Kings Fans, Are You Ready for Another Seven-game Series?
This might be a surprise, given that the Los Angeles Kings have lost nine of their last 11 games to the Chicago Blackhawks (including four of five in the 2013 Western Conference Finals). But speaking of last year’s series:
In last years WCF at 5v5, the Blackhawks had 164 unblocked shots while LA had 163. Big difference was sh%, Hawks shot 11%, Kings: 5.5%.
— Roberto Paredez (@BlobertP) May 17, 2014
Los Angeles wasn’t that far from giving Chicago a more dogged fight last season, and now, they’re coming in with a much deeper forward corps, featuring newly-acquired sniper Marian Gaborik, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson’s emergence, and Justin Williams and Mike Richards rounding out the bottom-six. They’re also playing better going into this series than they were last June.
Related: Blackhawks Schedule
What Will Help the Kings Overcome the Defending Champs?
Anze Kopitar Must Reverse Trend Against Jonathan Toews
The Slovenian star has only managed a 41.1 CF20 % against the Blackhawks captain (in 96:45 Time on Ice) from 2007-14 (regular season only).
(CF % means Corsi For %, which compares 5v5 Even Strength all shots attempted versus shots against when a player is on the ice. Generally, better than 50% is good; it means you have the puck more than your opponents. CF20 % means Corsi For/20 mins. All CF20 % numbers in this article are 5v5 Zone Start Adjusted.)
Kopitar hasn’t done any better over the last three regular seasons against Toews (37.3 CF20 %, 35:14 TOI), which isn’t even accounting for last year’s playoffs.
Among the 65 forwards that Kopitar has registered 75+ 5v5 regular season minutes against from 2007-14, Toews has been his second-worst matchup. The worst? Patrick Sharp (40.9 CF20 %, 82:06 TOI).
Kopitar has performed better against Niklas Hjalmarsson-Johnny Oduya, his likely defensive matchup over the last two years (VS Hjalmarsson, 51.8 CF20 %, 44:09 TOI) (VS Oduya, 48.6 CF20 %, 41:44 TOI).
That said, Toews has stymied Kopitar for years. Will the league’s leading playoff scorer finally push back? And if he’s snuffed out, who steps up?
Taking Advantage of the Man Advantage
Both the Kings and Hawks are elite 5v5 possession teams. However, both penalty-killing units have left something to be desired.
It’s odd to say that about Chicago, owning a playoff-best 91.3% penalty kill rate. However, let’s compare postseason underlying numbers with the regular season’s:
(FA60 means Fenwick Against/60 mins, which measures unblocked shots against when a player or team is on the ice per 60 minutes of ice time. SA60 means Shots Against/60 mins.)
Their postseason SA60 rate is an improvement (47.4 would be 6th in NHL). That said, much of their success can be owed to Corey Crawford’s sparkling .938 PK Save %. That won’t last.
LA’s regular season penalty killing woes were documented here and replacing Willie Mitchell with Jeff Schultz hasn’t helped:
Essentially, both teams are well matched 5v5, and a power play goal here and there may very well swing this series. Ignore any talk about LA’s “weak” power play. Since the acquisition of Gaborik, they’ve succeeded at a 20.8% clip (as opposed to 14.6% before).
Does Jeff Schultz Stand a Chance Against Blackhawks’ Best?
That might be the closest thing to a joke you’ll find in this series preview: Schultz is about to get steamrolled.
Chicago usually splits Patrick Kane and Toews, so Drew Doughty will draw one and Schultz-Slava Voynov the other. Mitchell can’t get back soon enough.
This is a clear Hawks advantage. While they can eagerly throw their second defensive pairing on Kopitar, the Kings don’t have a similar luxury with Schultz/Voynov—pitting them against Toews or Kane is a necessity.
That said, Doughty has also struggled against Toews (41.7 CF20 %, 46:06 TOI, 2011-14), faring better on Kane (53.6 CF20 %, 53:32).
Will Jonathan Quick Be the Edge?
So remember Chicago’s shooting percentage against Los Angeles last spring? Goals like this might’ve had something to do with that:
Suffice to say, Quick was not at his best. This postseason, his inconsistency has been well documented. Unlike the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks, he doesn’t have nearly the same margin of error against Chicago’s superior team.
On the other side, Corey Crawford has also been inconsistent. But like Quick, he’s playoff-tested, outplaying his American counterpart last June.
The difference between LA and Chicago is slimmer this season, but the Hawks are still a little deeper. Quick has to be on top of his game for most, if not all of this series. He’s very capable of outdueling Crawford and perhaps stealing a game, will he?
My prediction? Quick won’t be enough. Begrudgingly, Blackhawks over Kings in seven.