Kings vs. Blues - Round One Series Preview
The Kings were 3-0 against the Blues this season. How were these results driven by the underlying numbers and what can we expect in this series?
The Kings will face the Blues in the post-season for the second year in a row. This season both teams again have very similar make-ups. Both are relentless forechecking teams, who emphasize puck control and implement a sound defensive philosophy. Both have scored and allowed almost the same amount of goals. They are 2nd and 3rd in the league in denying shots at even strength. They've both received some shaky goaltending after having that be a strength in the previous year.
That being said, even with all those similarities the Kings have done very well against the Blues of late. They are 10-1 against the Blues over the last two years and 3-0 this season. In this post, we'll try to take a look at how some key matchups and possession numbers may be driving those results.
- St. Louis is a top ten possession team this season, yet the Kings have had their number. Along with beating them in all 3 games, they have dominated play at even strength. The Kings have taken 63% of all shot attempts at evens and have registered scoring chances at a 66% rate.
- Now let's delve a little deeper and see how each team's top units have done against one another. Currently, the Blues have Backes centering the first line and being flanked by Alexander Steen and Jaden Schwartz. T.J. Oshie is recovering from surgery, but says he'll be ready for game one. Patrik Berglund is centering the second line and has been matched with David Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko.
- On defense, Alex Pietrangelo is the Blues shutdown defenseman and is currently paired with trade deadline acquisition Jay Bouwmeester. Kevin Shattenkirk has normally been used in a more offensive capacity but is getting slightly tougher minutes since being paired with another trade deadline acquisition, Jordan Leopold.
- So, how have these players been deployed against the Kings and what were the results?
- This chart shows us how much time Anze Kopitar spent on the ice against key players and how he fared in those matchups. The first thing that jumps out is his ice time versus David Backes. He spent 60% of his ice time matched against him. This trend was present in both games in St. Louis and the sole game at Staples, which tells us that this was a matchup both coaches sought out as part of their line matching strategy. This is also how it went last year during the regular season. So it's safe to say that Backes and Kopitar will be seeing a lot of each other this post-season.
- The Kopitar line's results have been flat-out dominant against Backes and his linemates this season. The Kings controlled the action to the tune of 66% and outscored the Backes line 3-0.
- For Backes' part, if you add in Kopitar's career regular season numbers, his rate against him was only 50%. This matchup is going to be crucial in determining the winner of the series. If the Kopitar line can keep up their recent dominance over the Backes line, it'll be a hard thing for the Blues to overcome. And conversely, if Backes and Co. can keep the Kings first line at bay, the series will likely be far more competitive this year.
- Alex Pietrangelo is the defenseman the Blues have tasked with shutting down Kopitar and has had little success in that endeavor this year. But in years past, Pietrangelo has done a good job keeping Kopitar in check.
- In terms of overall possession, Kopitar was +26 in even strength attempts against the Blues this year. While in terms of even strength goals he was on ice for 5 and only 1 against.
- Kopitar's dominant possession numbers this season have also translated very well into generating and denying quality chances. When the Kopitar line has been on the ice, the Kings have registered 11 chances and allowed only 4. That is a 76% percent rate.
- It'd be safe to say that as Kopitar's fortunes go in this series, so will the team's fortunes as whole. We'll keep a close eye on how Kopitar and what the results of these matchups are as the series progresses.
- Mike Richards has seen his time spread out pretty evenly across the board. There doesn't seem to be any big matchup either coach has attempted to exploit with or against him. this season.
- Richards has more than held his own against Backes in a small sample of ~20 minutes over his career. He's had a far tougher time with Patrik Berlund in what amounts to 35 career minutes against him.
- Berglund vs Richards will be another pivotal match-up and is an area where the Blues could make some headway in especially when you consider that Berlund is being winged by the dangerous duo of David Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko. This is subject to change given that T.J. Oshie will return to the line-up and Ken Hitchcock is a notoriously line shuffler, so who knows what we are going to get. Still, whoever Berglund's linemates are this will be another match-up to keep an eye on.
- Overall, Richards was +17 in even strength shot attempts and +3 in goal differential.
- Mike Richards' scoring chance rate against St. Louis was 76% this year. 19 chances for and only 6 against. Jeff Carter's numbers were similarly impressive. A 69% rate, 20 chances for and 9 against. The Blues have had no answer for Richards/Carter this season. Will that trend continue into the playoffs or will their numbers come back down to Earth?
- The Blues have found more success when Jarret Stoll has been on the ice this year.
- Like Kopitar, Stoll has spent a great deal of his time against Backes. But unlike Kopitar, he has been out-shot to a high degree. It'll be interesting to see if Hitchcock will try to divert even more of Backes' minutes to Stoll and away from Kopitar in the first two games of the series in St. Louis.
- The Kings marginally out-chanced the Blues 9-8 when Stoll was on the ice. A huge difference from the sky-high Kopitar and Carter chance numbers.
- Drew Doughty has had much more success than Slava Voynov this season while also receiving tougher assignments.
- Over his career, Doughty has some impressive numbers against Backes, while Voynov has a had a tougher time. Both have fared similarly against the Blues on the chart.
- There was a big difference in each defenders possession numbers. Drew Doughty was an eye-popping +46 in even strength shot attempts (a 71% rate), so basically when Doughty was on the ice the Blues rarely had control of the puck. Will that continue now that Robyn Regehr is partnering Drew Doughty? Voynov was a much more down to earth +6 in the possession battle.
- Both defensemen have put up some impressive scoring chance numbers against the Blues this season. Doughty has been on ice for 21 chances for and only 10 against. Voynov's numbers have been even better, 23 chances for and 8 against. So even though Voynov has less impressive possession numbers against the Blues this year, that hasn't translated into more quality opportunities for the Blues. That is a trend that usually doesn't continue over the long haul, so we shouldn't expect this trend to continue into the playoffs.
The Kings have had a lot of success this season against the Blues over 3 games. They out-scored them 12-5 at even strength and were +58 in the possession battle. If L.A. can continue to control play at this rate they should have little trouble defeating the Blues. On the other hand, there are some signs that the Kings results this season are out of whack when compared to the long haul. Over the course of their careers, Backes and Pietrangelo have fared much better than they did this season and you have to wonder if they won't bounce back. As the series progresses, we'll closely monitor how all of these matchups turn out.
How do you think this series is going to go? Will the Kings continue to dominate or will the Blues, who may have been bolstered by some deadline acquisitions, give the Kings fits this time around?
How do you see this series playing out?
|Kings will dominate again and take it in 4 or 5.||37|
|Kings will take it, but it'll be tougher this time.||109|
|Blues turn it around and edge the Kings in a close series.||19|
|Blues will exact revenge and dispatch of the Kings quickly.||6|