The Los Angeles Kings will parade the Stanley Cup around Figueroa Street on Thursday afternoon for the first time in franchise history, ending one of the longest droughts in the NHL.
(Speaking of which, ending droughts has been a theme of late, what with the past three years involving the Chicago Blackhawks winning for the first time in 49 years in 2010 and the Boston Bruins for the first time in 39 in 2011.)
How teams pulled off winning a championship is always the question in the aftermath of it all, and with the Kings, it seems we’ve been writing on that theme for a month now.
Their run has been dissected more than most because it was almost from the beginning. We have never witnessed an eighth seed storm through the NHL playoffs like this before, let alone win it all, and they became a story from Round 1 on.
But looking back closely through their four series, I think you can highlight two key reasons why the Kings ultimately won.
The first is obviously Jonathan Quick, who posted the best playoff save percentage in the history of the stat at .946, surpassing the mark Tim Thomas put up a year earlier.
Los Angeles allowed fewer goals per game (1.50) than any Cup winner under this playoff format, and he was obviously a big reason why.
(Consider that the difference between what Quick did and a more reasonable save percentage like, say, .920 is roughly 14 goals allowed over the 20 games the Kings played.)
Quick had some help, however, and that didn’t get talked about nearly enough. Not only did the Kings opponents struggle to score against them; their opponents’ best players were basically silent throughout the whole postseason.
Consider that key reason No. 2 why the Kings won, and one that you can argue was just as significant.
Goals per game for the Kings opponents
During the season, the four teams that faced Los Angeles averaged 2.66 goals per game, a number that dropped to 1.50 against the Kings in the playoffs. The reason? Their top players stopped producing.
During the regular season, the four teams that Los Angeles faced weren’t particularly high scoring ones. Vancouver was the exception, as they tied for fifth in goals for, but St. Louis (21st), Phoenix (18th) and New Jersey (15th) were on the low end for playoff bound teams.
On average, those teams scored 2.66 goals a game during the season, and they received roughly one goal a game of that from their three highest scoring forwards alone. Their next three highest scoring forwards added another 0.63 goals per game, meaning that they, like most NHL teams, were getting more than 60 per cent of their goal production from their top six forwards.
New Jersey was a bit of an anomaly, but we’ll use them as an example here.
The Devils were the most top heavy team in this group, getting 45 per cent of their goals from Ilya Kovalchuk, Zach Parise and David Clarkson during the season. Another 30 per cent came from their next three highest scoring forwards. (They only had one other player with more than seven goals.)
As a team, in other words, they were generating only 0.66 goals per game from the other 15-plus players on their roster, meaning if you shut down Kovalchuk, Parise and a few others, you should be able to beat them.
And this was the path to success for the Kings in every series.
In Round 1, the Canucks “top three” had only one goal (in part because of Daniel Sedin’s injury).
In Round 2, the Blues best forwards also had only one goal in a series in which the entire team only scored six.
In Rounds 3 and 4, that group of three forwards managed only two goals in each series, with one being Kovalchuk’s empty netter in Game 4 (which I’ll be charitable and count).
In other words, the top three forwards on all four teams the Kings faced combined for six goals in 20 games when, during the season, they had been producing an average of a goal a game.
Their next three most prolific forwards, meanwhile, dropped from 0.63 goals per game to having only five in 20 games.
And that drop off makes up basically the entire lack of goal production from the Canucks, Blues, Coyotes and Devils in their series with Los Angeles in these playoffs, as their depth players continued to produce at almost the same rate they did during the season.
So it wasn’t just Quick making all the saves. Along with good goaltending, Kings coach Darryl Sutter got terrific performances out of the players he had keying on the stars throughout the playoffs.
The credit there goes to their top four on defence (Willie Mitchell, Slava Voynov, Drew Doughty and Rob Scuderi) and their strength defensively down the middle in Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll.
That group didn’t allow the other teams’ best players produce much of anything all postseason, and it won them a Stanley Cup.