May 15, 2012, 12:21 PM EST
“I said when I came here, I thought it was the strongest part of our team,” Sutter told LA Kings Insider. “Last year, [Anze] Kopitar never played in the playoffs. Richie [Mike Richards] wasn’t here. Jarret Stoll was suspended one game. Fraze [Colin Fraser] was not here.
“If you look at it, it’s a total shift in that position. You know how important that position is.’’
The Kopitar-Richards-Stoll-Fraser quartet has been impressive this postseason.
Offensively, it’s combined for 9G-14A-23PTS and a plus-14 rating.
Defensively, it’s been a great shutdown unit. Opposing centers have had a helluva time trying to break loose — Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler was harassed into a miserable opening round series (no goals, minus-1); in Round 2, St. Louis’ Patrik Berglund went scoreless in four games (after scoring seven points in five against San Jose.)
In Game 1 against Phoenix, the Kings were at it again. The Coyotes centers — Martin Hanzal, Antoine Vermette, Boyd Gordon and Daymond Langkow — were hammered in the faceoff circle (Gordon went 8-for-17, Hanzal 5-for-13, Langkow 2-for-8) and went a combined minus-2.
LA’s centers, meanwhile, combined for three points and 11 shots on goal.
Phoenix coach Dave Tippett recognized the battle down the middle will be key in this series.
“We recognized that L.A. played a strong game, but I think we can be much better than we were,” he explained. “Center ice is obviously very important in that. Our whole group can be a lot better.’’
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