Kings-Hawks Playoff Preview: The Underlying Numbers

Maybe it wasn't as bad as it seemed?

Eric already did a great piece on the overall state of affairs in the season series, so we're just going to focus on zone entries and scoring chances.

December 15th (CHI 3 - LAK 1)

This one was a mess. Top to bottom. No one was good. Scoring chances in this game came out 23-7 (17-3 EV) in favor of Chicago. Most likely, it featured the Kings' worst neutral zone performance of the season. Chicago gained the line more often (71-56) and with more puck control (58% controlled entries to the Kings' 38%). It was one of the very few times all season long that the Kings got so thoroughly dominated. Even in games where they got run over on the scoring chance sheet, they were able to make possession close or SOMETHING. However, nothing went right in this game. Is there a reason for that? Maybe. That was their fourth game in six nights and their second road back-to-back of the week. Not a complete excuse to get rolled over, but it undoubtedly played a role.

December 30th (CHI 1 - LAK 0)

With no scheduling quirks tying them down, the Kings were able to put forth a considerably better effort. They limited Chicago's offense and out-performed them by leaps and bounds at even strength. Though their third period effort left something to be desired, the Kings overwhelmingly controlled play for the first two periods. Scoring chances for the game were 14-14 overall, but 13-8 LA at even strength. Chicago still controlled the neutral zone on the whole, but the Kings were at least able to build some speed in the neutral zone to gain the offensive blue line with control. Chicago took overall entries 71-59, but controlled entries were close (CHI 58% - LAK 54%).

February 3rd (CHI 5 - LAK 3)

The final game of the three was unquestionably the best effort of the season series for the Kings. In a fast-paced, high-octane game, the Kings again fell, but this one can probably be pinned on below average goaltending as opposed to below average play. The underlying numbers were incredibly close. Scoring chances were again tied, this time at 18 apiece overall. However, the Kings once again took control of 5v5 play by out-chancing Chicago 15-11. There's a caveat there, though: the Kings were chasing the game for large portions which could give them a slight edge in chances. Los Angeles was also able to play their best game of the season series in the neutral zone. Entries were split almost evenly (CHI 56 - LAK 54) and both teams were able to gain the line with control over half the time (CHI 57% - LAK 52%). Jonathan Quick's only outing of the season against Chicago was less than stellar, as he forfeited 4 goals on just 22 shots.

How Have the Kings Been Playing Anyway?

Pretty, pretty well. They really didn't play great hockey in the first three games of the Anaheim series (a trend!), but they improved steadily as the series dragged along and were very significantly the better team in the final four. Overall scoring chances were 57-33 in Anaheim's favor through three games, and even more lopsided at evens. However, in the final four games, LA took chances 68-50 overall and 52-27 (!!!) at even strength play. As the season winded down, I noted that the Kings were gaining the offensive blue line with control considerably more often than they had been prior. That has, unfortunately, not continued in the playoffs. They came in somewhere around 47% controlled entries against San Jose, and had a similarly muddled neutral zone game against Anaheim. A lot of that is what their opponents are doing, for sure. Anaheim and San Jose, perhaps noting that the Kings were using a faster, more offensively gifted lineup, tried to slow down LA in the neutral zone. It's largely worked. It just hasn't stopped the Kings from scoring goals.

What to Expect
The first game was an oddity in that both teams were playing back-to-backs. However, it was Chicago's only back-to-back of the week and they had home ice. Aside from that? Almost dead even. Chicago did display a significantly more effective power play than the Kings, which was a season-long theme really. However, it could be argued that the Kings were slightly more proficient at 5v5 play. It's been a playoffs-long theme, but discipline will be a huge factor for the Kings. Chicago has had the Kings' number the last two seasons, but the games have typically been extremely close. This also is not the same Kings team we've seen most of the last two seasons. At no point did the Hawks face this lineup with four effective lines, and at no point did they have to face a Kings' defense that dressed all four of its best defensemen. It will be an exceptionally close series, and it should be the crown jewel of these playoffs. These are probably the best two teams in hockey, or at the very least two of the three best. It should be a treat.