The Kings have continued to excel in their most recent stretch of games. Though they burped up a bad game against Minnesota, the overall trends continue to be overwhelmingly positive. Los Angeles has played a finely-tuned game since the Olympic Break (and perhaps more significantly, since the Marian Gaborik trade). You can read the details of their overall play since the break here and here.
Last week, I detailed how the Kings had tilted the ice so heavily that, if they were a player, they'd be receiving some of the softest minutes in the league. While the ice is still decidedly tilted toward the opposition's end of the rink, it wasn't quite as overwhelming over their past four games. Last week, 57.8% of the team's end-zone faceoffs occured on the offensive side of the puck. This week, they sit at merely 54.7%. Even a slight decline in puck dominance has still left the Kings with pretty absurd numbers in this regard.
Unlike a week ago, four Kings started more of their shifts in the offensive zone than the defensive zone. Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, and Justin Williams received the toughest zone starts, while every other player wound up on the other side of 50%. The most glaring figure in this regard would be Tanner Pearson, who started 56% of his shifts in the offensive zone overall. Darryl Sutter definitely sheltered the young winger, featuring him in the defensive zone just 8% of the time. Overall, Pearson began 87.5% of his end-zone shifts on the offensive side of the rink.
Another thing we've been closely monitoring is the rate at which the Kings are carrying the puck into the offensive zone. In the prior two updates, the Kings controlled 55% of their entries (4 games) and 49% of their entries (10 games). Those are both substantial leaps over their season numbers. For the duration of the season, the Kings are still sitting around 44 or 45%.
The Kings continued to improve in this area, although the numbers aren't as alarming as they were a week ago. Los Angeles controlled 49% of their entries in the past week. Aside from their terrible game against Minnesota, they were still very effective at trying to carry the puck into the zone. Minnesota, however, completely bogged down the neutral zone and stymied the Kings at the blue line. I'm not sure how much of that was because the Kings were bad or how much was because the Wild were good, but I suspect it's a lot more of the former than it is of the latter.
The Kings were led in this regard by Jake Muzzin (62.5%), Anze Kopitar (61.5%), Marian Gaborik (80%), Dustin Brown (62.07%) and Jeff Carter (81.25%). Every other King was below 60%, although a significant handful of players were exactly at 50%. Still, the trends are positive and it's good to see some different names on this list. Jake Muzzin's play in recent days has been superb. Dustin Brown has been pretty excellent in terms of underlying numbers since the break (Andrew wrote some about that here), it just hasn't quite yet turned into consistent goal production. If it doesn't buck before the playoffs, I wouldn't be surprised to see some people write about how he puts the team on its back come post-season, because he's mostly been an excellent player for this team lately. At some point his luck will turn and when the goals come, the stories will follow.
The last major thing we've been keeping close track of is scoring chance data. Generally speaking, scoring chances line up closely with possession. That was not the case in the past week. While the Kings' possession numbers remained solid, their scoring chance numbers dipped. I could explain it away with the fact that in Pittsburgh they were on their third game in fourth nights or how they earned a dose of score effects against Winnipeg. However, they were indeed outright bad against Minnesota, and its evidenced in numbers across the board. The overarching point here is that there isn't anything to be concerned about at a team-level, even with a slight dip in scoring chance success.
How about at an individual level, though? Perhaps so. I think the overall results with the Clifford/Richards/Lewis line are something to be a bit concerned about. While there are certainly blips in small samples, Clifford and Lewis have displayed an ability to drag down offense like no other Kings so far this season. That is still the case, even with Mike Richards between them. The Kings controlled between 10 and 15% of scoring chances with these three players on the ice, and that is just brutal for a four game stretch. Jordan Nolan sits in the same ballpark, though he didn't draw minutes with them terribly often. Nolan played mostly with Dustin Brown and Jarret Stoll, who are around 50% themselves. Unfortunately, the problematic players are still problematic. Linden Vey will actually help the overall offense in this regard, I'd guess. He'll slot in on the fourth line, permanently move Nolan to the press box, and free Richards from his ball and chain. The big question, after that, is who will Dwight King replace when he is ready. My personal hope is that he takes Kyle Clifford's spot, but we will see.
Unlike last week, the Kings got excellent performances from their top line forwards. Anze Kopitar led the way by being involved in 11.76 scoring chances/60 minutes of play at 5v5. He played excellent hockey this week, while Justin Williams and Marian Gaborik were more than adequate in supporting roles.
On the whole, the Kings are still playing outstanding hockey. If the game against Minnesota is the blip on the radar that it appears to be, then it will be essentially 18 games of terrific hockey since the Olympic break.
Below I'll attach a sortable table for you to explore on your own. If you have any questions about the stats mentioned, feel free to ask!
Underlying Numbers 3/27 - 4/2
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