This Week in Kings (4/7/14)

I could get used to this "pointless last few weeks of a season" thing.

Over the last couple years, Kings fans have likely gotten used to things coming down to the wire. Of course I don't have to tell you how close things were in 2011-12; although the Kings entered as an 8th seed with a more comfortable margin than usual (a 5 point edge on 9th place Calgary), obviously anytime you enter the playoffs as an 8th seed things are far from comfortable in the last few weeks. It's also worth mentioning that the Kings finished just 2 points back of Phoenix for the Pacific Division title, so their seeding and 1st round matchup in the playoffs were up in the air right up until the end. In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, the Kings finished 5th, but that again came down to the final week of the season, with the Kings finishing just 1 point behind the 4th place Blues and 2 points ahead of the 6th place Sharks.

This year, things are different. The Kings have known where they would likely finish- 3rd in the Pacific, under the realigned standings- for quite a long time, realistically. They put together a great run post-Olympic break to really separate themselves from the Coyotes & Canucks below them, but catching the Sharks or Ducks never really looked like a realistic possibility. On Wednesday, with about a week-and-a-half to play, the Kings officially clinched their playoff spot. The very next day it became mathematically impossible for them to catch the 2nd place Sharks, officially locking them into that 3rd seed for good. The final 10 days of the season became a mere formality for the Kings, with nothing left to do but play out the string while sitting back and waiting to see who they would play in the 1st round of the playoffs. Of course the Kings have paid a lot of lip service to using these last few games to get their game ready for the playoffs, but at the same time they've been afforded the luxury of resting up some banged-up players and are taking full advantage of it. So let's go back and talk about some (mostly) pointless hockey games! Since, again, these games really didn't matter much to us at all, the mini-recaps will probably be a bit shorter than you're used to.

This Week in Games

(here's all the games involving the Pacific Division from this past week. we'll talk about the LA Kings' games in great detail, while the rest will mostly just be scores, unless I have something to say about it. you'll also get links to Eric's awesome recaps which will expand on everything I'm saying in much greater detail if you missed any of them.)

Monday, March 31st

-Anaheim Ducks 5, Winnipeg Jets 4 (OT): Oh where to start with this one. Okay, first of all the Ducks decided to spot Winnipeg a 4-0 lead at home. Yes, they did that. The Ducks, suddenly remembering they were up against probably the worst starting goalie in the entire NHL, roared back to tie it, with a goal in the last 2:16 of the 2nd, two goals in 1:10 early in the 3rd, and then finally Corey Perry's tying goal with 23 seconds left to play. The Ducks completed the comeback just 16 seconds into overtime. Good for them. Amazingly, even though they trailed for most of the game (often by a lot), the Ducks still got outshot 37-36. That's not so good.

-Minnesota Wild 3, Los Angeles Kings 2: The Kings blew a couple of 3rd period leads again this week, and this was one of them, as they somehow lead 2-1 in a game they showed virtually no interest in playing throughout most of it only to let the Wild (desperate for points to solidify their Wild Card spot) come back and win it in regulation. I already covered last week why the Kings are the NHL's best team when playing with a lead, so I still don't think this rash of 3rd period collapses is much to worry about. But feel free to work yourself up over it if you want, I guess. (recap) (gamethread)

Tuesday, April 1st

-Toronto Maple Leafs 3, Calgary Flames 2

-New York Rangers 3, Vancouver Canucks 1: This was of course the return of Alain Vigneault to Vancouver, and the fact that he was coming back with a New York squad almost certainly heading to the playoffs (while the Canucks are all-but-eliminated at this point) had to have already felt like a victory. Then the Rangers won the game to boot, with Benoit Pouliot scoring a power play goal in the 2nd that held up as the game winner. Martin St. Louis helped out by scoring a shorthanded goal midway through the 3rd- the second great shorthanded scoring chance during the same Vancouver power play- that was, amazingly, his first goal as a Ranger.

-Winnipeg Jets 2, Phoenix Coyotes 1 (SO): This game hurt for the Yotes (though not as much as another loss would later), as the Jets were less than 24 hours removed from their epic collapse against the Ducks and managed to bounce back and beat the Yotes anyway. Phoenix desperately needed 2 points here as they're locked in a deathmatch with Dallas for the final Wild Card seed, and this was the home half of a back-to-back that would see them in LA the following night. The fact that they couldn't get the job done against a fragile opponent with nothing to play for probably isn't a great sign for them.

-San Jose Sharks 5, Edmonton Oilers 4- The Sharks had a 3-1 lead early in the 2nd only to watch the Oilers score 3 unanswered goals, eventually leading San Jose 4-3 early in the 3rd. But despite all the Sharks' well-documented struggles against non-playoff teams of late (that would continue later in the week), they managed to avoid another disaster here, tying the game on Brent Burns' 22nd of the year 10:35 into the 3rd then taking back the lead less than 2 minutes later on Patrick Marleau's power play goal, before holding on for the win.

Wednesday, April 2nd

-Anaheim Ducks 3, Edmonton Oilers 2

-Los Angeles Kings 4, Phoenix Coyotes 0: The Kings entered this game knowing they could officially clinch their playoff spot with a victory, and they didn't waste any time, scoring just 1:20 into the 1st as Tanner Pearson got his 3rd of the season. The Kings would go up 2-0 off an early power play goal by Drew Doughty in the 2nd, and then amazingly, got even better after that even with the 2-goal lead. Consider this: at 5v5 close, or in another words all the even-strength play up until the Doughty goal that put them up 2-0, the Kings controlled just 50% of the overall shot attempts and the unblocked attempts as well. Their final numbers for 5v5 were stronger: 53.8% of overall shot attempts and 55.9% of unblocked attempts, as the Kings controlled play much better with the 2-0 lead than they had before. We can also look at Nick's scoring chance data for more proof: scoring chances in the 1st were just 2-2 (2-1 LA at evens), but in the 2nd the Kings outchanced them 7-3 (4-3 at evens), and in the 3rd it was a laughably one-sided 8-2 LA (7-2 at evens). Of course, part of that was surely the Coyotes not having much left in the tank on the second night of a back-to-back, but the fact remains that it continues a pattern for the Kings of bucking score effects and controlling play even with big leads, a great sign for them heading into the playoffs. (recap) (gamethread)

Thursday, April 3rd

-Calgary Flames 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 1

-San Jose Sharks 2, Los Angeles Kings 1: To me, this was the best case scenario. Yes, I know we lost, but hear me out: the Kings showed in this game why they would have to be considered, at the very least, a slight favorite if the Sharks-Kings 1st round matchup does indeed materialize, while at the same time handing San Jose 2 important points in their quest to catch the Ducks and thus avoid said matchup entirely. Don't take my word for it either: Fear the Fin came to basically the same conclusion. By almost any metric you can think of- controlled zone entries, puck possession, scoring chances, etc- the Sharks were woefully ouplayed by a Kings team on the 2nd night of a back-to-back, missing their star defenseman Drew Doughty (who was injured early in the game, but thankfully it doesn't appear to be anything serious; he hasn't returned to the lineup yet, but did take part in practice today and probably could return if these games actually mattered), and with a hell of a lot less to play for than the Sharks. That can't be taken as anything but a positive sign for the Kings and a negative one for the Sharks, no matter whether or not they secured a close 1-goal victory (thanks to a bad play by backup goalie Martin Jones, who they won't see in the playoffs either). (recap) (gamethread)

Friday, April 4th

-Calgary Flames 2, Florida Panthers 1: Who would even bother watching this game? Seriously? I'm sure even the close friends & family members of the players had better things to do with their Friday nights than watch this crap.

-Edmonton Oilers 3, Phoenix Coyotes 2 (SO): Oh man, this one had to hurt a lot for Phoenix. They were home against the Oilers still in desperate need of points, and they almost had it, leading 2-1 late in the game. But they watched Thomas Greiss (who has played probably about as well as you'd expect him to as Mike Smith still remains on the shelf; that injury obviously has hurt their playoff push, but if they miss I don't think it was ultimately Greiss' fault) make a horrendous misplay of the puck behind his own net with less than a minute to play, and the Oilers had literally an empty net to put one home and tie the game. Edmonton would go on to win the game in a shootout, as Greiss' misplay cost the Coyotes a desperately needed point.

-Nashville Predators 5, Anaheim Ducks 2- The Ducks got away with handing early leads to bad teams earlier in the week- in addition to that comeback from 4-0 against the Jets, they also had to come back from 2-0 against the Oilers a few days later- but finally they handed an early lead to a team that actually has defense worth a damn. Although the Predators are just 21st in the league in goals against, that mostly has to do with their 26th-ranked save percentage, as they missed Pekka Rinne for long stretches of the season. They are still a solid club on the back end, and after they took a 3-0 lead less than 14 minutes in the game, they were more than capable of holding on. For all the bad press the Kings have gotten of late for their inability to hold 1-goal leads in the 3rd (which I maintain has more to do with bad luck than anything the Kings are doing all that badly, as the possession stats would seem to back up), you would think that three straight games of handing huge early leads to vastly inferior competition would be more of an issue. Anyway, Nashville did us all a favor in this one, thanks guys!

Saturday, April 5th

-Vancouver Canucks 2, Los Angeles Kings 1: You know, at the time I really wanted the Kings to win this game and officially eliminate Vancouver from playoff contention, but in retrospect I think this result was better. Why's that? Well: A) the Canucks STILL somehow being mathematically in contention gives them more reason to show up tonight against the Ducks, and a win by the Nucks gives the Sharks a more realistic chance of catching Anaheim, which is obviously good for us, and B) it lead to this hilarious article detailing exactly what has to happen for Vancouver to get the 2nd Wild Card spot. tl;dr version: they're relying on the Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets to win a bunch of games for them. Talk about how hard the mighty have fallen: from a Stanley Cup final and perennial contender to needing the Early 2000s Expansion Buddies to save their season. Anyway, yes, I am studiously avoiding actually talking about this game, why do you ask? (recap) (gamethread)

-Nashville Predators 3, San Jose Sharks 0: Well screw you, Nashville! You were supposed to beat the Ducks and then lose to the Sharks, that's how this works! Anyway, the Sharks entered this game with a great chance to leapfrog the Ducks back into 1st in the Pacific, and they responded by doing crap like this. Way to go, Sharks!

Sunday, April 6th

-Edmonton Oilers 4, Anaheim Ducks 2- San Jose's pathetic loss to Nashville the night before opened the door for Anaheim to all but seal up the division title as they got to play the Oilers for the second time in less than a week.....and they promptly lost in regulation. Uh, okay. At least they didn't spot them a quick 2-0 lead again, I guess. Progress! So I don't know what the hell is going to happen with this division title. We'll talk more about it when we look at the standings and the upcoming schedule for the final week of the regular season, but ultimately both teams are playing like garbage right now (especially against teams they absolutely should be beating), so who really knows what's going to happen?

This Week in Standings

Team GP W L OTL Points ROW GF GA Diff Home Away Last Week
1. Anaheim-x 78 50 20 8 108 48 251 202 +49 27-8-4 23-12-4 2-2-0
2. San Jose-x 79 49 21 9 107 39 239 192 +47 28-7-5 21-14-4 2-1-0
3. Los Angeles-x 79 45 28 6 96 37 197 166 +31 23-14-3 22-14-3 1-3-0
4. Phoenix 78 36 28 14 86 30 209 221 -12 21-13-5 15-15-9 0-1-2
5. Vancouver 78 35 32 11 81 30 187 210 -23 19-13-6 16-19-5 1-1-0
6. Calgary-e 78 33 38 7 73 27 200 228 -28 18-18-3 15-20-4 2-1-0
7. Edmonton-e 79 28 42 9 65 24 197 261 -64 15-20-3 13-22-6 2-2-0

So here we are folks, one week left in the regular season. The top of the Pacific standings sit exactly where they were last week, except for one important decision. Last week, Anaheim also had a 1 point lead on the Sharks, but they had two games in hand on the Sharks, while this week they only hold one. The Ducks went 2-2-0 and are lucky to even have done that well, as it took a massive comeback against the Jets and another big one against the Oilers just to secure their victories. The Sharks went 2-1-0, and were able to at least maintain the same deficit while the Ducks used up one of their two games in hand. So now it comes down to the final week to decide who wins the Pacific and plays the top Wild Card team, and who finishes 2nd and ends up with a tough first round matchup against the Kings. Speaking of LA, they went 1-3-0, which while awful and all was still enough for them to clinch their playoff spot. They will finish 3rd, unable to drop down into the Wild Card. So on that note let's take a look at the up-to-the-minute Wild Card standings. Top two get in, the rest make like CM Punk and go home for a while.

Team GP W L OTL Points ROW GF GA Diff Home Away Last Week
1. Minnesota (C) 78 40 26 12 92 33 195 194 +1 24-9-5 16-17-7 2-0-1
2. Dallas (C) 78 38 29 11 87 35 227 221 +6 21-10-7 17-19-4 2-2-0
3. Phoenix (P) 78 36 28 14 86 30 209 221 -12 21-13-5 15-15-9 0-1-2
4. Nashville (C) 78 35 32 11 81 33 198 231 -33 17-17-5 18-15-6 2-0-0
5. Vancouver (P) 78 35 32 11 81 30 187 210 -23 19-13-6 16-19-5 1-1-0
6. Winnipeg-e (C) 79 35 34 10 80 28 220 232 -12 17-16-6 18-18-4 2-1-1
7. Calgary-e (P) 78 33 38 7 73 27 192 223 -31 18-18-3 13-19-4 2-1-0
8. Edmonton-e (P) 75 26 40 9 61 23 184 249 -65 14-20-3 12-20-6 2-2-0

After struggling for a number of weeks and even flirting with dropping out of the playoffs entirely, the Wild put up an impressive 2-0-1 record to all but lock up their 2nd straight trip to the postseason. They haven't quite clinched just yet, but Phoenix's max point total is 94, just 2 points ahead of where the Wild sit right now, and they are unlikely to catch them in ROWs (3 back with 4 games remaining for each team) either. The real battle is Dallas and Phoenix. Dallas had a .500 week at 2-2-0, most notably losing to the Florida Panthers in regulation after a bad collapse last night (blowing an early 2-0 lead by letting the long-eliminated Panthers score 3 unanswered goals). However, that was still better than Phoenix's quite putrid 0-1-2 week. Dallas did use up their last remaining game in hand on the Yotes, but they leapfrogged them back into the 2nd Wild Card position. Both teams have four games left to play, and two things stand out here: 1) one of Dallas' last 4 games is that suspended Rich Peverley game with Columbus, which will start 1-0 Blue Jackets (though they will play a full 60-minute game rather than just the remaining 52+ minutes at the time the game was suspended) & 2) Dallas and Phoenix will play their final game this Sunday against one another. Phoenix's goal thus has to be to, at the very least, remain 1 point back of the Stars heading into that contest. It is impossible for them to catch Dallas in ROWs, so if the standings do indeed remain the same- Phoenix one point back- entering that game, they would need a regulation win to take the playoff spot, while Dallas would need just to get the game into overtime to clinch it. That means, of course, we could see the unique situation of Phoenix pulling the goalie with the game tied late in regulation. Dallas can take the drama out of it by picking up another point on Phoenix heading into Sunday's contest; if they lead Phoenix by at least 2 points heading into Sunday's tilt, it would be impossible for Phoenix to catch them, as even a regulation win would leave things tied and Dallas indeed has the tiebreaker.

Below Phoenix, Nashville & Vancouver both managed to stave off mathematical elimination, though their chances of catching Dallas for the final Western Conference playoff spot remain extremely slim. Nashville went 2-0-0 and actually jumped over Vancouver in the standings, as the Canucks went 1-1-0. The two teams are actually tied in points, but Nashville has the ROW tiebreaker by 3 victories, further complicating matters for the Canucks. Meanwhile, a good 2-1-1 week for Winnipeg wasn't enough for them to avoid elimination, as they're the only team this week that added that depressing little e. However, misery loves company, and the Jets sure gave themselves some when they beat the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Saturday to all but eliminate them in the East as well.

This Week in #fancystats

(all stats are total attempts, not percentages. thanks to extra skater. also, as an experiment I'm going to now list the best & worst Corsi for the opponents, so you can see who contributed- positively and negatively- to their effort as well, because why not?)

Wild 3, Kings 2
Corsi: Kings 46-Wild 39 (overall), Kings 41-Wild 37 (5v5, 54.0 mins), Kings 27-Wild 26 (5v5 close, 36.4 mins), Wild 15-Kings 11 (5v5 tied, 15.7 mins)
Fenwick: Kings 35-Wild 32 (overall), Kings 32-Wild 30 (5v5, 54.0 mins), Kings 23-Wild 21 (5v5 close, 36.4 mins), Wild 14-Kings 11 (5v5 tied, 15.7 mins)
LA Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Doughty (+8), Stoll/Nolan (tied, +5). Worst: Richards (-4), Pearson (-3), Toffoli/Voynov/Carter (tied, -2)
MIN Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Blum (+6), Pominville/Cooke (tied, +3). Worst: Suter (-8), Coyle/Koivu (tied, -7)

Kings 4, Coyotes 0
Corsi: Kings 53-Coyotes 43 (overall), Kings 42-Coyotes 36 (5v5, 50.1 mins), Kings 11-Coyotes 11 (5v5 close, 16.7 mins), Kings 1-Coyotes 1 (5v5 tied, 1.3 mins)
Fenwick: Kings 39-Coyotes 30 (overall), Kings 33-Coyotes 26 (5v5, 50.1 mins), Kings 8-Coyotes 8 (5v5 close, 16.7 mins), Kings 1-Coyotes 1 (5v5 tied, 1.3 mins)
LA Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Carter (+14), Pearson (+10), Toffoli (+9). Worst: Richards/Clifford (tied, -8), Lewis (-7)
PHX Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Hanzal (+6), Vrbata/Morris (tied, +4). Worst: Ribeiro/Michaelk (tied, -10), Korpikoski/Klinkhammer (tied, -8)

Sharks 2, Kings 1
Corsi: Kings 80-Sharks 49 (overall), Kings 59-Sharks 42 (5v5, 44.2 mins), Kings 38-Sharks 26 (5v5 close, 28.8 mins), Sharks 9-Kings 8 (5v5 tied, 8.5 mins)
Fenwick: Kings 53-Sharks 32 (overall), Kings 38-Sharks 27 (5v5, 44.2 mins), Kings 25-Sharks 16 (5v5 close, 28.8 mins), Kings 6-Sharks 6 (5v5 tied, 8.5 mins)
LA Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Kopitar/Voynov/Martinez (tied, +10). Worst: Pearson/Carter/Richards (tied, -3)
SJ Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Couture (+2), Havlat/Braun (tied, +1). Worst: Boyle (-14), Sheppard (-10), Thornton/Hannan/Vlasic (tied, -8)

Canucks 2, Kings 1
Corsi: Canucks 73-Kings 55 (overall), Canucks 55-Kings 50 (5v5, 46.5 mins), Canucks 54-Kings 50 (5v5 close, 46.1 mins), Canucks 54-Kings 50 (5v5 tied, 45.7 mins)
Fenwick: Canucks 53-Kings 43 (overall), Canucks 42-Kings 38 (5v5, 46.5 mins), Canucks 42-Kings 38 (5v5 close, 46.1 mins), Canucks 42-Kings 38 (5v5 tied, 45.7 mins)
LA Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Williams (+13), Kopitar/Gaborik (tied, +12). Worst: Campbell (-9), Stoll/Carter (tied, -7
VAN Indv. Player Corsi 5v5- Best: Higgins/RIchardson (tied, +7), Garrison (+6). Worst: D. Sedin (-6), Bieksa (-5), Burrows (-4)

Next Week in the Pacific

(this is exactly what it sounds like: the next week's schedule for all 7 Pacific Division teams. all times are pacific because, um, duh.)

Team 4/7 4/8 4/9 4/10 4/11 4/12 4/13
LA - - @CGY (7:00) @EDM (6:30) - vs.ANA (7:30) -
ANA @VAN (7:00) - vs.SJ (7:30) - - @LA (7:30) vs.COL (5:00)
SJ - - @ANA (7:30) - vs.COL (7:00) @PHX (6:00) -
PHX - @CBJ (4:00) - @NSH (5:00) - vs.SJ (6:00) vs.DAL (6:00)
VAN vs.ANA (7:00) - - vs.COL (7:00) - @EDM (7:00) vs.CGY (6:00)
CGY @NJ (4:00) - vs.LA (7:00) - vs.WPG (6:00) - @VAN (6:00)
EDM - vs.COL (6:30) - vs.LA (6:30) - vs.VAN (7:00) vs.ANA (5:00)

The Kings will finish up their regular season with a couple meaningless games in Alberta, but then comes the huge game on Saturday. They will host the Ducks in what will be LA's final game as well as Anaheim's penultimate game of the year, and the game COULD help decide who wins the Pacific. Of course, that depends a lot on what happens earlier in the week. The Ducks are leading 1-0 in Vancouver as I write this. They'll come home to host San Jose on Wednesday in what will go a long way to deciding who wins the Pacific, before finishing up their season with a tough back-to-back, heading to Los Angeles on Saturday and then hosting a Colorado team that might be playing for home ice advantage in the 1st round on Sunday. The Sharks, meanwhile, don't play until Wednesday's huge clash with the Ducks in Anaheim, then wrap things up with a back-to-back of their own, hosting the Avs as well on Friday and then traveling to Phoenix to play a Coyotes team who might be desperately trying to cling to their playoff lives on Saturday.

Speaking of the Coyotes, they will be in Columbus on Tuesday night to wrap up their brief Eastern road trip, head to Nashville on Thursday to play a Predators team that will likely be mathematically eliminated by then, and then have a difficult back-to-back to finish things up: they'll host the Sharks on Saturday and then Dallas on Sunday for the game that might decide the last Wild Card spot in the West. Dallas' schedule, if you're wondering, sees them hosting Nashville on Tuesday, Columbus on Wednesday (starting down 1-0 as it's the makeup of the suspended game), the Blues on Friday, and then finally traveling to Phoenix on Sunday.

That's it for teams that actually matter. Folks, this is it: the final week of the NHL regular season! We'll be back next Monday to wrap up the year and preview all the playoff series in the Western Conference! Until then, enjoy some meaningless hockey!