(Noah Graham, Getty Images)

The performance of the Los Angeles Kings in these playoffs is both a total victory and a complete destruction of the idea of parity in the NHL. It proves once and for all that an 8th seed can succeed in the playoffs, a victory for parity and sure to be used by General Managers for years to defend their plans to eke their way into the postseason and hope for the best. Simultaneously, they’ve been so completely dominant in the playoffs that the idea of parity seems like a bad joke.

The Kings are just one game away from sweeping the Devils to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in their history. Enroute to the final, they’ve lost just two games, one to the 1st seed Vancouver Canucks and one to the 3rd seed Phoenix Coyotes. They have gone up 3-0 in every single series, have yet to lose a game on the road, and have outscored their opponents 49 to 24.

With their win in New Jersey in game two, the Kings have tied the record for most road wins in the playoffs, a record held by the 1995 and 2000 New Jersey Devils and the 2004 Calgary Flames. If they lose game four, they’ll have a chance to break that record. Alternately, they could win game four and tie the record for the fewest games needed to win the Stanley Cup held by the 1988 Edmonton Oilers, which is slightly more prestigious company.

How did a team this good end up in 8th place in the Western Conference? Why did such a dominant team have a mediocre regular season?

One way to look at this is to consider that perhaps the Kings weren’t as bad in the regular season as their record indicated, and their record wasn’t that bad to begin with. The Kings ended the season with 40 wins and 95 points, which is a decent total. Its a point total, however, that would have left them outside the playoffs in the Western Conference in the last two seasons.

What the Kings did have going for them is that they were a phenomenal possession team during the regular season, particularly after hiring Darryl Sutter as coach and trading for Jeff Carter. Cam Charron has done the legwork in breaking up their possession statistics for those periods of time using their Fenwick Tied percentage, which measures what percentage a team controls all unblocked shot attempts at even-strength with the score tied. The Kings went from controlling 50.2% prior to Sutter, to 54.9% after hiring Sutter but before trading for Carter, to 61.2% after acquiring Carter. Overall, the Kings were third in the NHL in Fenwick Tied, far better than their record would indicate.

The Kings didn’t get into the playoffs just on the strength of Jonathan Quick’s goaltending, though that was essential as well, but they got in by controlling puck possession and outshooting their opponents. The Kings were outshot just 26 times during the regular season, with only Pittsburgh and Chicago getting outshot fewer times.

The question remains, however: if the Kings were so good at outplaying their opponents, why did they end up as the 8th seed in the West?

It looks like the answer is that they just weren’t clutch enough. The Kings had one of the worst records in the NHL in games decided by one-goal, including overtime and shootouts. They were 17-14-15 in one-goal games, a winning percentage of just .370, fourth worst in the league ahead of just Columbus, Carolina, and Montreal. Was this an indication of being a bad hockey team or an indication of how well they would perform in one-goal games in the future? Not in the slightest.

As Ecclesiastes 9:11 says, “The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong…but time and chance happen to them all.” Hockey games can be decided by just one bounce of the puck, particularly in games decided by just one goal: over the course of the season, those bounces usually even out for a team and they’ll get good breaks and bad breaks in about equal proportion. The best a team can usually hope for is to control puck possession, get more shots than the other team, and hope that fortune favours them. For the Kings during the regular season, the puck bounced the wrong way more often than not.

For an illustration of how little a team’s winning percentage in one-goal games is indicative of a team’s skill, take a look at who led the league in that statistic: the Tampa Bay Lightning. The same Tampa Bay Lightning that had a minus-46 goal differential and missed the playoffs by 8 points.

In the small sample size of the playoffs, the Kings are batting 1.000 in one-goal games, winning all 6 games that have been decided by that margin. They continue to control puck possession, continue to outshoot their opponents, and continue to get stellar goaltending from Jonathan Quick, but now they’re getting the bounces as well.

Comments (13)

  1. ” Enroute to the final, they’ve lost just two games, one to the 1st seed Vancouver Canucks and one to the 2nd seed St. Louis Blues”
    Correction lost to Pheonix Coyotes
    Not St. Louis Blues. :)

  2. They also rid themselves of Jack Johnson in the Carter trade. Johnson is one of the worst defensemen in the NHL.

  3. They lost to the Coyotes not the Blues.

    Also did you even watch any Kings hockey this year? The issue in the regular season was scoring. Despite all the scoring talent this team couldn’t find the back of the net. Dig a little deeper into those 1 goal games and you’ll find a bunch of 1-0 and 2-1 losses. Very late in the season their scorers finally started to find rhythm, after loading still more offensive talent on the team at the trade deadline. This is not a team that is over-performing in the post season. this is a hugely talented team that under-performed in the regular season.

    • I think you misunderstood what I was saying. The issue in the regular season was definitely scoring and they underperformed in the regular season. I agree with that. I’m looking at why that occurred. I spent the entire post pointing out that they were a great puck possession team that didn’t get the bounces they deserved. I’m not saying they’re overperforming right now, I’m saying that the bounces are swinging back in their direction after largely going against them all season.

      As for loading up at the trade deadline, they added one player.

      • Bounced were most likely part of it. But they might have started “making” their own bounces once they became more comfortable with Sutters system too. It is always pretty amazing how good teams and good players “get” more bounces.

        • They get more bounces because they create more opportunities to get those bounces. The Kings outshot their opponents all season long and should have had more good fortune than they ended up with.

          • Fair enough statement. It would be interesting to look at a charting of shots pre Sutter and post to see just where those shots were coming from. Did Sutters more aggresive forecheck open up better shot/scoring opportunities on a similiar amount of shots? I am speculating of course since I don’t have those facts:)))

    • I agree.

      Terry Murray coaching for 29ish games – 2.21 goals scored per game
      Under Sutter – 2.41
      After the Johnson-Carter trade – 3.00

      I got these “facts” from an article so I cannot confirm if they are exact.
      Murray tried to play a defensive system only. Sutter took that system, made a few tweaks and then opened up the aggresive forecheck without giving up on defense.

      I think this shows fairly clearly why this team was “only” 8th overall in the west at the end of the regular season. There is little doubt they under achieved for the first 3rd of the season, 2nd third started to learn a new system, last 3rd after the trade were pretty similiar to how they have been in the playoffs.

      Plus the fact they were essentially playing “playoff type” hockey just to make the playoffs couldn’t but help them rolling into the first round.

  4. I read a really interesting article on where the Kings shots were coming from with Murray and with Sutter, and the data presented in the article showed that the shots the Kings were taking under Sutter were, on average, were coming from something like 3+ ft closer to the net. Terry Murray always used to talk about a “shot mentality” and I think with the younger players, they tried so hard just to shoot, shoot, shoot – and they would from way out and hope it would go in. Those 3 ft closer can be a big difference from going in, or more importantly, a rebound getting swept out, or giving you a quality chance. The small changes Sutter introduced made them come out of their shells a bit and got them closer to the goal – both literally and figuratively. I wish I could find that article. It may even be on this blog.

  5. The Kings also finished 8th because they lost both games of a home and home series against the Sharks in their final two games. Luckily, the week before they played the Flames and then the Oilers twice.

    The San Jose games going to OT didn’t matter as they would have been the 8th seed regardless of the extra point. Statistically, the losses sort of make sense I suppose.

    The Kings went 13-4-7 in the Pacific division this year, but were 13-4-5 before the San Jose games. I guess it was a little bit of a regression? All I know is that if LA wins those two games over San Jose then LA would have been the 3rd seed. Circumstance landed LA in the 8th seed more than anything.

    Phoenix also finished off the year with 3 wins, which led to them grabbing the 3rd seed.

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