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2014 Stanley Cup Final Preview: The Forwards

Most analysts are giving LA the edge here. Are they correct in doing so?

Bruce Bennett

This morning, Andrew looked at the New York Rangers' defensemen. Now, onto the matchup that some are calling the Los Angeles Kings' biggest advantage in this series: forwards. What the Rangers may lack in star power, they make up for in depth. Is that enough to counter Kopitar, Gaborik, Carter, and the rest? CONSULT THE CHARTS!


Stealing John's explanation for the stats I'm using below...

(For possession stats, note the inclusion of Corsi & Fenwick Rel--this means the Corsi or Fenwick percentage when that player was on the ice vs. when he wasn't on the ice for his team. If someone is -5%, for instance, that means the Rangers were attempting fewer shots when that player was on the ice than they did without him. The opposite holds true for positive. Makes sense, right? Okay, cool.

One last stat we'll talk about is zone start percentage, which is the percentage of starts in the offensive zone compared to the defensive zone. The formula for it is OZ Start % divided by OZ starts + DZ starts. A number above 50% means he's starting more shifts in the offensive zone, while a number below 50% means he's starting more shifts in the defensive zone.

Note: all percentages are from regular season, 5v5 score close situations. This will minimize the effects that blowouts, power plays, penalty kills, and late-game flurries have on the statistics.)

First Line - New York Rangers

GP Corsi Corsi Rel Fenwick Fenwick Rel PDO ZS%
Kreider 66 55.10% 2.20% 55.60% 2.20% 100.5 56.90%
Stepan 82 53.50% 0.50% 54.10% 0.80% 99.4 51.30%
Nash 65 55.90% 3.40% 56.00% 3.60% 98.3 54.20%

Anze Kopitar, here is what you'll (probably) be up against in the Stanley Cup Final. The Rangers have impressive possession statistics up and down the lineup, and it starts with the first line, who has produced without receiving the advantageous zone starts of, say, Jonathan Toews. The first line also doesn't play as much as your typical first line; Stepan's been averaging 19 minutes a game in these playoffs, but Nash has played around 17 minutes a game, and Kreider is only out there for 15 minutes a game. Stepan gets penalty kill time that the others don't, which could contribute. In the playoffs, this line has handled the toughest competition of any Rangers combination.

The good news for LA? For the first time in these playoffs, Kopitar is not going up against an elite center. Stepan struggles in the faceoff circle (41.5% in the playoffs), sustained a broken jaw in the Eastern Conference Finals, and has a mere 13 points in 19 games. The bad news for LA? Nine of those points came in six games, after Chris Kreider's return from a broken hand. Kreider is on a point-per-game pace in these playoffs.

This line is capable of producing, and with the snakebitten Rick Nash finally finding the net last round, there's no reason to sleep on them. They'll test Kopitar's line, but if Kopitar looks like he did in rounds 1-2, the Kings can take advantage of this matchup.

Second Line - New York Rangers

GP Corsi Corsi Rel Fenwick Fenwick Rel PDO ZS%
Hagelin 72 54.30% 0.70% 53.80% -0.60% 100.5 62.10%
Richards 82 55.00% 2.60% 55.40% 2.60% 99.9 66.40%
St. Louis 19 52.90% -2.20% 50.80% -3.70% 100.8 60.10%

Things start getting interesting here, as two familiar veterans pair with the incredibly speedy Carl Hagelin. This line is also Alain Vigneault's weapon of choice in the offensive zone; if that's anything to go off of, we'll most likely see these forwards match up with Jarret Stoll, Dwight King, and Justin Williams. The biggest concern, in that sense, is Hagelin's speed; none of those three forwards can keep up, so it'll be up to the "mobile" defenseman on the ice to catch up if he breaks free.

Of course, this line is capable of scoring every bit as much as the first line, and if you believe in "clutch," watch out for this line. However, these forwards have benefited from good luck in the playoffs; Henrik Lundqvist is stopping 95% of shots with one of these three forwards on the ice, so their goals for/goals against numbers are considerably more impressive than their shots for/shots against numbers. Having said that, the same can be said for Stoll and Williams. It sets up an intriguing matchup which won't get much attention.

Third Line - New York Rangers

GP Corsi Corsi Rel Fenwick Fenwick Rel PDO ZS%
Pouliot 80 55.10% 2.30% 54.30% 0.70% 101.1 58.40%
Brassard 81 53.40% 0.20% 53.80% 0.20% 96.6 60.50%
Zuccarello 77 53.60% 1.00% 53.30% 0.00% 99.5 59.00%

The depth is starting to show at this point. A third line which controls 54% of shots is a huge asset, no matter how you slice it. It showed in New York's Game 6 matchup with Montreal, as this line outshot the Canadiens 11-1 at even strength. Mats Zuccarello (like Kopitar, the only NHLer from his home country) had a career year, Derick Brassard overcame an injury to chip in during the Eastern Conference Finals, and the oft-scapegoated Benoit Pouliot briefly got people on his side before going scoreless in the ECF. Other fun facts:

  • Pouliot also takes penalties as much as Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams. In other words: a lot.
  • They are the only line in these playoffs to score two goals in a single overtime.
  • They were arguably the best depth line in the playoffs during the earlier rounds.

Fourth Line - New York Rangers

GP Corsi Corsi Rel Fenwick Fenwick Rel PDO ZS%
Boyle 82 48.00% -6.40% 50.30% -4.00% 98.8 23.70%
Moore 73 51.80% -1.60% 52.90% -0.70% 96.7 25.20%
Dorsett 51 50.80% -3.50% 51.60% -2.50% 95.7 34.60%

Did the above usage chart look familiar? If so, it's partially because the fourth line is very reminiscent of the Blackhawks' fourth line. Much like Marcus Kruger and Ben Smith were handed primarily defensive zone starts, Brian Boyle, Dominic Moore, and Derek Dorsett do it here. That could set up a number of showdowns between this line and Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson. The fourth line does its job admirably; their lower Relative Corsi and Fenwick can be excused a big given where they usually start their shifts. They will also chip in the occasional goal; see Game 6, when Moore scored the game's only goal to send New York to the Stanley Cup Final.

However, they play a lot compared to a normal fourth line... too much, arguably. If they go head-to-head with Mike Richards and Richards plays up to his capabilities, this could be a mismatch in favor of LA. If the fourth line plays their opponents to a draw- and they did it during the regular season- it's a win for New York.

Lastly, here are some of the Rangers' reserves. Daniel Carcillo and J.T. Miller have been unavailable due to injury and suspension, respectively. Carcillo's now eligible to play starting in Game 4 after his suspension was shortened. Will he? It probably depends on the outcome of the first three games.

Extra Forwards - New York Rangers

GP Corsi Corsi Rel Fenwick Fenwick Rel PDO ZS%
Carcillo 31 51.70% -3.30% 54.20% -1.20% 98.7 32.60%
Miller 30 53.10% -0.10% 53.80% -0.70% 99.3 58.90%
Fast 11 56.40% 3.30% 51.40% -2.40% 82.1 44.00%

Rangers fans, if you have any input, I would love to hear it in the comments. After all, you've watched this team all season.