Leading up to Wednesday's Game 1, Puck Daddy is previewing every facet of the Stanley Cup Finals between the New Jersey Devils and the Los Angeles Kings— on the ice and off the ice.
Once in a while, professional sports teams will indirectly take on the personalities of their geography.
Such is the case for the Los Angeles Kings' defense, which features familiar names and, in the case of a Drew Doughty, a Hollywood-level star; and for the New Jersey Devils, who offer a nearly anonymous collection of blue-collar players that are overachieving.
Both defenses have the benefit of playing in front of stellar goaltenders in the Kings' Jonathan Quick and the Devils' Martin Brodeur, but both have been adept at keeping the heat off their netminders: The Devils are fifth in shots against (27.6) and the Kings are seventh (29.0) for the postseason.
Who has the better defensemen: The Devils or the Kings?
New Jersey Devils
Welcome to "Players You Thought Were Average-To-Terrible That Are Actually Playoff Standouts."
The star of this production is Bryce Salvador, in his 11th year in the NHL and having perhaps his best two months as a Devil. Known for his physical play, Salvador has been a rock on the blue line, playing 22:36 per night, including 2:47 shorthanded, to a plus-10. He has more points in 18 playoff games (11) than he did in 82 regular season games. A revelation for the Devils … and oh, hey, look who's an unrestricted free agent this summer!
Salvador's partner is another guy no one thought could have the playoffs he's having: Marek Zidlicky, rescued from the scrap heap in Minnesota, who leads the Devils with 24:08 TOI per game and has eight points. He can be a liability at times -- giving the puck away -- but his puck-handling has been an asset.
Andy Greene is as underrated as they come, and has been solid in playing 22:29 per game. Mark Fayne brings size at 6-3 and 215 pounds. This is a duo the Devils don't hesitate to use in pressure situations.
Anton Volchenkov is known for his hitting (37 hits) and his shot-blocking (17 blocks), but he's also the team's workhorse on the PK (3:09 TOI per game). His partner is Peter Harrold, the former Kings defenseman who's been smart with the puck in playing 14 playoff games.
Rookie Adam Larsson contributed a huge goal in the Philly series but hasn't seen the ice since May 14. Henrik Tallinder, who has been out since Jan. 17 because of a blood clot in his left leg, is ready to roll and Coach Peter DeBoer said he won't hesitate to use the veteran during the Final.
Overall, it's a group that playing above its pedigree, and has played well in front of Marty Brodeur.
Los Angeles Kings
Elliotte Friedman of CBC Sports offered a theory on Marek Vs. Wyshynski this week: That when the Kings traded Jack Johnson to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jeff Carter, his removal from the blue line had a positive effect — for whatever reason — on Drew Doughty.
Whether or not that's the case, there's no question Doughty's found another gear in the playoffs. He has 10 points, including six in four games against the Blues and Coyotes, and is playing a team high 25:52 per game, including 5:11 on the power play.
His defense partner is Rod Scuderi, who plays 21:11 per night and adds considerable veteran savvy in the Stanley Cup Final — or have we forgotten that he was a savior for the Penguins back in 2009?
Willie Mitchell was drafted by the Devils and played 18 games for them at the turn of the century. He plays 25:27 per game and 4:01 shorthanded, and leads the Kings with an astounding 45 blocked shots in 14 games ... a number that could very well bring John Tortorella to ecstasy.
Rookie Slava Voynov saw his role increase after the Johnson deal, and he's responded with some stellar play during this Cup run — with an assist to Mitchell, who's there to cover any mistakes.
Matt Greene's work shorthanded (in 3:43 per game) has been exemplary, and he's thrown the body around (49 hits) more than any other Kings defenseman. His partner, Alec Martinez, averages 14:40 and generates offensive chances both 5-on-5 and on the power player (3:31 per game).
This group more familiar names, some significant experience and one star player in Doughty. They could give the Devils fits as New Jersey attempts to establish its forecheck.
The game's not played on paper. No, the Devils don't have anyone with the prestige of Doughty; but Salvador has played as well as anyone in the postseason, even if he's never been a Norris finalist.
Watching these teams throughout the playoffs, the Devils and Kings both have defense corps that keep the heat off of their netminders and jump into the fray offensively. New Jersey's group seemingly has no business being as good as it is, but here they are. And if someone in their top six should falter, Larsson and Tallinder are two very capable reserves.