The easy answer is no.
At some point this season, the Los Angeles Kings became invincible. It would be easy enough to say that that was the point the team traded Jack Johnson for Jeff Carter, but the reality is that we should have seen the Kings coming from miles away.
We’ve seen eight seeds go through some cinderella runs in the last few years, but they mostly take a different form. Recall how the bottom seed, the 2010 Montreal Canadiens banked heavily on Jaroslav Halak and had two squeeze out Game 7 victories against Washington and Pittsburgh. The 2006 Edmonton Oilers never faced a Game 7 until the Cup Final, but they didn’t have an easy road through either series.
Against Detroit in Round 1, the Oilers won by more than a single goal just once, and that was only thanks to a late empty-netter. They went down 0-2 to San Jose in the second round, being taken off life support thanks to a triple overtime goal by Shawn Horcoff in Game 3 of that series.
Essentially, the Los Angeles Kings are not your older brother’s 8-seed. They dispatched the Vancouver Canucks with general ease and are looking to do the same to Ken Hitchcock’s St. Louis Blues. They will be in the Conference Final, and will probably win that series, too.
Their top line, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, is absolutely dynamite. Each have a pair of goals at 5-on-5 and have all taken a load of shots. Williams in particular is a player that I’ve become quite taken with. He’s a great passer who set up a tonne of scoring chances in the first round series against the Canucks.
They’ve been set up for contributions from a lot of effective depth players as well: Dustin Penner has earned himself another NHL contract with his production in the playoffs, and Jarrett Stoll has a couple of goals to go along with his work as a defensive centreman. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have gone from offensive threats in Philadelphia to defensive cogs in Los Angeles, facing the toughest Corsi Rel QoC on the team in the post-season.
Willie Mitchell’s resurgence is quite something to see. He got concussed in Vancouver a couple of seasons ago and the Canucks didn’t re-sign him and he ended up in LA. He’s faced tough minutes along with Slava Voynov and the pair has been extremely effective shutting those guys down. That isn’t reflected in their Corsi (yet) because the Kings have spent so much time with the lead, but over the season they were a +8 and a +14 respectively over 60 minutes of play.
(Hockeymetrician Gabe Desjardins calls the Kings “the first team built on Corsi and QualComp“)
There’s Jonathan Quick, even strength save percentage of .948. Bound to dip in Round 3, but probably not too much. Over the last three years, since his rookie season, he’s matured from a .919 to a .921 to a .933 at evens, playing enough hockey to back up his high stats. I doubt he continues this trend of improvement, because not too many goalies can repeat a .933, but he’s close to establishing himself as an elite net minder and kept the Kings in games early in the year.
Break the Kings season down to three segments: the days before Darryl Sutter, the days after Darryl Sutter, and the days after the acquisition of Jeff Carter. In each segment, the Kings have shown notable improvement. By looking at Fenwick Tied, or the percentage of unblocked shots favouring the one team with the score evened up, the Kings have improved from 50.2% to 54.9% to 61.2%.
Check out how the team has continued to improve through the year:
|Points/82 GP||GD/82 GP||Fenwick Tied|
|Oct 7 – Dec 19||84||-22||50.2%|
|Dec 22 – Feb 22||94||+9||54.9%|
|Feb 25 – Apr 7||113||+82||61.2%|
No matter how you look at it, this is a team that went from average to elite over the course of the season, thanks to the addition of not only Carter, but also Sutter as a coach. The team’s record under him probably isn’t exceptionally coincidental.
Oh, Los Angeles’s PDO (addition of shooting and save percentages), including playoffs, since the acquisition of Jeff Carter? 100.2%. Any number well above 100 ought to raise eyebrows, but the team is out-scoring their opponents at about the same rate they’re out-shooting them. They’ve won 19 of their last 28 games, and none of it has been a fluke.
Not only is this team for real, but they’re the most dangerous out of all the teams that are left.