Kings’ Special Teams Playing Important Role in Early Season Success

Having top-notch special team units is vital for a team to be successful. In the 2018-19 season, the St. Louis Blues had the 10th best power play and ninth-best penalty kill in the NHL; subsequently, the franchise captured its first Stanley Cup. In the 2019-20 regular season, the Tampa Bay Lightning had the fifth-best power play and 13th ranked penalty kill in the league on their way to winning hockey’s greatest prize, the Stanley Cup.

Jon Cooper Tampa Bay Lightning
Head coach Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning hoists the 2020 Stanley Cup (Photo by Andy Devlin/NHLI via Getty Images)

These examples highlight how great special team units help make a team successful. In 2019-20, the Los Angeles Kings struggled mightily in this regard, however, they have vastly improved in this aspect in 2020-21, showing promise for the team’s hope of qualifying for the 2021 playoffs.

A Brutal 2019-20

In 2019-20, the Kings’ special teams were brutal. Out of the team’s special teams unit, the penalty kill played the best. LA posted a 77.4 penalty kill percentage (PK%) in 2019-20, which ranked 23rd in the entire league. Only one team with a worse PK% made the playoffs than LA, which was the Vegas Golden Knights (76.6 PK%) who were dispatched by the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final. However, Vegas made up for this deficiency with the league’s ninth-best power play.

Peter DeBoer Vegas Golden Knights
Head coach Peter DeBoer of the Vegas Golden Knights (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

Two teams with a worse penalty kill than LA made the Qualifying Round of the playoffs, however, they didn’t make the official playoffs. These were Minnesota (77.2 PK%) and Nashville (76.1 PK%). The other teams LA had a better penalty kill than were Anaheim, Ottawa, Buffalo and Detroit, which isn’t an impressive group.

Brian Gibbson Anders Nilson
The Anaheim Ducks and Ottawa Senators had similar ranking special teams units to LA in 2019-20. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick)

Although the penalty kill was bad, the power play was even more dreadful. The Kings had a measly 17.1 power-play percentage (PP%) in 2019-20. This ranked 26th in the NHL. They ranked higher than Detroit (29th), Anaheim (30th), and Ottawa (31st) who all missed the playoffs.

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The 27th and 28th overall teams were a different story, as both of them made the playoffs. These were the Columbus Blue Jackets (27th) and Chicago Blackhawks (28th), both of whom were knocked out in the Quarter Finals of the playoffs. Columbus had a 16.4 PP%, while Chicago had a 15.2 PP%. However, both teams had fantastic shorthanded units to offset this. Chicago’s PK% of 82.1 ranked eighth in the NHL, while Columbus’ 81.7% ranked 12th.

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones often quarterbacks the teams power play unit (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

The Kings analytics on the power play were around the middle of the pack. While skating with a man up, LA ranked: 16th in shots for percentage (SF%); 19th in scoring chances for percentage (SCF%); and 11th in high-danger scoring chances (HDCF%).

With the man down, LA ranked: ninth in SF%; 20th in HDCF%; and 26th in overall SCF%. This means they weren’t very successful at ragging the puck. LA took shots on goal, but not many were dangerous scoring opportunities, indicating they weren’t bringing the puck deep into the opposition’s zone to kill off the penalty.

Fantastic Special Teams in 2020-21

The Kings’ analytics on both special teams units have seen tremendous increases in 2020-21. On the power play, they rank eighth in SCF% (up 11 spots) and seventh in HDCF% (up four spots). Their shots for numbers have taken a nosedive, but they are generating prime scoring opportunities instead of just throwing shots on net.

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On the penalty kill, LA has done much better at bringing the puck deep into the opponents’ zone and ragging it. On the penalty kill, they rank 11th in SF% (down two spots), fifth in SCF% (up 21 spots) and second in HDCF% (up 18 spots).

Todd McLellan Los Angeles Kings
Todd McLellan, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin /The Hockey Writers)

These stellar fundamentals have led to the Kings’ power play becoming more productive and the penalty kill becoming stronger. The Kings currently have a PP% of 22.2, ranking 12th overall in the league. The penalty kill has also seen a sharp turnaround, as its 87.5 PK% ranks seventh in the NHL.

Overall, the Kings’ penalty kill has improved by 10.1% from 2019-20 and has moved up from 21st in the NHL to seventh (+14 spots). The power play is up 5.1% and has jumped from 26th in the league to 12th (+14 spots).

Kings Need to Keep Lighting it up

LA’s special teams struggled mightily last season, and being a successful team typically requires strong play on both the penalty kill and power play. The Kings’ special team units have seen significant improvements early into the 2020-21 season, and this trend in the right direction should help LA become a much-improved team. 

Stats Per: Natural Stat Trick and Hockey Reference

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