Note: All data was taken prior to Sunday night’s game.
By now you’ve probably heard that the Los Angeles Kings are off to their best start in history. At 11-3-2, they have earned points in 81% of their games and have won 68% of them, good enough for third in the league.
But it’s still fairly early in the season. Only four weeks have gone by and there are still 26 weeks (give or take a few days) left to play. It’s a long road ahead. So how sustainable is their success to this point? Will they luck their way into the post season a la Calgary Flames of 2015 or Columbus Blue Jackets 2016? Or are they actually for real?
Let’s start by looking at team PDO league-wide.
PDO by Team
PDO is the sum of a team's shooting percentage and its save percentage at 5v5 and is based on the theory that most teams will ultimately regress (or progress) toward a sum of 100. In other words, it’s generally a shortcut for luck. Unsurprisingly, the Tampa Bay Lightning are number one. With the amount of talent on their roster, it’s probably safe to assume that they’re legitimate.
Perhaps most surprising is the team at number nine. We’re usually accustomed to seeing them hanging around in the basement. In fact, between 2011-12 and 2016-17, excluding the lockout shortened season in 2013, LA’s aggregate PDO was 99.44, fifth worst in the NHL. (Given that we’re looking at five seasons worth of data, mathematically, many teams will end up over 100.) The team’s save percentage took a bit of a hit against Tampa and is currently just under 93% while their shooting percentage also dipped from an early season (10 games) 9.03% to 8.86%. Most likely, their numbers are starting to normalize.
As noted in the Nov. 8 Off Day Watch, Jonathan Quick is stopping pucks at a rate close to his career average. Darcy Kuemper won’t play many games, and so as long as everyone manages to stay healthy, there’s a good chance that the team can maintain that number. However, Quick has spent the bulk of his career as a starter playing for Darryl Sutter, whose system was all about suppressing shots against. It’s hard to say how the new defense strategy will affect everyone’s favorite angry sprawling cat but so far, he seems up to the challenge.
Now here’s where things get interesting. The Kings as a team are converting at their highest rate since 2010-11. That year, Anze Kopitar was nearly a point per game play with 73 points in 75 games played and Dustin Brown scored 28 goals. Both men will be key to Los Angeles’ offense moving forward and if they can maintain the pace they’re on right now, then the overall team’s shooting percentage should stay around 8% (which would be very good). For what it’s worth, Kopitar is shooting at nearly 27% so he’s definitely going to cool off. His career high shot rate at 5v5 is 12.77%. As for Brown, it’s unclear. His career aggregate is 7.46% (he’s currently converting about 8% of his shots) but his numbers are all over the place.
More than likely, the Kings will be able to keep up their pace with some cooling. Corsica’s model predicts an expected goals for of 2.54/60 and an expected goals against of 2.64/60. So they’ll probably win a lot of close, one-goal games. But they’re also going to lose a lot of close, one-goal games. It’s a 3-2 league, right? While PDO is by no means predictive, there’s nothing super alarming in the two figures that make it up.
Corsi tends to be more predictive of a team’s success. Not shockingly, given the dismissal of Darryl Sutter, the Kings have lost their spot at the top of the corsi leader board. Of course, just because one team is good at shot attempts and shot suppression doesn’t necessarily mean they will achieve the ultimate goal or even make the playoffs.
From first to... distinctly average. Again, the Tampa game kind of skewed their bell curve for the season given how badly they got shelled through 40 minutes before score effects kicked in. (They still ended up minus seven in 5v5 shot attempts.) Rob Vollman explained their current corsi numbers this way:
a team frequently holding a lead has a lower SAT percentage than expected because it tends to go into a defensive shell in the final period, which can skew the shot count. The Kings have often been ahead this season. When looking exclusively at situations when the score is tied, the Kings rank fourth with an SAT of 54.46 percent.
According to the NHL’s stat site, when the score is tied, LA is second best in the league in shot attempts for (Vollman wrote this article about 10 games into the season) and they are fourth best at unblocked shot attempts, meaning they still rank top-five when it comes to getting their shots through. In their five losses (three regulation, two overtime), they have trailed after two periods and have won once when trailing after two periods. The Kings also have five wins when leading after two periods. This would indicate that they’re not necessarily as “bad” as their corsi (unblocked shot attempts) might lead you to believe. Corsi is all about predictability. There are many elements of the Kings’ game right now that are certainly repeatable and sustainable over the course of a season, especially when games are close.
Currently, LA has a win percentage of .750. The best team since the lockout shortened season (excluding that year’s data) was the Washington Capitals in 2015-16 with a .732 win percentage. The Kings are not a .700 team. Last year, the Caps were the only team above .700%. For what it’s worth, the Stanley Cup runner ups Nashville Predators had a win percentage of .573%. The Kings are probably not a .500% team. It’s too early to tell, but they’re probably closer to a .600 team, which is how they’re pacing. In other words: they're an average-to-slightly-above-(but still good)-average team.
There’s likely one other thing driving the team’s success this year.
Oops that’s not it, though that’s probably a big factor. Having fun and being excited seems like a big deal, especially compared to the difference between this year and last year.
These are shot location charts from 2010-11 to 2016-17. Now compare those to this year.
As you can see, there’s a big emphasis on shots from the middle. And apparently the right side, curiously. But getting into the so-called dirty areas and really concentrating on quality over quantity seems to be effective. The more high danger chances you generate, the more likely you are to score. The more likely you are to score, the more likely you are to win.
A higher tempo game, a pinch of luck, and getting into areas where you’re more likely to score are all keys to LA’s success so far. Plus, the players are having fun again. That part counts for something, right?