Playoff preview: Ducks-Kings

As the back-to-back champions of Fenwick Close during the regular season, the Los Angeles Kings from an execution standpoint exemplify the ideals of the advanced statistic community. At even strength, they are gangbusters at achieving the zone entry and recording at least one shot while rendering their opponents’ counterattacks ineffective. The Kings joined an exclusive club when they climbed back from a 3-0 deficit and defeated the San Jose Sharks in the first round of the NHL playoffs.

The Anaheim Ducks also had a hard fought series in their first round, and despite their higher playoff seeding, they enter the Western Conference semifinals as the underdog. The reasoning behind this is simple: the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, and reached the Western Conference finals in 2013, and their defensive style and depth coincides with what succeeds in the playoffs.

In contrast, the Ducks have goaltending questions and lost one of their top-four defensemen after Stephane Robidas re-injured his leg (the veteran is finished for the playoffs). With questions on defense, and no defined second scoring line, will Anaheim be able to combat the battle-tested stars from the Kings’ skilled lineup?

Anaheim Ducks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Team records and head-to-head

Ducks – 54-20-8 – GF/GA 263-203 – Fenwick Close 50.2%

Kings — 46-28-8 — GF/GA 198-168 – Fenwick Close 56.7%

Head-to-head: The Kings won the first match-up on December 3rd in a shootout, lost a home-and-home in January, with both losses coming in regulation, lost again in regulation in mid-March, and lost the last game of the season in a shootout.

Offensive GVT

Ducks: 43.9 (1st)

Kings: 21.1 (26th)

One of the most fascinating 180s in recent playoff history was the Kings’ pivot midway through 2014’s first round. After getting torched by the Sharks’ scoring chances off the rush, Los Angeles became lethal on the transition while simultaneously thwarting San Jose’s attack. Ostensibly, the size of the Kings’ skaters, and the team’s commitment to a defensive structure, appear to make it a priori for them to slow the pace of the game. But the Kings are teeming with skilled players and have more of a chameleon dimension to their game than is perceived. Additionally, the Kings’ coaching staff should note that Anaheim had too many players on the same plane on the east-west axis against the Stars. If there was a turnover on the attack for Anaheim, no puck support/safety valve existed.

Statistically, both of these teams are awesome. Anaheim finished the regular season first in five-on-five scoring among the Western Conference while the Kings finished second. During the regular season, the Kings also led the NHL in in Shots for in close games on five on five, while Anaheim led the NHL in regulation and OT wins (ROW).

In the postseason, neither team has had the same defined statistical success, aside from both winning their series — although the Kings have the clear edge in Fenwick Close percentage, much like they did in the regular season. The Kings also have a white-hot center in Selke Trophy finalist Anze Kopitar, who made some crucial plays in the first round, allowing the Kings to advance. (His 4.24 points per 60 minutes is second best in the playoffs.) For their part, Anaheim has Hart Trophy finalist and GVT titan Ryan Getzlaf, and his linemate and GVT dominator Corey Perry. Getzlaf and Perry have posted a 4.00 and 3.71 points per 60 minutes, respectively. Essentially, the best players on the Ducks and the Kings are playing at their highest level.

Defensive GVT

Ducks: 10.3 (9th) – Goaltending – 2.5 (15th)

Kings: 30.6 (2nd) – Goaltending – 16.4 (3rd)

The Kings finished the regular season first in goals against and second in shots against. They have Drew Doughty, who owns a 9.3 Relative Fenwick in the postseason and has been playing phenomenal hockey. Los Angeles has a fusion of puck-movers and stay-at-home defenders in their defensive group. However, the composition of the defense allows them to be extremely effective at exiting the zone, and catalyzing the zone entry through the neutral zone, while hobbling any attempts at scoring the opponents make.

Los Angeles plays smothering defense in their own zone and boasts one of the best goaltenders in the NHL in Jonathan Quick. Once the Kings were able to neutralize their Western Conference Quarterfinals opponent San Jose on the transition — hindering their speed through the neutral zone — the Sharks were forced to try to collect scoring chances off the cycle. Unfortunately for San Jose, the Kings’ belligerent style of play, and relentless pursuit at eliminating the middle – allowing them to push the battles to along the wall — enabled them to overcome a 3-0 deficit to win the series.

The Ducks were in the top ten in goals against and shots against during the regular season, and conceded a hair under 30 shots per game in the first round, right around the league’s middle-of-the-road rate in the regular season. If Anaheim is going to succeed, the assemblage of Cam Fowler, Ben Lovejoy, Francois Beauchemin, and a healthy Hampus Lindholm need to galvanize an efficient breakout. If the Kings get a foothold in the offensive zone and establish territorial advantage, the Ducks are cooked.

Special Teams

Ducks – Power play: 16.0% (22nd) – Penalty kill: 82.2% (13th)

Kings – Power play: 15.1% (27th) – Penalty kill: 83.1% (11th)

Both teams have players who are skilled at manipulating the system for calls – Los Angeles Kings’ center Dustin Brown and forward Corey Perry are at the top of the league in drawing penalties – and both teams come in with very successful playoff power plays. The Kings and Ducks both took far too many penalties in their first series, and how much they scale back the rash acts of violence could swing a game or two.

Key Match-Up: The Kings’ Forwards versus Anaheim’s Goaltender(s)

L.A.’s Quick was great in his last four games of the series against San Jose, and if the Ducks have any hope in this series they will need their goaltender to match his value. The Kings were able to flood the Sharks with pressure during their four consecutive wins, and Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Justin Williams all stepped up like they usually do at this time of the year. Drew Doughty is the nucleus of the defense, and his puck retrieval and ability to propel the puck up the ice make for unbelievable television. He remains one of the best defensemen in the NHL, and, like Quick, Doughty plays best when the lights are brightest.

Key Stat: The Kings’ shooting percentage is 11.7.

There are obvious dangers in reading too much into playoff shooting percentage because of the small sample size. While the Ducks’ shooting percentage is higher than the Kings’, 12 percent, that is only 1.8 percent above their regular season mark of 10.2. The Kings are shooting 4.1 percent above their regular season average. That is a massive jump! Adjusting for shooting in five-on-five, close situations does not abate the effect. The Ducks jumped from 10.7 percent to 12.7 percent in the playoffs (a 2.0 percent jump), while the Kings jumped from 6.0 percent to 10.4 percent (a 4.4 percent jump). Antti Niemi no doubt aided that spike, but there is always the chance the Kings will go cold on their shooting. They are not infallible. The Ducks’ goaltending is not good enough to precipitate a series victory, and the Kings are the better team in all facets, but the jump in shooting percentage remains a concern during this hotly contested series.

Prediction: Kings in six

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