Over the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final, it’s been hard to miss the offensive activity of the Los Angeles Kings’ defenders. They join the rush, attack, shoot at will and play a fantastic, tenacious puck moving style.
In other words, they’re now what the Detroit Red Wings used to be. Anyone looking for a reason that the Kings could remain Stanley Cup favorites well into the future need only look at their oportunistic defense, which plays as good or better in the opposition’s end of the ice and neutral zone than their own.
Throughout the first three games, incidentally all victories by the Kings, Los Angeles defenders have scored three goals in every contest to push their team toward the win. In the first game, Drew Doughty scored the game-tying goal during the second period that ended up forcing overtime. In game two, it was Willie Mitchell netting a clutch power play goal to cut into the New York Rangers’ 3-1 lead and turn momentum. Monday night, Jake Muzzin added to the Kings’ lead on the road, scoring the all-important second goal of the night to eliminate the crowd from the game.
In total, the Kings defense has contributed 17 goals to the cause this postseason, and most have been vitally important to the team’s success. Whereas the Kings have improved, Detroit has regressed. Since scoring 16 playoff goals in 2009, the Red Wings’ high water mark lately was 10 in 2011. Otherwise, they’ve been on a troubling downturn, getting only five goals total from their defenders between the 2012-2014 playoff seasons.
Plenty of that has to do with the retirement of active offensive players like Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski and the fact the team moved on from Brad Stuart, a man who had a penchant for chipping in a major playoff goal here or there. Detroit, though, just hasn’t been able to get any scoring or offensive aggression from their defenders, which has helped lead to their flameouts over the past few seasons.
This offseason, the Red Wings do have the opportunity to find a few free agents that could help score a key goal or two on the back end. Matt Niskanen (three postseason goals) and Andrei Markov, scorer of six career playoff goals will likely available, as should veteran Dan Boyle, who’s contributed 14. If Detroit doesn’t go with the sandpaper of Brooks Orpik first, they certainly need to add someone with the ability to move the puck and occasionally score, either via signing or trade. Revisiting a long-rumored deal for Alex Edler (eight career playoff goals) could be another intriguing option.
However they choose to fix the problem, it’s becoming clear every April, May and June what the Red Wings are now lacking that prevents them from making a prolonged playoff run to the cup; offensive activity on the back end. It’s the reason the team had a rebirth after adding Rafalski as a free agent and used that as springboard to a championship as well as a near repeat.
The opportunity for another rebirth will exist in a few weeks, providing the Red Wings view offensive production from their defenders as the glaring problem it has become over the past three years.
Max DeMara is a senior editor at The Detroit Sports Site. You can find him on Twitter @SportsGuyTheMax