2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, First-Round Preview: Let’s Crunch Some Numbers

Vegas ran away with the Pacific, but do their numbers back up their dominance?

There’s no shortage of interesting storylines in this matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights. The old guard versus the new upstart in town. An expansion team of spare parts and unknown quantities, beginning their season under the shadow of a great tragedy that brought the team and the city together. Two battle-tested goaltenders, both with their share of post-season triumphs and collapses. A world-class all-star center, against a revelation of a scoring machine.

If you’re talking narratives, there may not be a better matchup than Kings/Golden Knights. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have an age-old grudge match. Toronto has a chance to exorcise some demons against Boston.  But the Kings trying to resurrect themselves after being all but buried by most hockey pundits, taking on a team which was predicted to be somewhere between embarrassment and adequate, we guess? Now that’s a story.

While the general perception of these teams is that of a rising star taking the league by storm squaring off against the fading beauty trying for one last hurrah, the numbers — well, the numbers tell a slightly different story.

In most categories, save for the penalty kill, the Golden Knights are the clear winner.

But — look again.

Sometimes, the difference between these teams isn’t all that significant. Both teams are fairly average when it comes to puck possession. The Knights and the Kings allow about the same amount of shots per game. And while the goals for/against stats in the above chart look at all situations, it’s statistically an even closer story when you look only at 5v5 play: 2.65 goals for Vegas to 2.37 for Los Angeles.

The most striking thing is that even when Vegas leads the Kings statistically, Vegas still isn’t leading the league. They lead the Kings in Corsi For, sure, but by less than a percentage point. And they’re still the thirteenth best team in the league. (Then again, four of the league’s top ten possession teams didn’t even make the playoffs.)

With the top two lines of each team potentially playing each other to a draw, this series may hinge on depth scoring and special teams. Will Vegas’ superior power play finally be able to break through the Kings’ penalty kill? They were unsuccessful during the regular season series, and the Kings’ penalty kill ended the season on a hot streak, surrendering only one power play goal against in their last ten games.

Where do the Kings have an edge?

Well, they’re not called the league’s best third period team for nothing.

When it comes to third period goals, the Kings were edged out by the Penguins; the defending champs had 101 third period goals. Four of those 101 goals were scored in the Pens’ last two games of the regular season. And while Vegas has a respectable 88 goals — good for ninth in the league — where the Kings really shine is limiting those chances throughout the last forty minutes of place. Slow, inconsistent starts have plagued the Kings all season, and their goals for and against in the first period bear witness to that. We hope that’s a trend they miraculously figure out how to correct by the time the puck drops tonight, but if not, there’s some faith to be had in the Kings’ superior late game play.

Aside from the Kings’ stellar penalty kill, which weathered some tough times while the team floundered in January, then rebounded to retake the top spot in the league, neither team has an overwhelming edge over the other.

Numbers don’t ever tell you the whole story but in the case of this playoff matchup, the numbers tell us that it’s going to be a closely contested series.

Statistics sourced from NHL.com, Natural Stat Trick, and Hockey-Reference.com. Corsi stats reflect 5v5 play. Shots and Goals For/Against stats are All Strengths.