the ice open.
While the Canucks will hopefully have a decent power play this season, their penalty kill pales in comparison to that of the Kings. If the Kings can also improve their power play, watch out.
OVERALL Kovalchuk is a massive x-factor for the Kings this season. Without Kovalchuk, the Kings were a wildcard team last season, making the playoffs thanks to stingy defence and excellent goaltending. If Kovalchuk still has his fastball, that could solve the Kings’ goalscoring woes and propel the Kings to the top of the Pacific Division standings
On the other hand, Kovalchuk is 35 and the rest of the Kings’ core isn’t particularly young either. If age catches up to a couple of the Kings or injuries start to pile up, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Kings slide out of the playoff picture.
While my bet is on the Kings making the playoffs fairly comfortably, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that they’re reaching the end of their Stanley Cup window. That said, the window is definitely still open.