Games 1 & 2 Kings v. Canucks Line Matching and Possession Preview

A special playoff edition collabrative post brought to you by Niesy and Robert.


If anyone wants to know the story of the Kings' season, we can point to two major changes which made a positive impact on the ice. Improvements in their shot ratio appear after Murray's firing in December, and a few games after the Carter-for-Johnson swap before trade deadline.


All shots are at even strength (5v5, 4v4). Info from Time On Ice.

After Murray's departure we see a stabilization period under interim coach Stevens, and finally Sutter.

The trade for Carter and Voynov's recall happen just before Game 62 (the 4-0 home victory over Chicago).

After a rather grueling stretch where they played 7 of 8 games on the road, the Kings arrive back home and really take off (Game 70, the home victory over Detroit). They finish out the year out-shooting their opponents by a wide margin whether they're at home or away. This stretch also coincides with a marked resurgence in scoring.

Now let's take a look at what we might expect in these first two games in Vancouver.
As noted in Fear the Fin's excellent playoff preview both teams are very strong possession teams, with the Kings winning the head-to-head Fenwick battle 53.5% to 46.5%. Also no team finished hotter than the Kings as noted in a recent Broad Street Hockey post.
I ran Zone Adjusted Corsi numbers based on the 4 head-to-head games played in the season series and found similar numbers as FtF, 55% Kings to 45% Canucks.
Here's how the numbers broke down by player:

Looking at the Kings numbers what we see is that there are a lot of bottom 6 type guys at the top, while top 6 guys are toward the bottom. For the Canucks we see the opposite affect with Henrik Sedin and Kesler being near the top and bottom 6 guys near the bottom.
I had planned to look at how the teams line matched each other in the regular season battle, but the results were far too noisy given how many changes each team made (the Murray firing, the Carter trade, the Canucks deadline deals). What I found was that early in the year the Canucks were matching to zone start (meaning they were just trying to get their top line out there whenever there was an offensive zone face off, and vice versa with a more defensive minded line). But in the last game (the sole post-deadline game between the two) there was a dramatic shift in how Vancouver used their lines.
Here were the match-up numbers for the game in question:

Percentage of Ice Time Versus Specific Opponents in 3/26/12 LA v. VAN
vs Henrik (L1) vs Kesler (L2) vs Pahlsson (L3) vs Maholtra (L4)
Kopitar 10% 13% 72% 6%
Richards 16% 61% 10% 5%
Stoll 46% 26% 35% 23%
Fraser 27% 25% 1% 47%

So what we see is that Pahlsson was blanketed on Kopitar pretty much the whole game. This is what he was acquired to do (basically fulfil the role on their team that Handzus filled for the Kings in previous years).Richards and Kesler were expectedly matched together.

The Sedin line was deployed mostly against Stoll and Fraser in an effort to exploit weaker opponents. So how did this all work out?

The most striking number is Stoll's. Striking because we just observed that he faced more time versus the Sedin line than any other. The Stoll line had an incredible amount of success controlling the puck in spite of some very tough match ups. After seeing this the idea of messing with that line at all (i.e. sitting Penner) seems misguided.

It'll be interesting to see how this all goes down tonight. Will Alain Vigneault continue with this strategy even though there was no ground gained by the Sedin line over the balanced bottom 6 of the Kings? Or will he switch back to his zone matching strategy? Or will their be something entirely new? We shall see!