The consistently inconsistent, oft-frustrating Los Angeles Kings find themselves in somewhat of an unusual spot at the midway point of the season: securely in the hunt for the playoffs, second in their division and fifth in the conference. They’re getting some outstanding goaltending and their shooting percentage isn’t in the basement for a change. So what gives? Are they actually for real? Will they win the Stanley Cup this year?
OK, so that last question is unanswerable (unless you have a crystal that can tell us the future, in which case, I’d like to know the winning powerball numbers, please), but are the odds at least in their favor? That’s this post will try to determine—if the Kings are good or lucky, or maybe a little of both.
Back in October, the Kings rattled off eight straight victories before succumbing to the New Jersey Devils. Since then they’ve been a .500 hockey club (in 10 games played, they’ve collected 10 points). They’re still (technically) on pace for 106 points, so they’re sitting pretty during the bye week.
Their corsi numbers are largely uninspiring, which lends some concern as to whether or not they can keep up their pace. If they only manage one point per game over their next 41 games, they should make the playoffs, but it’d be close, which is not ideal. (Going .550 would give them 98 points, which would be more than enough to make the playoffs.) When we examined the Kings’ success at 16 games, they were 14th in the NHL in CF%. Since then, they’ve slid a bit.
An interesting thing to note here is that Kings aren’t necessarily getting shelled in attempts against. However, they are giving up quite a few high danger chances and are relying heavily on Jonathan Quick (and occasionally Darcy Kuemper) to stop the puck. When the goalies are all too human (as Quick was in Calgary), the Kings are in deep trouble.
This heat map, courtesy of Hockey Viz, shows the primary areas where the Kings allow shots. The right side of the ice is particularly weak, especially as it gets into the high danger areas. (“High danger” is typically defined within the so-called “home plate area”.) Per Natural Stat Trick, L.A. is 12th in HD chances against and goals against, though they are 9th in HDSV%.
Contrast that with the heat map of their offense:
Earlier in the season they were much better about getting into the so-called “dirty” areas. It seems that as their shooting percentage has dipped a bit, so has their ability to get into high danger scoring areas. The Kings are third worst in HDCF%—meaning, only the walking dead Anaheim Ducks and the Washington Capitals are worse at generating high danger scoring chances at 5v5—than the Kings. On top of all of that, the Kings are not even generating a lot of shot attempts, period.
But the caveat here is that the Kings appear to have become somewhat of a rush team this season so their heat map might not necessarily reflect the danger of their shots. There is no concrete evidence that indicates they are indeed a rush team, just the eye-test. By context of using their league-average team shooting percentage (more on that later) and sub-average possession numbers, they’re either a bad-to-mediocre team getting very lucky in offense (debatable given their recent record) or even luckier in goaltending (potentially—Quick’s numbers are pretty close to his career high). They’re not getting buried in shot attempts against and they’re not really generating many shots of their own; thus, a conclusion can be drawn that the eye test is supported by the (lack of) data.
Overall, they’ve found success largely due to goaltending and a near league-average shooting percentage (their 8.21% is good for 12th per Natural Stat Trick). In case there were any doubts that goaltending has been their biggest crutch this season, they’ve averaged the fewest goals against per game at 2.36 in all situations, according to NHL.com. And according to corsica, they’re fourth best at 5v5, averaging 1.95 goals against per 60. Plus, Quick has a .926 save percentage, only slightly below that of his career high (.929) set in 2012, nearly a full tenth higher than his career average (which doesn’t sound like much but is typically one of the many differences pointed to between elite and average goalies).
The data suggests that the Kings are on unsustainable course to success right now. They don’t shoot much, they give up more shots than they take, they allow a lot of high danger chances without creating much of their own, and rely far too heavily on excellent goaltending to bail them out.
Yet, something may be driving their fortunes more than pure randomness—a belief in themselves. If it works for the Vegas Golden Knights, why can’t it work for them? While not measurable, a Taco Bell Take from early in the season said that the players are having fun and are enjoying playing for their coach. Dustin Brown has said many times throughout his career that you have to create your own luck. Perhaps this is their version of doing just that.
But as John Stevens noted, they still have “lots of work to do.” Hopefully after the bye week, they’ll be fully recharged and ready to focus on the next 40 games and earn their wins beyond what Quick and Kuemper can do for them.