LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 07: Jamie Benn #14 of the Dallas Stars breaks away with the puck in front of Drew Doughty #8 of the Los Angeles Kings on his way to scoring a shorthanded goal in the third period at Staples Center on March 7, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. The Stars won 4-3 in overtime. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
The Kings had a power play in the 3rd period of last night's game, with a chance to go up by two goals. But instead -- as you know -- Drew Doughty made an ill-advised flip pass that was intercepted by Jamie Benn and converted into a short-handed (breakaway) goal. Almost as troubling, earlier in the shift, Doughty misread the play in the offensive zone, leading to turnover and a short-handed 2-on-1 against. I'm not singling Doughty out to blame him for last night's loss. He's certainly entitled to his fair share of the blame, but by no means all of it.
What I would like to know is, what was going on during that shift? The two mistakes I just described, on a single power-play, during a critical time, of a critical game, against our closest rival in the standings (though there are several candidates for that title). What is the differential diagnosis?
1. Drew Doughty is an idiot.
Since Doughty's hockey sense is his main superpower, I'm going to rule this one out.
2. Drew Doughty has brain damage from his early-season concussion, which has resulted in lapses of judgment and, more generally, explains his sub-par season.
Sub-par? Doughty's numbers:
- Points per 60: Last season, 1.10; this season, 1.09. Verdict: THE SAME.
- +-/60: Last season, 0.76; this season, 0.76. Verdict: THE SAME.
- Relative Corsi (+- of shot "events" relative to team): 5.5; this season, 8.8. Verdict: MUCH IMPROVEMENT.
- Team shooting % when he's on the ice: last season, 8.92; this season, 10.04. Verdict: IMPROVEMENT.
- Team save % when he's on the ice: last season, .921; this season, .914. Verdict: slightly worse.
- PDO (combined SH% and SV%): last season,1010; this season, 1014. Verdict: THE SAME.
- Offensive zone starts (this is a measure of the coach's trust; the higher the number, the less likely the coach puts you out for defensive zone draws): last season, 56.2%; this season, 54.2%. Verdict: MORE TRUST.
- O zone finishes (where the face-off ends up when he's on the ice): last season, 49.7%; this season, 53.4%. Verdict: MUCH IMPROVEMENT.
- Penalties taken: last season 0.8 per 60; this season, 1.0 per 60. Verdict: slightly worse.
- Penalties drawn: last season, 0.7 per 60; this season, 0.7. Verdict: THE SAME.
- Last season QUALCOMP .024; this season, QUALCOMP .025. Verdict: THE SAME.
- Last season, QUALTEAM .096; this season, QUALTEAM .024. Verdict: WTF!
Verdict: HE'S NOT HAVING A SUB-PAR SEASON. He's being trusted more to play a more defensive role and is playing with significantly worse teammates. And the only negative effect of this...is...well, every eleventh game he takes an extra penalty...and...he's also on the ice for an additional goal-against for every 125 shots-against, or about every eight or nine games.
But since his +-/60 is the same as last year, his offense is, by definition, exactly off-setting any additional goals-against. And since overall team defense is much better this year than last, a fair conclusion would be that Doughty is playing with worse linemates, allowing better teammates to play when he's not on the ice, which reduces the goals against of the rest of the team (and this is borne out by Doughty's GAOFF/60, which was 2.34 last year and 2.06 this year). Murray is giving Doughty a tougher assignment, thus spreading out the defensive talent, and the result is improved team defense with virtually no discernible negative impact on Doughty's numbers.
3. The power play sucks and Doughty was trying to do too much.
There is plenty of frustration to go around regarding the Kings' power play. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that (1) their numbers are in the bottom third of the league, (2) they appear to be standing around a lot, (3) fans and bloggers and journalists and message-board back-seat drivers have been harping on it for a couple of years now (even last season, when the power play was good). The result is, I think, that the power play "problem" has been imbued with supernatural gravity. I read a lot of what's written about the Kings, including fans' comments, and the general attitude seems to be that the Kings power-play is a momentum-killer and its impotence is singularly responsible for a great many losses, last night being one.
I mention this because I think it's become a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy; I think the players are aware of it; and the result is that Doughty is trying -- for example, on that last power play -- to take matters into his own hands. He's trying by force of will to make the power-play work.
The problem is, a successful power-play doesn't succeed by forcing it to. If anything, it's the opposite. Power-plays are zen. If you are impatient, the only thing you will force is mistakes. Yours.
And that's what I think happened last night. Doughty's mistake was in trying to go off-map. Because, for whatever reason, the power-play is bi-polar and we're in a depressed phase of the cycle. Undoubtedly, Murray will counsel Drew to play with patience, within the system. This is likely to be as infuriating to the players as it is to the fans, since it sounds so much like an excuse for a failing system. The thing is, the power play "system" might well be failing, but that's incidental: even the mythical perfect power-play requires patience. All systems fail when you start doing whatever you want because you've decided the system doesn't work.
(Even if it really doesn't work.)
One More Thing
I think people have assigned too much blame to the power-play. The Kings' PP is operating at 16.8%. That's in the bottom third (19th, actually). Last year, it was at 20.8%, which was in the top third (7th overall). Both seasons, the top team was at 25%. The difference between last year's (good) and this year's (bad) power-play is 4%. Pretend the Kings were playing at last year's level. That would net them 9 extra power-play goals. Microstat geniuses (A peek behind the curtain: how do numbers get analyzed? - Broad Street Hockey) have quantified the value of an NHL goal at 1/3 of a point in the standings. Therefore, those nine goals translate to 3 additional points. Which would put us at 80 points, 5th place, instead of our current 77 points, 8th place.
That would be nice. But there are lots of ways to lament games we've frittered away. You could, for example, look at the difference between the output of Michal Handzus, Wayne Simmonds and Alex Frolov last year (20+16+19=55 goals), and Handzus, Simmonds and Alexei Ponikarovsky this year (9+12+4=25 goals, in 66 games, which prorates to only 31 goals over 82 games).
That's a shortfall of 24 goals, or 8 standings points according to the microstat conversion rate.
I count 18 games in which the Kings lost and the PP was shut-out. I'm going to make the (safe) assumption that those losses correspond to 18 comments sections in which fans cursed the Kings power-play as the bane of their various existences. I feel I've read every single one of those threads, and every other one going back several years, including last year, when the PP was at nearly 21%. Notice, though, that had the Kings gotten a PP goal in each of those games -- thus shutting everyone up (though not really) -- their rate would have been at around 25.8%, which would have been #1 in the league.
The Kings have many good players, but I see no reason to expect or require them to have the #1 power play in the NHL.