Last night, Adam Henrique scored on a scramble around the New York Rangers’ goal crease and sent his New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup Finals. It’s not at all a shock. The best team, despite being a 6th-seeded team against the 1st seed in the Eastern Conference won the series. Why were they the best team? The Rangers weren’t exactly a team built on a flawed concept, but they were a team that banked heavily on their goaltender and the minutes of their shutdown pair and the scoring ability of their first line. They had limited puck possession ability and were trapped in their own zone several times against the Devils.

Every single game New Jersey scored a goal, they won.

Los Angeles was just a juggernaut on the other side. They weren’t a traditional #8 seed, but then again, was there ever? We’re learning so much more about hockey players and teams that we may never seed the 8-seed as being the 8th best team in the conference anymore.

So what do we know about these teams?

Possession Numbers:

Fenwick Tied and Close is expressed as a rate (over 50 is considered a “positive possession” club) using unblocked shots as an indicator for which team has the puck for the majority of the time. All the shots are measured in a certain game state. “Close” refers to times when the game is either tied or within one goal in the first and second periods. “Tied” only counts times when the score is tied. Both ignore special teams’ situations. The numbers I’m using in this instance come from Behind The Net:

Los Angeles Season New Jersey Season
Fenwick Close 54.8 (6th) 53.6 (4th) 57.3 (4th) 51.8 (10th)
Fenwick Tied 55.4 (6th) 54.9 (3rd) 59.1 (4th) 52.0 (9th)

This’ll be a good series. Both teams are positive possession clubs, which makes for good hockey. The Devils’ numbers are slightly inflated in the playoffs from going against a non-possession club in New York, but the Kings had to stroll through Vancouver, St. Louis and Phoenix and came through with pretty impressive numbers.

The Kings have a good edge, meaning that New Jersey’s goaltending will be more tested this series than it probably has been up until now. This is actually quite important when we compare the starting goaltenders.

Starting Goaltenders:

We’ll start with “quality starts” which is games where a goalie records a save percentage above 91.2%, or has a goals against average of below 2.00 and a save percentage of at least 88.5%. That’s calculated by going through game logs. Even-strength save percentage comes directly from NHL.com, and I ranked the goalies out of the 29 goalies who started 41 or more games this year in the regular season, or the 14 goalies who started enough games for at least a playoff series.

Quick Season Brodeur Season
Quality Starts 13/14 (93%) 47/69 (68%) 12/18 (67%) 29/59 (49%)
EV SV% .947 (1st) .933 (3rd) .944 (3rd) .911 (27th)

Jonathan Quick vs. Martin Brodeur. I guess you could say we have the legendary goaltender against a young up-and-comer, future star, but I’ve become skeptical of Brodeur’s ability in the last couple of seasons. He has very much held it together in the playoffs, but he was ranked very low in the regular season.

If you combine the numbers, Quick has a clear edge. Even though Brodeur has done much better in the playoffs, he still hasn’t matched Quick’s performance.

Tough Minutes:

Who played against the toughest competition in the regular season and the playoffs for either team? Well, using Corsi Rel QoC, which measures the quality of players faced, and the number of times a player started in the defensive zone, we can determine this. These stats are both found at Behind the Net, though defensive zone starts was added by hand.

First, defencemen:

Los Angeles Season New Jersey Season
Corsi Rel QoC Mitchell (1.689) Doughty (.986) Harrold (2.392) Fayne (.787)
DZone Starts Doughty (90) Scuderi (390) Salvador (83) Salvador (359)

And forwards:

Los Angeles Season New Jersey Season
Corsi Rel QoC Richards (2.134) Kopitar (1.175) Elias (1.603) Elias (1.404)
DZone Starts Penner (61) Stoll (348) Kovalchuk (69) Zubrus (332)

First thing you notice is that Darryl Sutter spaces out his zone starts a little more than Peter DeBoer does, but DeBoer has focused on getting the Patrik Elias line, with Petr Sykora and Dainius Zubrus, out against the tough matchups. In the first series, they saw the majority of time against the possession demons of Marcel Goc-Mikael Sameulsson-Sean Bergenheim. Against Philadelphia, it was Daniel Briere. Against the Rangers in Game 6, Elias played primarily against the Ryan Callahan line, with Mark Fayne and Andy Greene seeing the ice against Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik.

Los Angeles really differentiates between tough and easy minutes, and they certainly have the players for it. Anze Kopitar’s line has been outstanding, and they’d be playing against the toughest guys if Mike Richards and Jeff Carter weren’t. The big difference? Kopitar’s line has been winning the matchups. His Corsi per 60 minutes rate is 16.5, while Richards’ is at -8.8. The slightly tougher offensive zone start rate (about 51% to 45%) could be the issue, but I’ve admired the play of the Kopitar line.

Overall, I think that Los Angeles is just a better team. They deploy their players better and are backed with better players and goaltending. I think they take this series in five, but, hey, I’ve been wrong before.