Despite being within reach of their second division title, the Los Angeles Kings ultimately ceded the division lead to the Anaheim Ducks. This set up their third playoff matchup in the last four years with the San Jose Sharks. With two teams that have seen so much of each other in the post season, we have to ask what is different this year that could produce an outcome that is not what we've seen over the past two series- a Kings team advancing to the next round. Perhaps the most vital factor of the Kings' success is their ability to control a game by outshooting their opponents via offense generation in their opponents' end and offense suppression in their own end. Let's look at how the the two teams have performed in that regard, as well as against one another, to get an idea of how this may impact what could be a grueling series.
The correlation of a score adjusted or correlated possession metrics with winning has been well established. It's easy to find numerous articles that will tell you about how the past Stanley Cup winners were usually elite possession teams. If you want to talk unadjusted stats, there's no questioning the King's dominance. The Kings finished this year with a 56.4% Corsi For percentage, while San Jose was in ninth spot with 51.7%. While the Kings' number is impressive, there have been higher, including by them in 2013-2014. What is most impressive is the fact the second place team, Pittsburgh, is a full 3.7% below them in second at 52.7%. That's the largest gap ever recorded since missed and blocked shot tracking began.
Win percentage, last 45 NHL playoff series, for better:— Jonathan Willis (@JonathanWillis) April 11, 2016
No. 1 G SV%: 58%
Goal diff.: 62%
Score-adjusted Fenwick: 73%
Let's toot LA's horn a little more too, why don't we? The Kings are the only team to have an above 50% when leading, with 51% of attempts occurring in their opponents' end. If the game is tied, they control it even more, with 57.1% of shot attempts. Finally, should you be in the unfortunate situation to have the lead on the Kings, they put up a 62.4% when behind. That may help explain how they're tied for second in wins after trailing. One of the reasons for the Kings' success is their ability to play this type of game consistently. More than just within a game, over long trends in the season, they are playing with possession through bad bouts of PDO and scoring chances. We even covered how they're probably the most consistent at scoring chance numbers previously on Jewels.
When a team posts numbers this excellent, you would expect some individual contributors that stand out, even on a great team. This team certainly has them, though the top names may be somewhat of a surprise to fans. First on the list is Drew Doughty. While he's been a positive possession player in the past, he had a career year in that regard. He finished 4.9% relative to his teammates, which combined with his nearly 30 minutes of ice time a night, meant he finished the season with the highest ever Corsi differential. Most of his abilities were centered on denying the other team chances at the net, making him one of the elite shutdown defensemen in the NHL. Other names to tout? Nick Shore, of course. The young forward crushed his assignments as 4C, being the highest relative player on the team (besides the few games that Forbort played) and finishing at 61.3% on the year. The Kings have nine of the top ten names on that list, by the way. Finally, we have to give accolades to Milan Lucic. Not only did he post great numbers on both sides of the puck, but any King that spent any considerable amount of time with him was made better.
Ok, good news has to run out some time, right? First of all, it would be unfair to San Jose to not mention that they've progressively become a better possession team as the regular season has marched on. Their average on the season is weighed down by a lot of struggles early on in the year, but it's fair to say they've developed to a point that is very near what the Kings are at. Just look at the comparison below of Corsi For percentage on the year, with a 10 game rolling average.
The Kings are the team in silver, whereas San Jose is shown in gold. You can see that as of mid-March, both teams were excellent possession wise. LA's recent scoring struggles have helped balloon their numbers as of recently, but the teams are on near equal ground lately. That's essentially what the season series indicates, too. If you include all five games of the season series, the possession edge goes to LA with a 230-209 attempt advantage, which comes out to 52.4%. LA's most recent game is one in which they led attempts 62-43, but spent much of the game trailing. There is no stark advantage here.
SJ-LA: Seems like an uncharacteristically tough season series for Braun-Vlasic pic.twitter.com/65vxKRtF9k— Muneeb Alam (@muneebalamcu) April 13, 2016
No doubt, a lot of the possession in this series will come down to the personnel and their deployment. As far as injuries, San Jose is healthy, including play driver Vlasic. Marian Gaborik does a lot to drive offense, but will we see him, and when? Will San Jose exploit matchups that Coach Sutter does not react to? How much line shuffling will we see as Sutter tries to find an advantage? Will players rotate out to try and increase their effectivness - perhaps Nick Shore for Andreoff (or Clifford sits for Andreoff to take his spot)? If anything, San Jose hurt their possession numbers with the acquisitions they made at the deadline, but they're still trending up as a team. The Kings can probably find an advantage in this metric, but they're really going to have to work for it. Thankfully, if past playoffs are any indication, rolling up their sleeves is no problem.