Breaking Down the Playoff Chase

Pretty much the worst-case scenario for the Kings last night. LA got destroyed in regulation against Chicago. Vancouver picked up a regulation road win against St. Louis, and Calgary... Calgary did this against Dallas. That leaves our heroes 3 points back in the standings with just 6 games to play. Seems dire, right? Well, it kind of is at this point, to be honest. But remember that the Kings have a game in hand, and it's enough that in spite of everything LA still controls its own destiny. Take a look:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic Catching Calgary

  • The Kings have 88 points with 6 games left. The Flames have 91 points with 5 games left. The Kings play the Flames at Staples on April 9th. If the Kings run the table, winning that Calgary game in regulation, they'll hit 100 points while Calgary would top out at 99. That would guarantee LA 2nd or 3rd in the Pacific division.
  • So how likely is running the table? The last six games are: vs. Edmonton (back-to-back for Edmonton), vs. Colorado (back-to-back for Colorado), @ Vancouver, @ Edmonton (back-to-back for LA), @ Calgary, vs. San Jose. Edmonton, Colorado, and Calgary are the three worst possession teams in the Western Conference, so that's a good sign. San Jose and Vancouver have roughly league-average possession numbers. Meanwhile, we at Jewels from the Crown continue to think the Kings are good.

    Now, that doesn't make running the table likely. Even if we decide the Kings have, say, a 75% chance of winning each game against Edmonton/Colorado/Calgary and a 65% chance against San Jose/Vancouver (obviously oversimplifying here), that still gives them just a 13% chance of running the table. And those odds are probably too generous to the Kings, given how random single hockey games are.

    Still, the schedule is definitely friendly, and 5-1-0 or 4-1-1 are strong possibilities.

    Meanwhile, the Flames will play @ St. Louis, @ Edmonton, vs. Phoenix, vs. Los Angeles, @ Winnipeg. That's tougher. St. Louis and Winnipeg are two very good teams. The Flames can't reasonably be favored in either of those games. I think it's very likely that they drop at least 2 or 3 points in their 4 non-LA games. Remember that the Flames are riding an unsustainable wave of percentages; their possession numbers have been awful all year and have been especially bad since Mark Giordano's injury. Even Edmonton and Phoenix are way ahead of them. It's really bad.

    So this is LA's most likely path to the playoffs--LA goes about 4-1-1 down the stretch while Calgary finishes 2-2-1 or so (both records including an LA regulation victory over Calgary), and LA squeaks out the 3rd seed in the Pacific.

    But what if LA and Calgary finish tied in points? Currently Calgary has 3 more ROWs, which is the first tiebreaker. But if LA beats Calgary in regulation, they could actually catch Calgary in ROWs. In that case, the next tiebreaker is points acquired in the season series... except in this scenario both teams would have 6. The next next tiebreaker would be to throw out the first game in the season series played at Los Angeles (since there were 3 Kings-Flames games played at Los Angeles this year and 2 played at Calgary). That game was a loss for the Kings, so throw it out and the Kings win the tiebreaker! Yes!

    Catching Winnipeg

  • Even if the Flames finish hot and the Kings can't catch them, all is not lost. The Winnipeg Jets are 2 points ahead of the Kings with six games left. They finish vs. New York Rangers, vs. Vancouver, @ Minnesota, @ St. Louis (back-to-back for Winnipeg), @ Colorado, vs. Calgary. If Calgary wins that Winnipeg-Calgary game on the last day of the season, Winnipeg might even end up being the easier target to catch. The Kings do have a strong ROW lead over Winnipeg. Unfortunately, Winnipeg is very good (53.4% score-adjusted Corsi). That's balanced somewhat by their tougher schedule.
  • This is a less desirable way to make the playoffs because the Kings would end up as a wild card, and either go on the road against Anaheim (not so bad) or on the road against the Central champion (pretty bad). Kings fans are probably more concerned with getting in than quibbling about matchups, though.

    Note: I have no idea why Darryl Sutter said the wild card is out of the picture. The wild card is not out of the picture.

    By the way, about that Winnipeg-Calgary game on the last day: here's a fun scenario. The Kings go 3-0-2 heading into the last day and have 96 points and 38 ROW. The Flames have gone 2-0-2 and have 97 points and 40 ROW. The Jets have gone 4-1-0 and have 98 points and 36 ROW. If the Jets-Flames game ended in regulation, the Kings would pass the loser with a win over San Jose. However, the Jets and Flames could guarantee themselves both playoff spots if the game went into overtime; then the Kings would be left out.

    That... probably won't happen though.

  • Finally, the Kings could technically still pass Vancouver (currently at 93 points with six games left) if the Canucks totally fell apart. But that's very unlikely and odds are if the Kings play well enough to pass Vancouver they'd also pass Calgary and/or Winnipeg anyway.
  • Given that LA is an excellent team, has an extremely soft remaining schedule, and only needs one of two teams to struggle a bit down the stretch, I think LA's playoff odds are still probably above 50%, even though the Kings are a couple points back with not many games left.

    This LA team is approximately the same quality as the 2012, 2013, and 2014 versions (which should be no surprise, as it's mostly the same players). If the Kings do sneak into the playoffs, they can certainly do some damage.