The Sharks finished fourth in the conference with 111 points, but the Kings were no slouches themselves, earning 100 points for the sixth-highest total in the West. Both teams have had stable, familiar rosters led by big, play-making centers Joe Thornton and Anze Kopitar. Each are near the top of the league in shots per game and fewest shots allowed. Neither has a lethal power play, but both are effective on the penalty kill. The two teams finish tied for second in the NHL on the draw at 52.8%, and both finished in the top five in Corsi percentage, with the Kings on top of the NHL at 56.7% and the Sharks fifth-best at 53.9%.
The new playoff format pits familiar foes in a first-round series
Due to the new playoff format, the second and third seeds from each division play one another in an opening-round series, meaning Los Angeles and San Jose square off in round one. This is a series both teams likely prefer, given the ease of travel and the familiarity of the opposition. Speaking of familiarity, the two teams will meet in a playoff series for the third time in the last four years.
“We know what it takes and we have to get ready for it,” said Kings center Anze Kopitar, commenting on the team’s prospects for a win in San Jose. “Obviously it’s going to be loud and it’s going to be intense, but it’s the fun time of the year and we’re going to be ready for it.” Sharks Coach Todd McLellan characterized the rivalry between his team and the Kings as intense, calling the series “great for California hockey.”
There’s no denying that at least based upon traditional statistics, San Jose’s offense skates circles around that of the Kings. The Sharks scored a cool 2.92 goals per game in 2013-14, fifth best in the league. Los Angeles, on the other hand, required a late spate of mediocrity (34 goals in twelve games) just to hit 2.42 per game for the full season, fifth lowest in the NHL.The Sharks’ big three of Joe Thornton (76 points), Joe Pavelski (79) and Patrick Marleau (70) ranked in the NHL’s top 20 point producers, with Pavelski (41 goals) and Marleau (33) amongst the league’s elite scorers. Logan Couture (23 goals, 54 points) and Brent Burns (22, 48) were also big-time performers, and Tommy Wingels, Thomas Hertl, Martin Havlat and Matt Nieto all scored at least ten goals apiece.
The Kings were led by Anze Kopitar’s 29 goals and 41 assists and Jeff Carter’s 27 goals and 23 assists, but the falloff thereafter was precipitous. No other Kings player scored more than 19 goals, and Captain Dustin Brown had fewer total points (27) than the number of goals he scored in two of his eight previous full NHL campaigns. It should be noted that deadline acquisition Marian Gaborik scored 12 points in his last ten games.
For the advanced stat brigade, however, the Kings hold one significant advantage in this series, especially considering the low-scoring environment of the playoffs: puck possession. LA’s Corsi For % (100*Corsi For/(Corsi For + Corsi Against) and Fenwick For % (100*Fenwick For/(Fenwick For + Fenwick Against) were each the best in the game, meaning that more often than not, the ice tended to tilt toward the Kings. The fact that they couldn’t do much with it was frustrating, but if the Kings’ offense began to regress to the mean in latter part of the season and continues to do so in this series, they could be poised for another deep playoff run. It should be noted that Los Angeles finished second in Corsi For % and fourth in Fenwick For % during their Cup-winning season of two years ago, with the exact same set of circumstances presenting themselves in the opening-round series.
Advantage: San Jose
The Sharks have an effective defense, allowing just 2.35 goals per game, fifth best in the NHL. The Kings, however, led the league in fewest goals allowed at 2.05 goals per game. Both hold shots down and (as mentioned above) have solid advanced stats. The biggest difference is in physicality: the Kings threw 2,609 hits during the regular season, tied with Columbus for first in the NHL. San Jose recorded almost a thousand fewer hits for 25th in the league.
The names are solid on both sides: Dan Boyle (12 goals, 36 points), Jason Demers (5, 34) and Marc-Edouard Vlasic (5, 24) lead the way in San Jose; Drew Doughty (10, 37), Slava Voynov (4, 30), Jake Muzzin (5, 24) and Alec Martinez (11, 22) are the main threats in Los Angeles.
Advantage: Los Angeles
Antti Niemi had another solid season, with a 39-17-7 record and 2.39/.913 stat line. Jonathan Quick enjoyed a 27-17-4 record and 2.07/.915 stat line. The backups for each team are highly capable. Quick, however, has been a beast in the playoffs, something that cannot be said about Niemi.
Advantage: Los Angeles
The Sharks were slightly better on the power play as well as the penalty kill.
Slight Advantage: San Jose
CoachingDarryl Sutter may have won a Cup in 2011-12 and taken his team to the conference finals in 2012-13, but Todd McLellan is highly regarded as well, having won three division titles and led his team to the conference finals twice. The Cup win earns Sutter just enough extra credit to gain the edge.
Slight Advantage: Los Angeles
The Kings won three out of four games in the season series with the Sharks and much like 2011-12, seem to be finding their offense at just the right time. They have the clear advantage in terms of physical play and are the top puck-possession team in the NHL.
All of these factors bode well against their arch rival, so even though San Jose has the home ice advantage, the smart money is on the Kings in this series. It’s going to be very close and should be extremely low scoring, but in the end, Los Angeles will prevail for the second year in a row.
Kings in 7
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.