The 2014 Stanley Cup Final features two superficially similar teams that clawed their way through the postseason in dramatically different ways.
Both the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings are built, at least theoretically, on size, defensive play, depth throughout the lineup and goaltending.
The Rangers' formula hasn't changed from the regular season. The team still leans heavily on goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and a defence that limits how many shots he faces, and it counted on balanced scoring from all four lines to make it this far.
The Kings, on the other hand, have seen their goaltender struggle and their defence corps decimated by injury. They have had to change and consequently arrive in the Final with a shockingly high-octane offence and a somewhat suspect defensive group (though, as always, head coach Darryl Sutter's group of forwards is as committed as any in the league).
What do they look like head to head? Read on to go through the depth charts of each team and see how they stack up.
Statistics courtesy of ExtraSkater.com or NHL.com unless otherwise noted.
LW Chris Kreider, C Derek Stepan, RW Rick Nash
With a smart two-way pivot in the middle and a pair of big wingers with offensive ability flanking him, this unit had a lot of success against Montreal. Kreider has been electric, and his combination of size and speed is extremely difficult for opposing defences to handle.
Nash, meanwhile, has had a difficult playoffs (his 4.6 shooting percentage doesn't help) but leads the team in shots and has the talent to recover.
LW Marian Gaborik, C Anze Kopitar, RW Dustin Brown
Kopitar is one of the very best puck-possession forwards in the NHL, combining sublime skill with a power game (that he's 6'4", 224 pounds doesn't hurt) and exceptional vision. But he's never had a pure finisher like Gaborik on his wing before.
“It’s certainly a change since my time being here, we’ve never really had a No. 1 line, left-shot, left winger," Kopitar told the National Post's Cam Cole. "He’s a constant threat with his shooting ability and his scoring ability. Every time he comes into the offensive zone, everyone is paying attention to him, maybe that gives me a few more inches to work with."
Add in Dustin Brown, a constant physical presence and the best player in the NHL at drawing penalties, and this is an awfully good unit.
Advantage: Los Angeles
LW Carl Hagelin, C Brad Richards, RW Martin St. Louis
This has been more of a 1A than true second line for the New York Rangers in the playoffs, with the trio having combined for 17 goals and 34 points to the top line's 12 goals and 33 points (though it's worth pointing out that Chris Kreider only has 10 games under his belt).
Whatever the case, depth scoring has been critical for New York. It will be again, and this trio has shown itself capable of generating it.
The caveat here is that all three players have posted lousy Corsi numbers while getting a favourable zone start; if not for the roughly 0.950 even strength on-ice save percentage the trio enjoys, it would have been beaten up pretty badly on the scoreboard.
LW Dwight King, C Jarret Stoll, RW Justin Williams
This isn't the unit most people think of as the Kings' second line—I blame EA Sports for that, with it designating the checking line No. 3 in its video games—but it's certainly the trio head coach Darryl Sutter views that way. Ranking Kings forwards in terms of even-strength time on ice, Williams comes in at No. 2, Stoll at No. 3 and King at No. 5.
Williams is the offensive leader of the trio, but all three have dominated puck possession despite being Sutter's go-to choice for defensive zone work. Stoll, though an offensive sinkhole (four points in 21 playoff games) has been particularly effective at keeping his head above water as the team's defensive zone faceoff man.
These guys won't run up the score. But more often than not, the puck is going to be at the right end of the rink by the end of their shift.
Advantage: Los Angeles, narrowly
LW Mats Zuccarello, C Derick Brassard, RW Benoit Pouliot
Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is somewhat famous as a zone-matcher (i.e. someone who works hard to get certain lines on the ice in the offensive/defensive zone), and whenever possible he's given his third line offensive minutes.
That's understandable. The Rangers have a lot of offence this far down the lineup, and this trio has made hay against the collective soft underbelly of opposing teams.
LW Tanner Pearson, C Jeff Carter, RW Tyler Toffoli
"That 70s Line" gave L.A. the kick-start it needed to build an early lead in its series against Chicago and has an incredible amount of offensive potential, particularly given the Kings' well-known struggles in the goal-scoring department.
Carter leads the way with 22 points, the second-best total in L.A., and the Toffoli/Pearson duo have combined for 11 goals.
Advantage: Los Angeles, again narrowly
LW/C Dominic Moore, C Brian Boyle, RW Derek Dorsett (Spares: LW Dan Carcillo, C J.T. Miller, RW Jesper Fast)
In Vancouver, Alain Vigneault displayed a preference for a big, banging fourth line that could be trusted to take on a pile of defensive zone draws. Nothing's changed in New York, as his most common fourth line features two excellent faceoff men in Moore and Boyle and a pair of energetic physical players in Boyle and Dorsett. This unit has been brilliant in very trying defensive zone work over the postseason.
The Rangers' most common substitute has been Carcillo, who will be eligible to return late in the series after his suspension for making contact with a linesman was reduced on Tuesday.
LW Kyle Clifford, C Mike Richards, RW Trevor Lewis (Spare: LW Jordan Nolan)
Mike Richards is the biggest name on either side in this matchup, but while he still brings marquee offensive ability, the Kings' fourth line has been lit up in the playoffs to date. Despite not being asked to do the defensive zone work of their New York counterparts (those duties largely fall to L.A.'s second line), all three regulars (as well as spare Jordan Nolan) are deeply in the red in terms of both shot metrics and actual goal differential.
Advantage: New York
LD Ryan McDonagh, RD Dan Girardi
McDonagh and Girardi take on the toughest available opposition and do it pretty well. There's a gap in talent between the two, though, something that's evidenced by the massive leap in performance that McDonagh takes when he's separated by Girardi (see the goals for and Corsi for percentage totals in this HockeyAnalysis.com chart).
With that said, some of that is likely due to situational factors (opponents, zone starts), and there's no arguing the duo has been awfully good.
LD Jake Muzzin, RD Drew Doughty
Doughty may not get a pile of Norris Trophy votes and his point totals may be somewhat modest, but few defencemen in the game today are as effective at both ends of the rink against tough opponents. Muzzin, a promising young defenceman who has improved by leaps and bounds over the last few years, adds puck movement and size to the pairing.
Advantage: Los Angeles, narrowly
LD Marc Staal, RD Anton Stralman
Staal, who doesn't get a lot of power-play time, actually has a narrow lead as the Rangers' go-to defenceman, and he's an exceptional talent to have anchoring a second pair. Partner Anton Stralman is one of the most underrated players in the NHL, and as MC79 Hockey's Tyler Dellow noted in a post late in May, he looks shockingly good even when compared to (the excellent) Ryan McDonagh.
This duo has been Alain Vigneault's go-to unit in the defensive zone.
LD Willie Mitchell, RD Slava Voynov
The Kings defence has been a bit of a mess because of injury, but Voynov has consistently anchored the second pair, and Mitchell seems the best bet to be his partner for the majority of the Stanley Cup Final. This pairing was uncharacteristically weak in Round 3, and it's hard not to wonder if the 37-year-old Mitchell is still well below 100 percent healthy after missing eight playoff games with an undisclosed injury.
Advantage: New York
LD John Moore, RD Kevin Klein (Spare: RD Raphael Diaz)
With the top two pairs taking on the toughest opponents and the toughest zone starts, the Rangers' third pairing has been relatively protected. On one level they have been quite good, posting solid shot numbers and nice plus/minus totals, but ideally New York would get a little more offensive pop from players in this role.
Diaz might be able to provide that, but the trade-deadline addition seems to be not too trusted to play in New York's top six.
LD Alec Martinez, RD Matt Greene (Injured: LD Robyn Regehr, Spare: LD Jeff Schultz)
Martinez has been exceptional as the Kings' No. 5 defenceman over the course of the playoffs, but the rest of the cast is less impressive. Greene has struggled at times, occasionally even getting scratched in favour of Schultz (notable, given that Greene gives the pairing a needed right-handed shot).
Elliott Teaford of the Daily Breeze reported a few days ago that Regehr is skating again, but there is no timetable for the veteran's return.
Advantage: New York, narrowly
Starter Henrik Lundqvist, Backup Cam Talbot
Lundqvist is either the best goaltender in the NHL or something very close to it, and he's been the most important player in his team's playoff run. His 0.928 save percentage in the postseason is a touch above the 0.920 he posted during a regular season that started slowly, and it's also a hair above his career playoff number (0.922).
Backup Cam Talbot is competent but will almost certainly only get a start in the event of injury.
Starter Jonathan Quick, Backup Martin Jones
The "Jonathan Quick is brilliant in clutch situations" narrative has taken a beating all playoffs, and particularly in Round 3 against Chicago. He's given up four-plus goals in one-third of his postseason starts and has an ugly 0.906 save percentage. He is a better goalie than he's shown to date—we should expect something more in line with his 0.915 career save percentage.
Rookie backup Martin Jones has seen all of seven shots in the playoffs.
Advantage: New York
- First Line: Los Angeles
- Second Line: Los Angeles
- Third Line: Los Angeles
- Depth Forwards: New York
- First Pair: Los Angeles
- Second Pair: New York
- Depth Defencemen: New York
- Goalies: New York
On balance, there seems little reason to doubt the widespread belief that the Kings forward corps is superior to that of the Rangers, or that Los Angeles' top forwards and defencemen are better than their counterparts from New York.
However, the Rangers have depth—keep in mind the narrow gaps between the second and third lines for both teams—and New York has Henrik Lundqvist. That's going to matter a lot against a Kings team that has received suspect goaltending from Jonathan Quick and is facing injuries on the back end.
The Kings still likely have an overall advantage, but the Rangers have the pieces to make this a hard-fought series, and the outcome is very much in doubt.
Jonathan Willis covers the NHL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter for more of his work.