On Monday night, Anze Kopitar scored a highlight reel goal on Blues’ netminder Brian Elliott to put the Kings up 2-0. After Dustin Brown created a turnover on the forecheck, he swung the puck into the slot, where a streaking Kopitar, kicked the puck up to his stick before dragging it around the sprawling Elliott and banking it off Elliott’s pad and in. Worst of all for the Blues, the goal came while they were on the powerplay. I can’t imagine how demoralizing that must be.
Meanwhile, it was the 4th time this postseason that the Kings have gotten the morale boost of a shorthanded goal. They have now scored 2 shorthanded goals in each of their playoff series, for a total of 4 in just 7 playoff games. 20% of their total goals scored so far have come while down a man.
The Kings have paired this dangerous shorthanded offence with one of the best penalty kills in the postseason, allowing just 3 powerplay goals against. That’s right, the Kings have actually outscored their opponents 4-3 while shorthanded.
This is, and should be, quite surprising. The only other team to score any shorthanded goals in the playoffs so far is the Philadelphia Flyers, who have 3. It’s tempting to say that they shouldn’t even count, as they came in games where the Flyers scored 8 goals. In games that out of control, it almost seems like it doesn’t matter how many skaters you have on the ice: you’re going to get an odd-man rush or a breakaway no matter what. In any case, the Flyers have allowed 10 powerplay goals against.
I wouldn’t want to characterize shorthanded goals as lucky as the opportunities are usually created through some dogged work by the penalty killers, but they are very unpredictable, which makes them hard to analyze. For instance, this season the New Jersey Devils led the league in shorthanded goals with 13. Rookie Adam Henrique had 4 shorthanded goals for the Devils, with Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise, and Dainius Zubrus all scoring 3.
The season prior, the Devils scored a total of 3 shorthanded goals.
The point is that shorthanded goals are few and far between and team totals are inconsistent from season-to-season, so it’s hard to get a large enough sample size to draw any meaningful conclusions. It’s nearly impossible to predict what teams will score them, though you can identify certain players and teams that might have a higher chance. Even then, the opportunities are so rare that players’ totals will fluctuate wildly. Frans Neilsen led the league in shorthanded goals in 2010-11 with 7. The two seasons prior, he had 1 in each. This season, he had none.
Mike Richards is one of the more consistent producers of shorthanded goals and he still went from 7 in 2008-09 to just 1 the following season. Richards tied for the league lead and led the Kings in shorthanded goals with 4 this season, but doesn’t have a single point on any of the Kings’ 4 shorthanded goals. Instead, the key has been Dustin Brown, who scored both shorthanded goals against the Vancouver Canucks and assisted on both against the St. Louis Blues.
Brown has been remarkable for the Kings shorthanded. Oddly enough, his two assists against the Blues are arguably more impressive than his two shorthanded goals against the Canucks. He scored his first shorthanded goal by smartly following up a turnover and crashing of the net by Kopitar and scored his second by taking advantage of a miscue at the blue line by Dan Hamhuis and making a good move on the breakaway.
His first assist against the Blues required a much strong power move with a defender draped all over his back while on a partial breakaway, while his second shorthanded assist was a fantastic combination of intelligent forechecking and on-ice vision, creating the turnover with an active stick, then finding Kopitar in the slot.
With 4 shorthanded points in the postseason, Brown has actually bested his regular season total, where he only had 3.
The Kings were near the top of the league in shorthanded goals this season, but still just scored 8 shorthanded goals in 82 regular season games. The jump to 4 in 7 playoff games is impressive, particularly when you consider that they’re scoring them against teams that didn’t give up a lot of shorthanded goals this season. The Canucks allowed 4 shorthanded goals, while the Blues allowed just 3.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many conclusions that can be drawn from this outpouring of shorthanded goals. As I said, while they can’t be attributed purely to luck, their occurrence in such a short span is unlikely and can’t be seen as much more than a coincidence. While it’s tempting to start constructing stories about the Kings’ “will to win,” “determination,” and “heart,” it seems disingenuous and dismissive of the many times they showed the same determination while penalty killing and weren’t rewarded with a goal.
Perhaps, while shorthanded goals themselves shouldn’t necessarily be considered lucky, the timing of them can be. Since they are so rare, getting an opportunity in a playoff game when a single goal can make all the difference is certainly fortunate, even if the opportunity is created by hard work and skill.
One last note: three of the last four Stanley Cup winners led the postseason in shorthanded goals. The Bruins and Blackhawks had 4 each in the last two years, while the Red Wings led the way with 6 shorthanded goals in 2007-08. It helps to be fortunate on the way to the Cup.