As the Kings were in the middle of their January death spiral, it became increasingly difficult to ask the fanbase to be patient. It was pointed out that the Kings were still very good at hockey (while getting hammered by bad luck), and when combined with an extremely soft remaining schedule (in fact the softest in the entire Western Conference), it quickly became clear that a turnaround was likely in the very near future for our struggling hockey club. Seven wins in a row later, well, I think the defense can rest on this one. Oh, I'm sorry media narrative types, clearly this is because something something OLYMPIC BREAK REST something something, you're right. Either way, the Kings are awesome right now. They aren't even clinging desperately to one-goal leads in all of these wins (as we have all become so accustomed to), giving us- GASP- some comfort in the 3rd period. Drama and close games is fun and all, don't get me wrong, but after three straight seasons of it I'm pretty happy to watch them coast their way to a few easy victories lately. So let's get into it and talk about lots of wins! Woo-hoo!
This Week in Games
(here's all the games involving the Pacific Division from this past week. we'll talk about the LA Kings' games in great detail, while the rest will mostly just be scores, unless I have something to say about it. you'll also get links to Eric's awesome recaps which will expand on everything I'm saying in much greater detail if you missed any of them.)
Monday, March 3rd
-Minnesota Wild 3, Calgary Flames 2
-Los Angeles Kings 2, Montreal Canadiens 1: Oh man, it's only been a week and I barely even remember this game, what is wrong with me? A cursory glance at Extra Skater suggests that the Kings were extremely dominant, at least as far as puck possession went: they had a 60.9% edge in overall shot attempts, 56.3% of unblocked attempts (block 'dem shots Habs!), and even more staggering numbers at 5v5 (61.5% shot attempt edge, 57.1% unblocked attempts). That's, uh, pretty good. The Habs are kind of a mess under coach Michel Therrien, and you need to look no further for proof than his playing of Douglas Murray for over 20 minutes in this game. As you might expect from an awful defenseman, Murray was buried by the Kings, as he posted a laughably bad 22.7% 5v5 Corsi (-23.8% relative to his team without him on the ice), easily the worst numbers among defensemen. Murray receiving more 5v5 ice time than PK Subban (who finished with 3 minutes more ice time in the game but only due to the power play) is incredible. Subban, if you're wondering, was a 64% 5v5 Corsi (+41.5% relative- no, that's not a typo), leading all players on the team. So uh, thanks for playing Murray over Subban, Therrien, appreciate it! Anyway, the Kings continued their recent power play upswing (REGRESSION!!!!!) with a beautiful backhand pass from Kopitar to Carter at the side of the net, who beat a sprawling Peter Budaj to break a 1-1 tie early in the 2nd period, and that's all the offense they would need as they coasted to victory. (recap) (gamethread)
Tuesday, March 4th
-Phoenix Coyotes 1, Vancouver Canucks 0: You may recall we talked last week about a huge couple of games Vancouver would be playing against two teams directly ahead of them in the West Wild Card race, and this would be game 1 of those two. You may also recall that the Canucks hilariously traded Roberto Luongo out of nowhere, making this game the first one of the post-Luongo era in Vancouver. And the Canucks responded to all this pressure in a huge game by.....laying a pretty epic egg. Ouch. Phoenix, losers of four straight entering this game, outshot the Canucks 32-23. Newly minted starter Eddie Lack did what he could, stopping all but one shot he faced, but it wasn't enough, as Mike Smith got the shutout and the Coyotes needed just that one goal for a huge victory. Well, whatever, you've still got another chance to make up ground in the Wild Card race, Canucks, I'm sure that one will go better for you.
-Edmonton Oilers 3, Ottawa Senators 2: Hey, this was wacky, I didn't even notice this until just now. Ales Hemsky scored two goals in this game.....for the Oilers, who beat the Senators 3-2. The very next day before the trade deadline, Hemsky was traded.....to the Senators (for almost nothing, it should be noted, although look at what LA gave up for Gaborik as well as the Vanek & Moulson returns and you can see how much of a buyer's market it was for scoring wingers). That's pretty wacky, right? Guess he made a good impression on them.
-Carolina Hurricanes 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (OT): San Jose had a pretty solid possession edge in this game (53.7% of all shot attempts, 55.7% of 5v5 attempts) but for whatever reason it didn't really translate into much of an edge in shots on goal (they outshot them only 37-35), and Carolina was able to stick around long enough to eventually win the game on Jay Harrison's (who?) OT winner. Both goalies were great in this one but the almost criminally underrated Anton Khudobin was just a little bit better than the Sharks' standout backup Alex Stalock, and that was enough to secure the win for the Canes.
Wednesday, March 5th
-Calgary Flames 4, Ottawa Senators 1: When's the last time you saw a team do the Easiest Back-to-Back in the NHL and actually lose both games in regulation? Good work there Ottawa!
-Montreal Canadiens 4, Anaheim Ducks 3 (SO)
Thursday, March 6th
-Los Angeles Kings 3, Winnipeg Jets 1: Marian Gaborik's debut! He didn't have any points but he did have a shot on his very first shift as a King, good possession numbers, and didn't look out-of-place at all on Kopitar's wing, so those were all good signs. The Kings soundly outplayed the Jets but couldn't score on them, and I'm sure everyone was thinking "here we go again" when Olli Jokinen broke the scoreless tie about twelve minutes into the 2nd period. But thankfully instead of turning into another one of "those games", things immediately turned around for us. Dustin Brown tied it just 42 seconds after Jokinen's goal, Mike RIchards fired a blaster of a slap shot to give the Kings a 2-1 lead less than four minutes later, and Alec Martinez added an insurance marker late in the 3rd on the power play as the Kings coasted to another relatively easy victory. As usual for the Kings, they actually played better possession-wise in the 3rd while holding onto a 1-goal lead than they had in the 2nd, continuing their impressive trend of bucking score effects. For all the press they get about being a defensive team, they really don't sit back at all while holding onto leads, and if anything put even more pressure on their opponents. This illuminating Darryl Sutter quote really sums up the Kings' mindset. Simply put, the Kings don't get scored on because they have the puck way more often than their opponents, and as Darryl said teams that think they're defending really well (collapsing, blocking a lot of shots, etc.) are usually just playing in their own zone too much. Anyway. (recap) (gamethread)
-Dallas Stars 6, Vancouver Canucks 1: Welp. This would indeed be Vancouver's other really important game in the Wild Card standings, and uh, it didn't go that hot either. New starter Eddie Lack gave up 5 goals on just 17 shots, newly acquired backup and ex-perennial-goalie-of-the-future for Florida Jacob Markstrom wasn't much better, allowing another goal on just 5 shots. By the time Zac Dalpe (who???) was scoring Vancouver's first goal of the night on the power play late in the 2nd, the game was already basically over, as Dallas held a 5-0 lead. Given Vancouver's incredible scoring struggles the game was probably over in the 1st when it was 3-0, realistically. It's hard not to almost feel sorry for the Canucks at this point, who are probably not as bad as their record (52.2% FenClose puts them 9th in the league, and just .1% behind supposedly-Cup-contenders St. Louis), but are watching their playoff hopes slowly but surely slip away. Sports Club Stats puts their playoff chances at an amazingly bad 5.0%, and it's not hard to see why: there's simply too many teams above them with not enough time left to make up ground, unless the Canucks have some kind of incredible run (we're talking something like winning anywhere from 14-to-16 games out of their remaining 18 to have a realistic shot). These two losses this week have effectively buried the Canucks and likely written the last chapter on them as a contender, especially with possible off-season moves (Kesler for one) and some kind of rebuild/refresh/retool or whatever looming on the horizon. Maybe they're competitive again next year, maybe not, but either way it's tough to see how they'll be a legitimate Stanley Cup contender again.
-Phoenix Coyotes 5, Montreal Canadiens 2
-Edmonton Oilers 3, New York Islanders 2 (OT): I wasn't born yet when this game would have actually been, like, a big deal, but it sure as hell isn't anymore. The Islanders held a 2-0 lead on the Oilers heading into the 3rd period only to cought it up and lose their 11th game (yes, seriously, ELEVENTH) when leading by 2+ goals after two periods. That's, uh, something else. But don't worry, the Islanders still had a hell of an encore planned!
-San Jose Sharks 5, Pittsburgh Penguins 3: The Penguins blew two different one-goal leads in the 3rd en route to losing to San Jose in regulation, and uh, this is the rare case where pictures do a better job summing it up than my words ever could. Sidney Crosby and the Penguins had a pretty awful game, one that lead to Crosby becoming the latest victim of the Xbox controller disconnected meme. Yep. Oh, and it was this game in particular that seemed to lead to the discussion on Twitter on just how bad Pittsburgh's bottom six is (how bad? pretty damn bad). Yes, the Y-axis on that graph is a little misleading, but the fact remains that's an enormous gap in both Corsi and scoring rate between their top- and bottom-six, one that every other contending team (including the Kings) just doesn't have when it comes to Corsi (many do when it comes to scoring, yes). Pittsburgh remains a deeply flawed team that is wasting away the prime years of two of the best players in the world, and are unlikely to win anything this year yet again (really looking forward to the MSM blaming it on Malkin & Crosby, in that order, though).
Friday, March 7th
-Calgary Flames 4, New York Islanders 3: So yes, for an encore after blowing a 2-goal lead in the 3rd to the Edmonton friggin' Oilers the night before, the Islanders rolled into Calgary and.....blew another 2-goal lead in the 3rd, losing in regulation this time to boot. Amazing, simply amazing.
-Pittsburgh Penguins 3, Anaheim Ducks 2 (SO): Guys let's all feel really bad for the Ducks. They greatly outplayed their opposition (55% of all shot attempts, 59.3% of unblocked attempts, 58% of 5v5 attempts, and an incredible 65.5% of unblocked 5v5 attempts), only to lose in a shootout. Yep, the PDucksO actually legitimately outplayed their opposition and got really unlucky. Shed a single tear for them.
Saturday, March 8th
-Washington Capitals 3, Phoenix Coyotes 2: So I have this friend who is a fan of the Coyotes and the Islanders (don't ask). The Coyotes had a 2-0 lead heading into the 3rd period, and unfortunately I was being a nice friend and torturing myself by watching this boring-ass game between two crappy teams with him. He turned to me before the 3rd and said, swear to god, "I would be worried about this if it was the Islanders." The Coyotes then proceeded to....blow their 2-goal lead in the 3rd and lose in regulation. All of the above really happened, and it was amazing and hilarious.
-Vancouver Canucks 2, Calgary Flames 1: Whoa, hold the phone, the Canucks beat the Flames. Everything I said about them earlier obviously wasn't true, plan the parade, etc.
-San Jose Sharks 4, Montreal Canadiens 0
Sunday, March 9th
-Los Angeles Kings 4, Edmonton Oilers 2: The Kings came into Edmonton and despite seemingly taking this game about as seriously as you would probably expect the 2013-14 LA Kings to take a game with the 2013-14 Edmonton Oilers (I mean, they were playing pretty well and stuff but I thought they clearly had it firmly in second-gear early on and throughout different parts of the game), still handily dominated puck possession, scoring chances, and got some very fortunate bounces (mostly off of various Jeff Carter extremities, cause man, that guy really needed to get going) as they coasted to another relatively easy victory, their seventh straight. Yep. I don't know what more there is to say about this one, except Pray for Ben Scrivens (he faced 50 shots in this game, bringing his average shots against as an Oiler to a hilariously bad 39.5). (recap) (gamethread)
This Week in Standings
|2. San Jose||65||41||17||7||89||32||199||157||+42||24-4-4||17-13-3||2-0-1|
|3. Los Angeles||65||37||22||6||80||31||159||137||+22||19-10-3||18-12-3||3-0-0|
Anaheim got 2 out of a possible 4 points about the lamest way imaginable, but with San Jose's very good 2-0-1 week, the Sharks have now closed in to a 4 point gap with the Ducks (albeit having played one more game than Anaheim). Since the Kings likely can't catch the Sharks for 2nd at this point- even when going 3-0-0 this week they only gained a single point on them and still sit 9 points back- we should probably be rooting for the Sharks to catch the Ducks. It would give us our first-ever Anaheim-LA playoff series and a much easier 1st round opponent to boot. So yeah, go Sharks, I guess (ew).
Man, how cool is it to see that gap from 3rd-to-4th back up in double digits? It was getting pretty tight there for a while, but the Kings now have a very solid 11 point cushion on the 4th place Coyotes, which should be more than enough to keep them out of the Wild Card barring some kind of epic collapse. The Coyotes meanwhile had a pretty good 2-1-0 week and that was more than enough for them to leapfrog Vancouver and take back 4th in the division, given Vancouver's quite bad 1-2-0 record this past week (including that 1-0 loss to Phoenix). But was it enough to get Phoenix back into a playoff spot, or do we still have just 3 teams from the Pacific in the playoffs? Let's take a look at the Wild Card standings to find out. Top two get in, the rest have to go attend Ted Cruz rallies in Texas with Tim Thomas (try saying that three times fast).
|1. Minnesota (C)||64||34||22||8||76||27||158||157||+1||22-7-3||12-15-5||1-1-1|
|2. Dallas (C)||64||31||23||10||72||28||185||179||+6||18-10-6||13-13-4||3-1-0|
|3. Phoenix (P)||64||29||24||11||69||25||177||185||-8||19-11-3||10-13-8||2-1-0|
|4. Vancouver (P)||66||29||27||10||68||26||153||174||-21||16-10-6||13-17-4||1-2-0|
|5. Winnipeg (C)||65||30||28||7||67||24||180||189||-9||15-13-5||15-15-2||0-2-1|
|6. Nashville (C)||64||26||28||10||62||25||152||191||-39||15-16-4||11-12-6||0-3-0|
|7. Calgary (P)||64||25||32||7||57||21||150||191||-41||14-15-3||11-17-4||2-2-0|
|8. Edmonton (P)||65||22||35||8||52||20||162||212||-50||12-16-3||10-19-5||2-1-0|
Nope, sorry Phoenix, you're still locked out. In fact you actually lost ground on Dallas, as the Stars went 3-1-0 and essentially won their game-in-hand on the Yotes to move from 1 point ahead to 3 points clear. The Coyotes did manage to leapfrog both Vancouver and Winnipeg to climb back up to 3rd, but they've still got a lot of work to do down the stretch if they want to unseat the Stars from that 2nd Wild Card spot. Above Dallas, Minnesota put up the picket fence, and suddenly Dallas looks like they could actually catch the Wild for the top Wild Card spot if things really break their way down the stretch. Unlikely, sure, but at least possible, which it didn't look prior to this week.
Meanwhile, Vancouver stayed in fourth, while Winnipeg was the big dropper, falling from tied with points with Dallas in 3rd all the way back to 5th and 5 points back. Ouch. 0-2-1 weeks will do that to you, and Winnipeg's played one more game than the Stars to boot. Vancouver is four points behind Dallas, but they've played two more games than the Stars (and the Coyotes too, who they also still trail), which really paints the picture of how tough it's going to be for them to get in the playoffs at this point. They'll need to play extremely well and likely get some major help from the teams above them on top of it to have a real shot. Meanwhile, Nashville has quietly collapsed back to where they probably should be after briefly flirting with relevance in the Wild Card race, going 0-3-0 (and a combined 0-4-1 since the Olympic break) to put themselves totally out of it again. And Edmonton won 2-out-of-3 games while not at all improving their -50 goal differential, somehow. That's, uh, very special.
This Week in #fancystats
(all stats are total attempts, not percentages. thanks to extra skater. also, as an experiment I'm going to now list the best & worst Corsi for the opponents, so you can see who contributed- positively and negatively- to their effort as well, because why not?)
Kings 2, Canadiens 1
Corsi: Kings 56-Canadiens 36 (overall), Kings 40-Canadiens 25 (5v5, 45.4 mins), Kings 25-Canadiens 16 (5v5 close, 30.9 mins), Kings 5-Canadiens 3 (5v5 tied, 9.7 mins)
Fenwick: Kings 40-Canadiens 31 (overall), Kings 28-Canadiens 21 (5v5, 45.4 mins), Kings 17-Canadiens 13 (5v5 close, 30.9 mins), Kings 4-Canadiens 3 (5v5 tied, 9.7 mins)
LA Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Regehr (+12), Voynov (+11), Williams (+8). Worst: Martinez/Nolan/Richards (tied, -1)
MTL Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Subban (+7), Desharnais (+5), Pacioretty (+4). Worst: Weise/Murray (tied, -12), Emelin (-11)
Kings 3, Jets 1
Corsi: Kings 78-Jets 46 (overall), Kings 56-Jets 39 (5v5, 48.4 mins), Kings 36-Jets 29 (5v5 close, 34.0 mins), Kings 30-Jets 28 (5v5 tied, 29.5 mins)
Fenwick: Kings 55-Jets 30 (overall), Kings 39-Jets 25 (5v5, 48.4 mins), Kings 24-Jets 20 (5v5 close, 34.0 mins), Kings 21-Jets 19 (5v5 tied, 29.5 mins)
LA Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Voynov/Regehr (tied, +22), Carter (+14). Worst: Mitchell (-11), Lewis (-10), Nolan (-6)
WPG Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Ellerby (+10), Pardy (+8), Tangradi (+5). Worst: Stuart/Truba (tied, -20), Byfuglien (-15)
Kings 4, Oilers 2
Corsi: Kings 78-Oilers 56 (overall), Kings 64-Oilers 47 (5v5, 50.0 mins), Kings 35-Oilers 20 (5v5 close, 27.6 mins), Kings 28-Oilers 18 (5v5 tied, 21.0 mins)
Fenwick: Kings 64-Oilers 39 (overall), Kings 51-Oilers 33 (5v5, 50.0 mins), Kings 26-Oilers 16 (5v5 close, 27.6 mins), Kings 21-Oilers 14 (5v5 tied, 21.0 mins)
LA Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Muzzin (+18), Doughty (+16), Toffoli (+11). Worst: Williams (-2), Regehr/Mitchell (tied, -1)
EDM Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Joensuu (+7), Hendricks (+4), Hall/Gagner (tied, even). Worst: Nugent-Hopkins/Eberle (tied, -15), Yakupov (-11)
Next Week in the Pacific
(this is exactly what it sounds like: the next week's schedule for all 7 Pacific Division teams. all times are pacific because, um, duh.)
|LA||@CGY (6:00)||-||-||vs.TOR (7:30)||-||vs.ANA (7:30)||-|
|ANA||vs.TOR (7:00)||-||@CGY (7:00)||-||@COL (6:00)||@LA (7:30)||-|
|SJ||-||vs.TOR (7:30)||-||@CBJ (4:00)||@NYI (4:00)||-||@NYR (1:00)|
|PHX||@TB (4:30)||@FLA (4:30)||-||@BOS (4:00)||-||vs.CGY (7:00)||-|
|VAN||vs.NYI (7:00)||-||@WPG (4:30)||-||@WSH (4:00)||-||@FLA (12:00)|
|CGY||vs.LA (6:00)||-||vs.ANA (7:00)||-||@DAL (5:30)||@PHX (7:00)||-|
|EDM||-||@MIN (5:00)||-||@STL (5:00)||@DET (4:30)||-||@CAR (12:00)|
The Kings wrap up their brief 3-game Western Canadian swing tonight in Calgary before returning to Staples for a 5-game homestand (three of which will be played against the pretty-bad-even-for-the-East trio of Toronto, Washington, and Florida). The big highlight of the week is of course hosting the Ducks on Saturday night, as the Kings look to avenge their embarrassing shutout loss from Dodgers Stadium.
Anaheim has a 4-game week that isn't exactly filled with top-of-the-line teams. They'll host the Leafs tonight, head over to Calgary on Wednesday, then Colorado on Friday before returning to SoCal to play the Kings in LA on Saturday. Meanwhile, the Sharks wrap up their 4-game homestand against the Leafs tomorrow before embarking on a brief 3-game Eastern Conference road trip against the Blue Jackets, Islanders, and Rangers.
Phoenix finishes off their own Eastern road trip with the two Florida teams in a back-to-back tonight and tomorrow, then the Bruins on Thursday. They return home to face Calgary on Saturday. Vancouver at least has a bit of a soft schedule coming up as they try desperately to claw their way back into playoff contention, as they'll host the Islanders tonight, head to Winnipeg on Wednesday, face the crappy Caps in DC on Friday, and finish their week in south Florida against the Panthers on Sunday. Finally, the Flames & Oilers will play some games that no one gives a crap about.
So that's your week that was in the Pacific. We're hitting the home stretch folks, and the playoffs are just around the corner. It's nice to feel relatively comfortable about our playoff spot for the second year in a row. Let's watch and see if anyone below us from the Pacific can join us in the upcoming weeks; I'm guessing not, personally, but we'll see. See you next time.