Inspiration: ‘Juggernaut‘ by Ellen Etchingham
Check out these two paragraphs from the AP post-gamer of Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals:
Indeed, Los Angeles is on the brink of its second Stanley Cup final after leaping to a 3-0 lead over reeling Phoenix in the Western Conference finals. The eighth-seeded Kings are on an unbelievable 11-1 streak with eight consecutive wins in the post-season, outscoring their opponents 37-17 and winning the first three games in each of their first three series.
The Kings have almost grown leery of talking about their winning streak, a bit like the teammates of a pitcher throwing a no-hitter. Yet concrete accomplishment is just one win away: With a victory in Game 4 on Sunday afternoon, the Kings finally would have another banner to hang next to the single division title and conference title banners forlornly decorating a small section of a wall at Staples Center.
The Los Angeles Kings aren’t the first team to have been crowned presumptive champions this season. Dominant runs by the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins both mid-season allowed the hockey media and blogosphere to wax on a few percentage-sustained runs that had the teams at 14-0-1 and 12-0-1, respectively, collectively blowing out their opponents most nights.
Through November, the Boston Bruins shook off the demons of the dreaded “Stanley Cup hangover” which led to a 3-7 start and posted a 12-0-1 month record. They won a couple more games into December after an ESPNBoston columnist posted a teary-eyed reportage about the success of Boston sports teams and the Bruins.
This region has been endowed with one of the most historic organizations in professional hockey.
For 87 snowy seasons, the Boston Bruins have been a strong fabric in the New England hockey community and beyond. Part of the Original Six, the Bruins have won a total of six Stanley Cups, with the most recent being hoisted on June 15 in Vancouver.
Despite a slow start to the 2010-11 season, the fans never wandered from Causeway Street. In turn, the Bruins responded. With a 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday at TD Garden, the Bruins extended their point streak to 14 games and have a 13-0-1 record during that stretch.
The past decade has been a golden era in professional sports in this city, with the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics all winning championships. In fact, the Red Sox own the major league record with 712 consecutive sellouts and counting, dating back to May 15, 2003. It’s the second-longest sellout streak in U.S. professional sports history behind the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers, who had 744 in a row from 1977 to 1995.
Perhaps a bit presumptive considering the column was supposed to be about wins and passionate fans and simply comparing a very successful month with historic championship organizations in the city is sort of off-point. According to the story slug in the link. Either way, the Bruins managed a 14-0-1 record over that stretch, and we were excited. Their record was worth 159 points over an 82-game stretch and a +213 goal differential—they had out-scored their opponents 66-27, and posted 6-goal games six times during the stretch.
Not too different from the Penguins this spring, who out-scored their opponents 55-21 over a 13-game stretch wherein they went 12-0-1, the only blemish being an overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Over an 82-game stretch, those totals would be worth a +214 goal differential and 158 points. In fact, the surface numbers are almost identical pro-rated.
This lasted from late February as Evgeni Malkin went on one of his hot streaks and the lineup was bolstered by the return of Sidney Crosby in mid March. No shortage of commentators declared the Penguins to be the prospective Cup favourites.
I don’t take issue with any of that, because Pittsburgh certainly looked like a good team, and they were only going to get better throughout.
So how do the Kings and their 11-1 playoff record stack up against those guys? Well, by looking at goal differential and points, rated over 12 games:
Lots of similarities between the three teams by looking at surface stats. Only one goal every ten games and one-fifth of a win separate the teams.
So we need to look at the underlying numbers here to compare the squads. Specifically, Fenwick Tied and PDO, to tell whether teams are scoring at elevated percentages or just because they’re out-playing their opponents night-in and night-out.
What does this tell us? All three teams are nearly identical in ability through these runs. While high percentages didn’t last for Boston and Pittsburgh, we shouldn’t expect them to also last for Los Angeles. The Penguins lost four of their next six after their big run and the Bruins lost two straight (before going on a run that was almost just as dominant).
The quality of the Kings play is high, but their percentages (in particular Jonathan Quick’s .946 even strength save percentage according to BTN, although NHL.com has him listed at .948) are well above normal and I don’t think they’ll cruise to the Stanley Cup despite being clearly the best team out of the four remaining. There’s still some room in there for a bit of a slip-up and they’ll probably lose a couple of games going forward.
Or maybe not:
I happen to believe in Quick to maintain his performance over Martin Brodeur, but the Devils quietly dispatched a very good Philadelphia team in five games and are hanging with the top-seeded Rangers, who weren’t a good possession club in the regular season either.
But, the NHL playoffs are a small sample tournament where these things can change quickly. The Kings have been very good, but they still have five wins left to go. Their run is devilishly similar to what Boston and Pittsburgh went through earlier this season, and those runs didn’t last too much longer than twelve games before reality caught up with a few quick defeats.