The Kings are still (STILL!) a very good team and will win lots of games soon.
A sequel to last year's optimism.
Some of you may remember that last year, after a terrible January, we posted a certain article about how the Los Angeles Kings would probably turn things around. They did.
Guess what time it is?
The following section is quoted from Robert's post last year. We didn't have to change a word.
In a recent article, our SBN colleague, Eric T. reviewed the process of trying to quantify the importance of shot differential in the NHL.
As we’ve touched on many times, the Kings are an elite team when it comes to shot based metrics. In fact even after their recent skid, the Kings still lead the league in possession numbers.
So what gives? Why are the Kings losing all these games if shot differential is so important? Well in short, shot differential isn't everything.
To quote from Eric’s post:
Gabe Desjardins has also looked into this by yet another method, using the observed results and probability calculations to estimate the skill component. I don't think he compiled his results in a single post, but we can tease it out from comments he made in a few places:
Relying on Tom [Awad]'s estimate of the spread of goaltending talent, Gabe said that goaltending is 5 percent of winning. JLikens came up with a nearly identical estimate for the spread of shooting talent, so we might infer that shooting is another 5 percent of winning, so the combined impact of shooting and goaltending is about 10 percent.
In that same article, Gabe said that Corsi and luck combine for 3/4 of winning, and he has shown that luck alone is about 38 percent. So we can infer that he estimates Corsi to be about 37 percent of winning -- about 3-4 times as important as shooting and goaltending combined.
So to break that down:
Goaltending – 5%
Shooting – 5%
Special Teams – 15%
Possession – 37%
Luck – 38%
If this was a 48-game season as it was in 2012-13, the Kings would have been edged out for a playoff spot by the Calgary Flames, which shows just how much January hurt this team. Do you think the Kings are truly a 92-point team (their current pace)?
If the answer is no, it's a good idea to look at the above factors once again, and figure out whether the Kings will be able to turn things around.
Last season, the Kings ranked second in the NHL in save percentage at this time of year, and they maintained it until season's end (both at all strengths and 5v5). So goaltending was, very clearly, not the issue. This season, it hasn't been the issue, but it's certainly had its ups and downs. Currently, LA is placed at a very-slightly-above-average 13th in the NHL, with a .925 SV% at even strength for the season. Their overall save percentage is .909, which is 17th in the NHL and a far cry from when they were near the top of the league at the beginning of the season.
We'll leave this part short because we've discussed it quite a bit already. Goaltending is far from the only reason for LA's recent struggles, and Jonathan Quick's recent form has been encouraging. Not early-season-Vezina-caliber form, yet, but good enough to keep LA in games.
This is the "shooting quality" section...
The Kings have traditionally played a system that creates fewer quality chances relative to the rest of the NHL. Take a look at the Kings' Corsi For (shot attempt %) vs. their scoring chance %. The Kings are getting 54.5% of the shot attempts per game in 2014-15, but they're getting a relatively pedestrian 52.8% of the scoring chances according to War on Ice. This isn't bad, of course, but it is less than you'd expect. Contrast with a team like Anaheim, which has a 51.4% Corsi For this season, but has a Scoring Chance For% of 52.5%.
Top Ten Teams - Scoring Chance %
|Team||Games||SCF%||SC+/-||SCF||SCA||SCF60||SCA60||Corsi For %|
(via War on Ice)
One more chart to show that difference, showing how LA's shot distribution compared to the rest of the NHL at the break:
Essentially, the Kings are getting a league-average amount of shots in tight, a slightly above-average amount of shots in the outer reaches of the scoring chance area, and a way above-average amount of shots outside the scoring chance area. So the shot differential might be slightly misleading, but it still favors the Kings quite a bit... enough that they should be winning a lot more than they are. Of course, getting more shots doesn't mean scoring on more shots. We'll show you the other half of the chart in a bit.
At first blush, it's a little odd to think about this being more important than goaltending and shooting combined. If you've watched the Kings lately, it makes perfect sense.
My, how things change. From January 2014:
With a 84.4% penalty kill %, the Kings have the 6th best penalty kill in the NHL. One thing that is alarming about the Kings PK is that although they have had solid goaltending while shorthanded, they have allowed a ton of shots... Goaltenders have been propping up what has been a below average penalty killing unit on the year.
This year? Almost exactly the opposite. The Kings are allowing 44.9 shots per 60 minutes in ordinary shorthanded situations, a noticeable improvement from 50.1 at the same point last season. That's the 6th-fewest 4v5 shots against on the PK in the league. Why aren't the Kings the 6th best penalty kill again? The Kings' shorthanded save percentage is much worse this season. Blame it on either the Kings' goalies, or the Kings' struggles to prevent those shots from becoming good scoring chances. (By the eye test, this is probably where the absence of Willie Mitchell and Slava Voynov has had the biggest impact.)
LA's killed 20 of 31 penalties in January. That's unacceptable, and it's reasonable to start believing that LA's time as a terrific penalty killing team is over. However, LA's been able to reduce the number of shots they face on the PK, and Alec Martinez, Tyler Toffoli, and Dustin Brown (all of whom rarely killed penalties last season) have been among the most effective penalty killers for LA. There's reason for optimism... or at least for hope that the penalty kill won't sabotage LA during the last few months of the season.
Last year, LA was in a world of power play troubles, ranking 28th in the NHL at this time last year. Their power play shooting percentage? A truly awful 8.39%. LA's power play improved dramatically as soon as Marian Gaborik set foot on the ice. This season, the rest of the Kings have actually caught up to him in terms of generating shots on the power play, but with Gaborik on the ice, the Kings generate more shots and score more goals. Given how unstoppable he, Jeff Carter, and Anze Kopitar were together in the last couple months, that's no surprise.
When it comes to the power play, LA has always gotten a lot of their shots from their defensemen. This year, 43% of their power play shots have come off the sticks of defensemen. This actually hasn't hurt the power play all that much; aside from Drew Doughty (who hasn't scored on a single one of his 34 shots at 5v4), the defensemen have been chipping in goals with the man advantage.
Regardless, that means that LA's forwards are getting a relatively small piece of the power play pie. Gaborik and Justin Williams take the most shots, while Anze Kopitar is about as trigger-happy as we can hope. The power play is succeeding in spite of LA's tendency to let their defensemen fire away because the forwards are finding the net. Of these five factors, the power play is one of the two least responsible for this decline. The least important factor, of course, is...
They have actually improved their possession numbers despite the recent funk. Among the factors within a team’s control, puck possession is the most important. No other factor is more predictive of future wins. At their core, the Kings have continued to be a dominant possession team. Above all else, this is a sign that things aren’t broken or that the team needs a makeover. It is still the same elite team that won the Stanley Cup 2 seasons ago, made the Western Conference Finals last year and is 70-40-14 since the acquisition of Jeff Carter.
Feel free to dispute the 38% figure, but there's no arguing that the better team isn't going to win every game. Luck in the NHL traditionally manifests itself in shooting percentage, and last year, the Kings were second-to-last in shooting percentage at even strength at the end of January. This season, that hasn't quite been the case, but LA's certainly seen their finishing abandon them a few times this year. Their three best shooting performances of 2015? Wednesday against Chicago, and cruelly, their losses to Nashville (7-6) and New Jersey (5-3). Their 4-0 win over Minnesota on November 26 is the peak of the below graph, which shows the team's 10-game rolling shooting percentage.
Now here's that other graph I mentioned earlier. At the All-Star Break, here's how the Kings were shooting relative to the rest of the league. (Blue means they're below average, red means above average.)
The good news is, the Kings score on more of their shots from outside the scoring chance area than most teams! The bad news is, the Kings score on fewer of their shots from that medium-danger area than, well, almost every other team. Against the Blackhawks on Wednesday, the pendulum swung LA's way; Jeff Carter scored on two shots from that medium-danger area, Tyler Toffoli scored on one shot from that zone, and Jake Muzzin's game-winner was from the blue line. That lifted the Kings' ten-game rolling shooting percentage above 8% and close to league-average.
Of course, you can't talk about luck without talking about the shootout problem. Let's put it this way: the eleven shooters for LA went 16-for-50 in shootout attempts last season (32%). If you assume that there's a 32% of them succeeding on any given shootout attempt this season, the chances of them missing 22 in a row are...
(that's the chances of missing one shot to the 22nd power. math!)
Essentially, the current shootout skid had about a 1-in-5000 chance of happening over these last 22 attempts. Imagine if the Kings had missed the playoffs by one point because they lost seven shootouts in a row? That's what would have happened if this was a 48-game season. So laugh about that and move on...
... and by the way, start assuming that LA's 6-6-12 record in one-goal games is going to improve. Unless you think that the Stanley Cup champions magically forgot how to win close games.