Blackhawks vs Kings: Series Preview

Jonathan Daniel

The Chicago Blackhawks have had a very successful regular season in 2013. They opened the year with a 24 game point streak and ended it with the NHL's best record. However, they faced some adversity in their recent series against the Detroit Red Wings. They found themselves down 3-1 and on the verge of ending their magical season on a sour note. Staring down the barrel of the gun, they bounced back and were able to steal the series away.

That sets up a matchup between the two best puck possession teams in the NHL. In the playoffs, Chicago has continued to put up gaudy possession numbers as they have owned 57% of all shot attempts in the first two rounds. While L.A. has struggled to match their regular season numbers, only owning 49% of all attempts against the Sharks and Blues. For their part, L.A. has faced much stronger competition. It's likely that Chicago will have a hard time retaining these numbers against L.A., in what looks to be another evenly matched series for the Kings.

Let's leap in and see if we can spot where edges may be gained or lost between the two.

Matchups

Team Attempt % (Close) 5v5 Goal +/- 5v5 Sh% Usage Chart
Los Angeles 58% (1st) +6 (9th - tied) 7.6% (20th) Link
Chicago 55.4% (3rd) +18 (2nd - tied) 8% (15th) Link

Kingshawks_large


Forwards

Joel Quenneville and Darryl Sutter have slightly different approaches in how they use their top 6. Quenneville seems to be more prone to zone-matching his top line centered by Jonathan Toews while Sutter generally just tries to get his top line against the opposing team's best. What we mean by zone-matching is that Quenneville will try to get his most skilled players out on the ice when there is an offensive zone face-off (and vice versa for defensive minded players). It is a strategy that was employed heavily under Alain Vigneault with the Sedins and Malhotra in Vancouver and has been adopted by several other clubs across the NHL. While the Blackhawks do seem to use this strategy, it's definitely not to the extreme degree we've seen Vancouver employ it.

In their series against Detroit, the Blackhawks gave Jonathan Toews 40% of all their offensive zone faceoffs, that's a lot. Conversely, they gave Dave Bolland 42% of all of their defensive zone faceoffs. Also of note, in games on the road Jonathan Toews only saw 4 total defensive zone faceoffs. So what we can conclude is that we are going to see a lot of Jonathan Toews in offensive zone faceoffs no matter who the Kings put out on the ice and especially in games at Staples, while the same can be said of Dave Bolland in the defensive zone.

Looking at the results of the head-to-head possession numbers over the past two seasons, what really jumps out is how dominant Toews has been against the Kings. Both Mike Richards and Anze Kopitar have struggled mightily against him. This is not a result of the Kings being a worse team a few years ago than they are now. Kopitar's numbers against Toews over the past 2 seasons are even worse than the previous years. Also of concern, Kopitar and his line have struggled for long stretches of both playoff series'. They are going to need to play a more consistent game in order to turn their historically poor numbers against Jonathan Toews around.

If Sutter doesn't want to send Kopitar out against Toews as much, there is another option. Assuming that Stoll is back for the series, the Kings could forgo the Kopitar vs Toews matchup that will be offered up to them by the Blackhawks zone matching strategy. They could instead rely on Stoll and his linemates (presumably Trevor Lewis and Dwight King) to defend against Toews while trying to get Kopitar and Richards out in more advantageous matchups.

Given how poorly Kopitar has done against Toews over the years, added to the fact that they've struggled to achieve a dominant level of play in the post-season, this might be a very viable option. But of course this hinges on whether or not Jarret Stoll is ready for action.

Another thing to keep in mind is secondary scoring. Among Kings forwards who have scored in the playoffs, only 2 have come from regulars among the bottom 6 (Toffoli and Lewis). The Blackhawks have spread out their scoring a little more evenly. L.A. will need some more production from their bottom 6 as their top 6 will have their hands full.

Defense

On the defensive side of things both teams use their defensemen rather similarly. Unlike with their forwards in the Detroit series, the Blackhawks didn't pay much attention to zone in the deployment of their defense. They chose, rather, to hard-match their defensemen against certain units. For instance, 1st pair defenseman Duncan Keith spent 83% of his 5v5 minutes matched against either Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg. While 3rd pair defenseman Nick Leddy saw 81% of his minutes against the Bottom 6.

So it's extremely likely that Keith will be charged with shutting down the Kings top 6 and Drew Doughty will be asked to do the same against the Blackhawks top 6. Historically, Chicago has had more success in these matchups but Doughty will be given ample time to attempt to buck that trend. If he can, it'll go a long way toward helping the Kings get back to the Final.

It's also interesting to note how much more success Voynov has had against Chicago than other defensemen on L.A.. He's broken even against Toews while coming out ahead against the rest of the Blackhawk forwards in the chart above. If Voynov can retain that form, it'll be a big boost to L.A.'s chances.

Special teams

Power Play

The Sharks were a much more dangerous team on the power play than the Blackhawks. Over the regular season, Chicago had the 5th worst shot rate in the NHL at 5v4. They also had the 5th worst goal rate. In the playoffs, their power play has continued to struggle as they've only converted on the man advantage 16.2% of the time. #FireKompon

L.A.'s power play hasn't set the world on fire either this season. They were 18th in the NHL in power play shot production. They did manage to score a lot of goals due to a good run in shooting percentage and converted on the power play 20% of the time. In the playoffs, they have stayed right at that 20% conversion rate. So while the Kings do struggle at times at generating shots, they have found more success on the power play than Chicago.

Penalty Kill

Even though Chicago had the 3rd best PK% this season, it seems like the teams' penalty kill units were pretty even in the regular season. The Blackhawks success in the regular season was inflated by goaltender save percentage, whereas they actually were 12th in shots on goal allowed. The Kings were 8th in shots allowed and 10th in efficiency.

In the playoffs though, the Blackhawks PK has been red hot. They've only allowed 1 power play goal out of 41 times shorthanded. On the bright-side for L.A., this is extremely unsustainable. Maybe these numbers will come down to earth just in time for the WCF?

Goaltending

Save % EV SV% Quality Start % Playoff SV% Playoff QS %
Jonathan Quick 0.902 0.910 59% .948 85%
Corey Crawford 0.926 0.934 60% .938 83%

Quality start percentage is a new goaltending stat developed by Hockey Prospectus. A quality start is defined by a goalie stopping at least 91.3% of pucks in any given game, or when he stops 88.5% of pucks and allows no more than two goals.

Jonathan Quick has been insanely hot this post-season. He is even posting better numbers this year than he did a year ago when he won the Conn Smythe. All but two of his games have been "quality starts" and he hasn't allowed more than 3 goals in a single game. His regular season struggles seem to be a distant memory, but can he keep up this insane pace?

As good as Quick's numbers have been, Corey Crawford has been pretty much on par. He too has only had 2 non-quality starts. They came in back-to-back games in the Detroit series. Since then he has regained his form and big factor as to why Chicago was able to bounce back from a 3-1 series deficit.

Conclusion

So to review, there are a few key items to keep an eye on as the series progresses:

  1. Can the Kings first line keep the Toews line at bay?
  2. Will Stoll return healthy and be up for being charged with a lot of defensive zone starts against one of the most skilled 1st lines in the NHL?
  3. Given that each teams power play unit is anything but world beating, this series will probably be decided at 5v5. Will the Kings be able to find enough secondary scoring from the depth lines?
  4. Duncan Keith and Drew Doughty are widely regarded as 2 of the best defensemen in the NHL. Both will be depended on to play a ton of minutes against tough competition. Whoever fares better will probably be on the squad that moves on the the Final.
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