The Los Angeles Kings are the biggest threat to the Chicago Blackhawks’ reign atop the NHL.
The Kings are the favorites to win the Pacific Division and secure one of the top two playoff seeds in the Western Conference one year after surprisingly missing the postseason as defending Stanley Cup champions.
L.A. plays a physical, puck-possession style of hockey. It’s similar to the style that helped the Boston Bruins, who host the Kings at TD Garden on Tuesday night, win many playoff rounds from 2008-09 through 2013-14.
Let’s take a look at three reasons why the Kings are poised for a deep playoff run.
Puck possession/Creating scoring chances
The Kings have been an elite puck possession team for several years and that hasn’t changed this season. L.A. leads the league with a 56.1 Corsi percentage, meaning it tallies 5.6 out of every 10 shot attempts at even strength. The Dallas Stars are second at 53.7 percent.
Not only do the Kings generate plenty of attempts, most of them make it through traffic. The Kings have a league-high 55.7 Fenwick percentage, which measures how many shot attempts are unblocked. Getting pucks to the net is so difficult in today’s NHL because teams tend to have multiple defensive layers with guys willing to block shots. The Kings find ways to combat this by using quick puck movement and crashing the net for rebounds.
Los Angeles is creating plenty of scoring chances as well. The Kings rank fourth with a 53.7 high-danger scoring chance percentage and lead all teams with a 55.1 scoring chance percentage.
Take a look at L.A.’s shot rates for and against, per War on Ice. On the left, redder is better. The bluer the better on the right. The Kings grade out very well in both.
Any team that creates shot attempts at this rate and prevents them at a similar level is going to be very dangerous in the playoffs.
The Kings rank 14th in goals scored per game, which is an improvement from their 18th-place finish a season ago. L.A. has seven players with double-digit goals, led by Tyler Toffoli’s 23 tallies, which matches his 2014-15 total in 25 fewer games. Toffoli is having a breakout season at age 23.
The Kings are receiving pretty good scoring production from their blue line, too. Three of their D-men have scored six or more goals, and No. 1 defenseman Drew Doughty — arguably the top Norris Trophy candidate — ranks third on the team in scoring with 31 points (10 goals, 21 assists).
L.A. doesn’t have a dominant goal scorer, but its depth is impressive and should be good enough for a deep playoff run, even without an upgrade at the trade deadline. You also don’t need a dominant scorer when you’re creating scoring chances at the rate noted in the first section.
Great special teams
The Kings are the ninth-best penalty killing team in the league with an 82.7 percent success rate. That’s to be expected when you roll out a top defenseman such as Doughty and a perennial Selke Trophy finalist in Anze Kopitar.
L.A.’s power-play improvement is even more impressive. The Kings are converting on 21.9 percent of their power plays, good for fourth-best in the league and nearly two percent better than last season. L.A. won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014 without a dominant power play. In fact, its power play in 2012 was horrendous (12.8 percent on 94 opportunities).
Teams must be weary of taking penalties against this Kings team. Players such as Toffoli, Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Milan Lucic, who’s likely to be parked in front of the net, have the necessary skill to score goals with the man advantage. It also helps to have smooth skating D-men like Doughty and Jake Muzzin who can walk the blue line and use their playmaking skill to create scoring chances.
Special teams can make the difference in a playoff series, and the Kings are well-equipped to take advantage of this area when the postseason arrives.
Thumbnail photo via Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports Images