The Los Angeles Kings Are Losing Their Series on Special Teams
The Sharks' ability to convert on the power play has become the defining attribute of their playoff series.
A lot of assumptions and common refrains have been challenged this post season. Fans love to claim that refs let the teams "play more" in the playoffs and let penalties slide. Stats keeping has suggested that just isn't true. In fact, our friends over at St. Louis Game Time have pointed out that the officials are calling more penalties- a lot more. What this has resulted in is special teams playing a larger role in deciding the outcomes of games.
What has this meant for the Kings? Well, first of all, it seems fit to point out the similar situation of two years ago. The Kings found themselves down in a series, but that series as a whole was dominated by penalties. Each game, neither the Kings nor Sharks took fewer than four penalties in a game. Most of the games featured much more, and we saw fights involving atypical players such as Mike Richards, Justin Williams, and Logan Couture. The overall goal differential on special teams was much less of a factor in that series despite the huge volume of calls it featured.
Contrast 2014 to this year's series. Some of San Jose's major penalty takers such as Raffi Torres and Mike Brown are gone (whether willingly by San Jose or not). San Jose, outside of their fourth line, has taken very few penalties. Despite their series high in game two with five penalties taken, they've never taken more than three in a game. This is in contrast to the Kings, who have taken no fewer than four, and have given San Jose more power plays as a result.
How have those penalties been taken? Well, besides the obvious calls like tripping or high-sticking, it has been the refs cracking down on physicality after the whistles. Just last game, Jeff Carter traded equal blows after a net front chance only for him alone to be sent to the box. Later, Luke Schenn shoved Joe Thornton in the high chest and was called for roughing. The officials are trying to place this series on lock down, despite the fact that this series has been a slumber party compared to the bout two years ago.
The end result is not pretty for the Kings. The Sharks have scored 10 goals this series. Over half of those have been on the power play with six total power play goals for the Sharks. They scored three in the last game alone. In contrast, the Kings have scored just two goals on the power play. Still, of the series' total 18 goals, nearly half of them have been scored at even strength with eight.
As much as the Kings have tried to address their weakness at PK, they've done less on the power play. The Kings have been wholly ineffective with point shots from their defensemen - often missing the net, yet they still attempt them. They remain steadfast in using two defensemen on the power play rather than a 4-1 approach popularized by many teams this year. Their inability to address this disadvantage on special teams has definitely jumped out.
However, when a series is so defined by special teams play, it makes missed calls feel that much more egregious. In Last night in game four, the refs missed Brayden McNabb tripping Joe Pavelski while the Sharks were already on the power play. Perhaps more important, though, is the fact that they missed Martin Jones tripping Dustin Brown behind the goal late in the third period. They also missed Marc-Edouard Vlasic playing the puck with a broken stick after blocking a shot when the Kings' net was open.
Whether the increase of penalties is right for the game is certainly another debate, but that is the reality that has been presented to the Kings, and they've failed to adjust to it. Of course, the Kings haven't been eliminated yet, but it is difficult to visualize a series that has been very even at 5v5 play not being decided by special teams at least one more game. If another game is decided by the man advantage, I don't like the Kings' chances.