No team in the analytics era has reminded people that process is a better indicator of future success than recent results like the Los Angeles Kings have.
In two of the past three seasons, the Kings appeared to be stumbling along near the middle of the NHL pack, before a late surge in the standings led into a championship run. Analysts pointed to the underlying numbers, and how Los Angeles was a great possession team dealing with some bad luck, especially last season.
In 2012, the Kings added Jeff Carter (and subtracted Jack Johnson) right about the time the shots started going in. Last season, Carter moved to center and the Kings added Marian Gaborik just as, after a season of carrying a near League-worst shooting percentage, the shots starting going in.
The Kings made a big trade Wednesday, landing defenseman Andrej Sekera, but their surge began long ago even if it wasn't reflected in the standings. Since early December, the Kings have dominated teams in puck possession better than they have in the past three seasons, and now some improved goaltending has helped them storm back into the top eight in the Western Conference.
From the start of the season through Dec. 3, the Kings did not look like the team from last season. Great goaltending masked some of the problems, but Los Angeles was 14th in score-adjusted shot attempts percentage (SAT%), according to war-on-ice.com, and even worse, the Kings were 18th in score-adjusted unblocked shot attempts percentage (USAT%).
|ON DEC 3
|SINCE DEC 3
|Key: SAT%rel = shot attempts percentage relative to team average; SAT% shot attempts percentage
Since Dec. 3, which is a span of 34 games for Los Angeles, the Kings have been the best puck- possession team in the NHL by a significant margin. They are first in both of those metrics.
The gap between the Kings in non-adjusted SAT% and the second-place Detroit Red Wings since Dec. 3 is the same between the Red Wings and 11th place. During this run, the Kings are second in the NHL in shot attempts for per 60 minutes (SATF/60) and second in the League in shot attempts against per 60 minutes (SATA/60). They are generating shot attempts like the New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks and they are suffocating them like the Red Wings.
The Kings' score-adjusted USAT% since Dec. 3 is 58.5 percent. Only two other teams have produced a full season better than that since blocked and missed shots started being counted in 2005: the 2007-08 Red Wings and the 2009-10 Blackhawks.
Check out the accompanying tables to see the Kings' top-eight and bottom-eight skaters ranked by their SAT% relative to the team average. Obviously everyone's SAT% has improved, but the relative numbers are bunched closer together because the bottom of the roster has performed better.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick has had a roller coaster-like season. He looked like a Vezina Trophy candidate early, then had a sub-.900 save percentage for a chunk in the middle, and now he's playing better again.
Dwight King has been an effective replacement for Tanner Pearson, and not just because his jersey number also starts with a 7. Robyn Regehr has improved some, and he's likely to benefit if Sekera ends up next to him.
The Kings are not as good at center as they were last season, but a full season of Marian Gaborik and an almost full season of Tyler Toffoli has made them better on the wings. Adding Sekera might just make them better on defense. There still might be a little salary cap space if general manager Dean Lombardi wanted to try and tinker with the bottom-two center spots.
Maybe the start of the season can be explained by the proverbial "Stanley Cup hangover," or trying to recalibrate without suspended defenseman Slava Voynov. Part of what makes the Kings' style of play so tough to deal with in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is how much coach Darryl Sutter demands from his players, and demanding that much for six months is a lot harder than for two.
Regardless of the issues earlier in the season, the Kings have found their mojo.
Maybe it took this extended winning streak to remind everyone the Kings are still a contender for the Stanley Cup, but Los Angeles has been back to its old self for a lot longer than eight games.
DISCLAIMER: While the Super 16 is NHL.com's weekly power rankings, it focuses more on the "power" than the "rankings" when determining the order. It's not always going to look like the League standings and likely will take more of a long view than a short one. If two teams are close the tiebreaker almost always is this: If the two teams started a seven-game series right now, who would prevail? Stop by to see where your favorite team ranks, but stay for the information. All rankings, records and statistics are through the games played Wednesday night.
1. Los Angeles Kings (29-18-12)
Sekera seems like an interesting fit for the Kings on their second defense pairing, likely next to Regehr (though it would be intriguing to see Sekera and Alec Martinez together after he returns from injury). Sekera has gone from being an underrated defenseman to one of those guys who is always identified as underrated so enough people know he's a good player.
How does he compare to Voynov, and to Martinez (the player who has played in Voynov's role the most this season)? Well, one interesting way is to use Domenic Galamini's HERO (that's Horizontal Evaluative Rankings Optic) charts. Below are the charts (see more of them at ownthepuck.blogspot.ca) for Sekera, Voynov and Martinez.
This is data from the past three seasons, and it is adjusted for usage so it takes quality of competition, quality of teammates and zone starts into consideration.
(Click image to enlarge)
(Click image to enlarge)
(Click image to enlarge)
Sekera has actually been better at helping to generate offense than Voynov, but not as strong at suppressing it. The Kings could use a little extra offensive spark, even if they are again the League's dominant possession team. Martinez has struggled a bit at times this season with more ice time, so sliding him into a less-demanding role could help him perform defensively like he has the previous two years.
Given Sekera's salary-cap figure (less than $3 million) he was arguably the most valuable rental player available, especially for teams near the cap ceiling. Lombardi may have struck again with another deal near the NHL Trade Deadline (Monday at 3 p.m. ET) that pays dividends deep into the spring.
2. Nashville Predators (41-13-7)
When James Neal is on the ice with Colin Wilson this season, the Predators' SAT% is 65.4 percent, according to stats.hockeyanalysis.com. When Neal is on the ice with Mike Fisher, Nashville's SAT% is 65.9 percent. That's a pretty good reason to keep Neal there instead of on the top line.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning (37-19-6)
The Lightning's power play is languishing near the bottom of the League, and Steven Stamkos has eight power-play goals in 61 games. He had 19 in 85 games between the two previous seasons combined and he had 53 extra-man goals in the previous three seasons combined.
Check out the heat maps from sportingcharts.com below. The first one in each pair is Stamkos' work since 2009-10, and the second one is from this season. They show Stamkos hasn't been able to find as many looks on the power play this season from his favorite spot. Like Alex Ovechkin, Stamkos has enjoyed hammering home shots from the left circle, typically on a one-timer.
Are teams forcing him to move around more to find open ice? Are the Lightning moving him around more? Is this one area where Tampa Bay does miss Martin St. Louis? Teams have proven they can win in the postseason without a great power play, but it certainly can't hurt. And a team with this level of talent should be better anyway. It's not all on Stamkos, but finding him more chances almost certainly would help.
(Click image to enlarge)
(Click image to enlarge)
4. Detroit Red Wings (33-15-11)
Pavel Datsyuk probably isn't going to squeeze his way into a wide-open Hart Trophy discussion, but he should be among the top contenders for the Selke Trophy. It's an award he used to own, but a few others have moved ahead of him in the pecking order in the past few seasons. He has been healthy enough and dominant enough, posting a League-leading SAT% at even strength of 59.01 percent despite facing the toughest competition of any skater on the Red Wings, according to war-on-ice.com.
5. St. Louis Blues (38-18-4)
The Blues have always been considered a defense-first team with Ken Hitchcock in charge, but they're leaking goals this month. Five times they've allowed four or more goals in the past nine games, and not coincidentally, they are 4-5-0 in that span. Their chances of catching the Predators in the Central Division have pretty much vanished at this point.
6. Chicago Blackhawks (36-20-5)
Let's say there was a team with Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Brandon Saad, Brad Richards and either Kris Versteeg or Teuvo Teravainen as its top-six forwards. Would that team have the best top-six crew in the NHL? Maybe not, but said team wouldn't be far from the top of that list. The Blackhawks are now that team without Patrick Kane. Add a defenseman (and get Johnny Oduya and Trevor van Riemsdyk healthy) and the Blackhawks can play long enough into the spring for Kane's season to not be over.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins (35-17-9)
Last week, it was documented how much lower Pittsburgh’s SPSv% had been than normal in a recent 24-game stretch. Since then, the Penguins have poured in a total of 13 goals against three quality teams. They also added one of the more valuable bottom-six forwards available in Daniel Winnik.
8. New York Islanders (40-20-2)
The Metropolitan Division is incredibly tight, not just in the standings but how the four teams currently in playoff position might match up against each other in a postseason series. The Islanders are the best possession team, but in 2014-15 at least, they have the worst goaltending and are probably fourth out of the four on the blue line as well.
The Penguins added Winnik but could still use another piece, and none of the other three teams has been active yet. It is possible the player who will swing that quadrant of the playoffs will arrive between now and Monday afternoon.
9. Montreal Canadiens (39-16-5)
It's never going to ease the pain of Ryan McDonagh for Scott Gomez, but the Canadiens have gained the upper hand in a July 2013 trade with the New York Rangers that brought Christian Thomas to Montreal for Danny Kristo. Each was a second-round pick and interesting prospect, Kristo because of his successful career at North Dakota and Thomas in part because of his father, Steve Thomas.
Thomas, two years younger, has found a role with the Canadiens, and though it is only 18 games, he does lead the Canadiens in SAT% relative to the team average. Montreal's roster is top-heavy, so any players like Thomas who can earn the coaching staff's trust and take minutes away from some of the poor possession guys on the roster is a good thing. Kristo has yet to play for the Rangers.
10. New York Rangers (37-16-6)
Yes, the Rangers would be a couple spots higher if Henrik Lundqvist was healthy. Yes, they have won a bunch of games without their regal leader. No, people should not expect them to continue shooting 11.3 percent as a team at even strength as they have in February.
11. Washington Capitals (33-19-10)
Let's assume Carey Price and Pekka Rinne remain healthy and excellent and are therefore locks to be finalists for the Vezina Trophy. The race for that third invite to the NHL Awards show is shaping up to be a fascinating one. Braden Holtby, Cory Schneider and Marc-Andre Fleury are all within three-one hundredths of a point in save percentage (Schneider is at .926, Fleury is at .924, Holtby is at .923). They are all within .05 of each other in goals-against average. Fleury hasn't played in as many games, but has eight shutouts.
Does Schneider get dinged for playing on a poor team? Does Fleury's reputation hurt him, or does this bounce-back season help him? It says here, if the season ended today, that Holtby should be the third finalist, but any of those three (and maybe even Devan Dubnyk) have a chance to be there.
12. Anaheim Ducks (38-17-7)
The Ducks won a couple of games this week, but their trend of suspect play did not subside. Spending time in the Orange County corner of Hockey Twitter the past few weeks has been a somber experience. Anaheim has found out what it is like to be a middling possession team and not have above-average goaltending to rely on without Frederik Andersen, and the results have not been great. There is still time to figure things out though.
13. Winnipeg Jets (31-20-11)
Jiri Tlusty would have traditional "second line on a contender" numbers if his SPSv% wasn't the lowest of his career since 2007-08. He is a better replacement for Evander Kane than Drew Stafford, and each fortifies the Jets' forward depth without Kane and (for now) Mathieu Perreault.
14. Minnesota Wild (31-22-7)
From 2010-13, Dubnyk played in 120 games for the Edmonton Oilers and had a .917 save percentage. Then 2013-14 was a disaster, and Dubnyk ended up with three teams and eventually in the American Hockey League.
Dubnyk has turned into one of the great stories of the 2014-15 season. He's now tied for fifth in save percentage among goalies with at least 35 games played at .924. Since joining the Wild, he's played 18 games with a .935, which equals Carey Price's League-leading mark.
As it turns out, Ben Scrivens played 72 games between 2011-14, and he had a .917 save percentage in that span before this disaster of a season with the Oilers. Just in case anyone is thinking about who might be the Dubnyk of 2015-16.
15. Vancouver Canucks (35-22-3)
Eddie Lack was outplaying Ryan Miller over the past month or so, and now he's got a chance to prove he can be a No. 1 goaltender for a team in the middle of a playoff push. He's got a .927 save percentage in 10 games in 2015, so that's certainly a nice start.
16. Florida Panthers (26-21-13)
The David Krejci injury in Boston may have squeezed the door open a little further for the Panthers, but they aren't helping themselves enough to take advantage. Florida is sixth-worst in goals per game despite being middle of the pack in SAT% (tied for 15th with the San Jose Sharks). They addressed their goal-scoring troubles by adding Jaromir Jagr in a trade with the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.