In our previous two parts of our Stanley Cup preview, we took a look at how each team liked to use their lines. Now we'll shift our focus to possession.
The way we measure possession is by adding up shots on goal, missed shots, and blocked shots at even strength. It's been shown that attempting a lot of shots has a heavy correlation to controlling the puck in your opponent's end (as well as with scoring chances and winning). This measure is commonly known as "Corsi" (named after the man who invented it, the longtime goaltending coach of the Buffalo Sabres, Jim Corsi).
We then adjust it for zone starts, which helps compensate for where a player starts his shift (players that start in the defensive zone have a tougher job). It helps us get a clearer picture.
We convert these numbers into percentages which makes them easier to swallow. Anything above 50% means that you are generating more shots than your opponents when you are on the ice. Anything below and you're losing the battle.
Now onto the chart:
Overall the Devils have ended up with slightly better numbers, 54% to 52%. The numbers even up a bit though when you consider that the Kings played tougher competition in Vancouver and St. Louis. Also, the Kings were playing with the lead a lot and teams that are trying to come from behind have higher shot rates. There are much more interesting results though when looking at forward lines and defensive pairings.
- The thing that jumps out the most is just how dominant the Travis Zajac line has been. Zajac has very often been tasked with taking on the toughest competition the Devils have faced. In spite of this, his Corsi rate is an incredible 59%, beating even the Kopitar line's rating. It is very likely that Zajac will be hard-matched against Kopitar in New Jersey. Watching these lines go at it is going to be a sight to behold.
- One thing that may be in the Kings favor is that the Zajac line appears to possibly be coming back down to Earth of late (namely the last 3 games), while the Kopitar line has been on an upward trend since the Vancouver series:
- The Kopitar line will also present the toughest matchup they have faced.
- The play of the Richards line is going to be pivotal given that the Kopitar line could have their hands full with Zajac & co. They've struggled in the possession battle (47.8%) but have maintained a positive goal differential. That is not a trend that can last forever. A good sign for them is that they have played much better since the Vancouver series. They have a 51% rating since Vancouver. They'll need to maintain and improve upon that trend for the Final.
- It is very impressive how the Adam Henrique (L2) and Elias/Josefson (L3) have done thus far, 56.2% and 58.9% respectively.
- Henrique struggled out of the gate in the Panthers series but righted the ship soon after. His line's best series in the possession battle came against the Flyers (60%). He also did some damage against the Rangers (56%) but his numbers tailed off toward the end of the ECF.
- The Devils' third line, on the other hand, has been a model of consistency. They have maintained their strong possession numbers in spite of revolving personnel and competition. The Devil's possession depth should not be underestimated. The downside for this line has been that they have been unable to convert possession into actual points. That is why Petr Sykora has been scratched of late in favor of a younger and more skilled forward in Jacob Josefson. If Josefson can create and convert more chances he could make life a Cupless hell for the Kings.
- The Kings' third line has been breakeven over the course of the playoffs. Normally this would look great but it pales in comparison to what the Devils' have been able to pull off. For their part they have in fact played against extremely deep teams and thus stiffer competition. One encouraging sign for them is that they were thoroughly dominant against Phoenix with a 58% rating. We'll see if they can continue that into the final. If so, it would be a huge boost.
- Where the Devils' depth thins out is with their fourth line.They have given up a lot of ground with a paltry 42% rating. DeBoer would be wise to keep them away from the Kings' skill lines whenever possible. If not it appears the Kings can make some serious inroads when they are on the ice.
- We surmised that Greene/Fayne (D2) was their shutdown pairing earlier in the series. DeBoer chooses to use them against top lines whenever possible. That makes their 56.5% rating all the more impressive. I have been claiming all long that the Kopitar line's dominance would be a given in the series. Now, having a closer look at Zajac and Greene/Fayne's numbers I am not as confident. I still believe the Kopitar line will do well and win the matchup but it may not be the dominating performance that some have been expecting. This means that it will be all the more important for the Kings' depth lines to be more effective in the possession battle than ever.
- Drew Doughty's performance in the playoffs has been incredible. He has a positive Corsi rating despite having faced probably the toughest competition out of any defenseman in the Playoffs by far. In addition he is the highest point producer among defenders that were able to make it past the 1st round. His productivity will go a long way toward neutralizing the Devils' depth.
These numbers serve to temper any inklings of an easy victory for the Kings in the final. The Devils are an underrated, formidable opponent. Both teams possession numbers since the Carter trade (a popular benchmark as a turning point in the Kings season) are incredibly strong. Since that trade, the Kings had a 58% Corsi rating in the regular season and 52% in the playoffs. In that time the Devils had a 53% rating in the regular season and a 55% (non-zone adjusted) rating in the playoffs. The Kings have been slightly better but the difference is not vast by any stretch. This should be a very close series and we'll continue to track possession and line-matching as the it progresses to see where any edges are being gained.
As always please feel free to ask any questions or express any desires for clarity. We know this stuff can be a little dense for those that are unfamiliar, so don't be shy. We love introducing people to this.