It’s no secret the Los Angeles Kings have gone through a series of challenges since winning the 2014 Stanley Cup. From not making the playoffs in 2015, losing in round one of the playoffs last year, to salary cap constraints, the LA Kings are between a rock and a hard place.
It’s safe to say these challenges are not as easy to identify as challenges facing other teams from becoming Stanley Cup contenders. After all, the Kings’ secret sauce had always relied on the intangible aspects of their players and style of play. If we take a closer look at the Kings’ individual games during the postseason last year, some of these challenges do come to light.
In a recent article, I pointed out that the Kings’ system may reveal inefficiencies stagnating their improvement. Perhaps some players are being restricted from meeting their full potential because their assigned role requires a skill set that’s not the one they do best. In another article, I pointed out that one of their weaknesses is on the penalty kill since five power play goals were scored against them by the San Jose Sharks in last season’s playoff series.
Others have argued injuries were a key reason for their lack of playoff success over the last two postseasons. Perhaps it was Tanner Pearson’s leg injury on January 10, 2015, that prevented the Kings from making it to the 2015 playoffs. Perhaps it was Alec Martinez’s absence that prevented the Kings from proceeding into round two of the 2016 playoffs. Who knows, maybe Marián Gáborík’s broken foot from the World Cup of Hockey and Jonathan Quick’s lower body injury from three days ago will have unimaginable consequences leading into the 2016-17 season too.
— San Jose News (@san_jose_news_) October 12, 2016
However, Pearson and Gáborík didn’t play a role in the Kings’ 2012 Stanley Cup victory, and therefore, these injuries were not the reason for the Kings’ unsuccessful runs for the Cup.
Puck Possession Defines the LA Kings
For the last few seasons (except 2014-15), the LA Kings have been the best puck possession team in the league. Analytics have shown a strong correlation between puck possession and winning games. Ken Campbell, a writer for The Hockey News, wrote an article titled ‘How did the best possession team in the NHL miss the playoffs and how did one of the worst get in?’ In it, he talked about the Calgary Flames, who were one of the worst puck possession teams in the 2014-15 season, that went on to make the playoffs anyways.
For many Kings fans, the most puzzling question is how is this possible?
According to Dean Lombardi, the Kings’ general manager, the team wasn’t getting better throughout the regular season, nor were they peaking at the right times, and he said this is an important attribute of teams who win Stanley Cups.
Kings’ head coach Darryl Sutter had issues not with the Sharks’ significant number of power plays during the 2016 playoffs, but rather with the Kings lack of power plays.
Accusations of LA Kings’ Bruising System May Hold Merit
Sutter doesn’t control whether the referees will call a penalty against the Sharks, though. What he does have some control over is the number of penalties the refs call on his team – a team that was riddled with penalties throughout five playoff games:
The only metrics the Sharks rank first in is total shots on goal, which contradicts the Kings’ first place status for puck possession. This anomaly can be directly tied to the Sharks’ substantially greater number of power plays, which suggests the penalty kill has become a vulnerable spot for the LA Kings to be in.
As excellent as they may be at killing penalties, every penalty killed changes their list of priorities. Instead of creating scoring opportunities, they’re busy preventing them. They cannot bank on Trevor Lewis getting shorthanded goals on a consistent basis — not even Connor McDavid is that good.
Unfortunately, it seems that getting a lot of penalties is a way of life for the Los Angeles Kings, who started off the 2016-17 season playing against the San Jose Sharks on October 12, 2016. Clearly, they have no interest in decreasing their penalties at all:
Simply put, the LA Kings would benefit from knowing more information about how and why penalties are happening so often. Questions such as, why is it normal for us to get double the number of penalties as the opposition? Were some of these penalties preventable? Are there certain lineups that receive fewer penalties overall, statistically? If there are, why? Is it possible that certain players increase penalties in their linemates while on the ice, whether they increase penalties received with anyone and everyone, or just a select few? If analytics revealed such patterns, there’s a chance the Kings could reduce penalties with very little effort at all.
In part two of this article, I’m going to look at ways to measure LA Kings’ players who receive penalties, as well as their effect on line-mates, using analytics. By doing this, I’m going to try to answer some of the questions above.