What Drives the Kings Penalty Kill?

Is its recent resurgence for real?

Until recently, the Los Angeles Kings have had a penalty killing problem. For a team that has become renowned for its defense, this has come as quite a surprise. In fact, you have to go back to the 2009/10 season to find the last time the Kings finished the season with a penalty kill in the bottom half of the NHL.

Through February 1st, the Kings had allowed the 6th-most power play goals against in the entire league. Even now, after an extended stretch of successful play while shorthanded, the Kings have the 21st-ranked penalty kill percentage.

From the 2010/11 season through the 2013/14 season, the Kings had the 3rd-best goals against rate while shorthanded (goals per 60 minutes) in the league. In that same stretch, they had the 11th-ranked shot attempt against rate while shorthanded. Their numbers improve slightly in scoring chances and even more in shots allowed per 60. Even with that improvement, there is still a notable drop-off from their shot-based numbers to their goal-based numbers.

The success of the Kings penalty kill has boiled down to great save percentage numbers. Before you leap ahead of me and say that this is just because Jonathan Quick is an elite penalty killer, it's worth noting that the Kings actually received better or equivalent shorthanded goaltending from their backups during most of that stretch. Jonathan Quick was only able to outperform his backup - Jonathan Bernier - in 2010/11. In fact, last season, the Kings received better goaltending from both Ben Scrivens and Martin Jones while shorthanded.

All of this goaltending success - from backups and starters alike - adds up to the league's best shorthanded save percentage from 2010/11 to 2013/14.

Unfortunately, shorthanded save percentage bounces around somewhat randomly from season to season. To an extent, this season has been a case of the chickens coming home to roost. While this iteration of the Kings has actually boasted a decent shot rate against while shorthanded (47.1 per 60, 6th in the NHL), their goaltending has deteriorated. The Kings have the 5th-worst shorthanded save percentage in the league this season.

There is nothing in the shot attempt and scoring chance rates to suggest such a monstrous drop in goaltender performance. Mostly, it just seems like bad luck. This is usually the case when goalies struggle, and I doubt anything different is the case with Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones this season. Here's how the Kings PK numbers this season compare to seasons past:

Stretch of play Corsi Against/60 Scoring Chances Against/60 Goals Against/60 Save Percentage
2010/11-2013/14 94.5 (11th) 46.8 (9th) 5.4 (3rd) .892 (1st)
2014/15 95.8 (9th) 46.1 (9th) 7.1 (21st) .848 (26th)

As you can see, there isn't much of a change in either shot attempts against or scoring chances against from the past to the present. The only thing that has really changed is goaltending. You can argue that the departures of players like Rob Scuderi and Willie Mitchell have adversely affected the penalty kill all you want, but there is nothing in the numbers (or, frankly, to my eyes) to support this case.That finally brings us to the recent run of success for the Kings PK. The PK has allowed just 2 goals against since February 1st, and they also boast the 3rd-best goals against per 60 rate in the league during that stretch. Unfortunately, nothing sustainable really changed in the underlying numbers.

Stretch of play Corsi Against/60 Scoring Chances Against/60 Goals Against/60 Save Percentage
10/1-1/31 95.3 (11th) 47.8 (13th) 8.1 (25th) .823 (27th)
2/1-3/2 98.2 (13th) 38.1 (3rd) 2.3 (3rd) .957 (3rd)

Though the Kings did experience a huge dip in scoring chances against, I suspect that this is not a particularly sustainable figure. We know that scoring chances tend to line up with shot attempts over time, so they're not particularly valuable in the already-fractured Corsi samples we're looking at. It may explain the brief boost to save percentage, but it doesn't seem like a viable strategy long-term.

The good news here is that the Kings never truly deserved an awful penalty kill to begin with. Jonathan Quick and Martin Jones both slumped out of the gate, but neither of them are bad goalies. There isn't any evidence to support the notion that goaltending woes will continue to plague this team while it's shorthanded.

As is usual, the truth lies somewhere in the between. The Kings are not a bottom-rung penalty killing team, but they're certainly not near the best in the league. If they have suddenly developed some kind of magic trick that allows them to permit fewer scoring chances against than other teams allowing similar amounts of shots, then maybe. Until that is proven to me, I can handle the Kings being squarely in the middle of the pack.

Stats pulled from NHL.com and war-on-ice.com on 3/2/2014. All scoring chance numbers available at war-on-ice.com.