Is the Ice Tilting the Wrong Way for the Kings?

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics — Mark Twain

When you’re the defending Stanley Cup champs and it’s early in the new season, there isn’t much to complain about. When you’re 4-1-1 to start said new season, there’s even less reason to whine. Or is there?

Sure, any win is a good win and all that cliché jazz. However, considering that it’s in the Kings’ DNA to win largely by dominating puck possession, it’s a bit worrisome that they’re doing so despite being pretty much bottled up in their end of the ice during large stretches of time. Yes, it’s early and the sample size is very small, but the ice is definitely tilting the wrong way for Los Angeles right now.

Corsi and Fenwick

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Justin Williams is one of the Kings’ top ice-time possession players.(Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)
During the first six games, the Kings averaged 25.2 shots per game while surrendering 36.0. That’s the second-worst shot differential in the NHL this year, behind only the lowly Buffalo Sabres. However, shots for and against are the old-school way of looking at things. Advanced stats are the newest ‘in’ thing, with Corsi and Fenwick two key ways of analyzing offensive and defensive effectiveness.

According to HockeyProspectus.com, Corsi is defined as follows:

A statistic originally invented by Jim Corsi, who was the goaltender coach for the Buffalo Sabres. Corsi is essentially a plus-minus statistic that measures shot attempts. A player receives a plus for any shot attempt (on net, missed, or blocked) that his team directs at the opponent’s net, and a minus for any shot attempt against his own net. A proxy for possession.

In short: Corsi = shots on goal + missed shots + blocked shots.

Notice that it’s not as simple as recorded shots, but actual shot attempts, whether the puck actually reaches the net or not. A team can spend substantial time in the opponent’s zone, taking numerous shots that don’t reach the net but still control ice time and thus the flow of the game in the process.

Fenwick is another advanced stat measurement. Per HockeyProspectus, Fenwick is described as follows:

Another possession metric, originally devised by Matt Fenwick of the Battle of Alberta blog. Fenwick follows the same concept as Corsi, but doesn’t include blocked shots. Fenwick is considered to have better predictive value for future goal differential than Corsi. The removal of blocked shots is also valuable since blocked shots are a proven skill worthy of being separated.

Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up:

Fenwick = shots on goal + missed shots.

Now that you’re a Corsi and Fenwick expert (or at least relatively conversational on the subject), what does this have to do with the Kings?

The Kings are near the bottom of the league in both Corsi and Fenwick

Jim Corsi is credited with developing the statistical measurement which bears his name.
Jim Corsi is credited with developing the statistical measurement which bears his name.
After finishing at or near the top of the NHL in Corsi For % and Fenwick For % in each of the last three seasons, the Kings are puking up ice chips so far this year from a puck-possession perspective. Their Corsi For % (Corsi For/Corsi For + Corsi Against) is a mere 47.6%, good for 24th in the league. Their Fenwick For % (Fenwick For/Fenwick For + Fenwick Against) is a weak 25th at 45.7%, ahead of just Colorado, Calgary, San Jose, Ottawa and Buffalo.

Does it really matter? The short answer, of course, is no, since we’re only talking about six games. However, note that the combined record of the six teams below L.A. in Fenwick For % (the more predictive of the two) is under .500 at 14-14-2. A team’s on-ice performance with respect to advanced stats is only one factor within a myriad of reasons why it might be doing well or poorly, but in this day and age, it would be unwise to ignore the link.

The Kings need to tilt the ice the other direction

Los Angeles isn’t built primarily for speed, but to maximize puck possession and control the puck inside the opponent’s zone as much and as long as possible. Over the past three years, the ice has tilted decidedly in their favor, the net result being three straight trips to the conference finals and two Stanley Cups.

Jonathan Quick has been outstanding to start the new season. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
Jonathan Quick has been outstanding to start the new season. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
In contrast, the ice has pivoted the wrong way for the Kings this year. The Sharks took it to the Kings in the opener, and Arizona did as well in game number two. In the past two games (both wins), they were manhandled by St. Louis and Minnesota. In four of the six games, L.A. lost the puck possession battles, the 4-1-1 record having as much to do with Jonathan Quick and a plethora of early home games as anything else. For a team that thrives on possession, the concern here is that the hot start will not be sustainable unless the Kings get back to controlling the ice time in the opponent’s zone.

With all that said, look for the Kings to get back to what they do best

There’s no reason to believe the ice won’t soon tilt in the Kings’ favor. There is just too much size and structure within the roster and the system — one that has largely in place for years — for that not to happen. It’s clear Darryl Sutter just won’t tolerate the ice time differential for long, no doubt working on the problem repeatedly in practice.

As he once said about readiness in January, 2012: “They can wear wigs and sunglasses. I don’t care, as long as they’re ready.” Touché.