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The L.A. Kings are not your typical eighth seed

Los Angeles Kings' Dustin Brown (top) celebrates his empty net goal with teammate Anze Kopitar with less than a minute in the third period against the St. Louis Blues on the way to winning Game 4 of their NHL Western Conference semi-final playoff hockey game and the series in Los Angeles, California May 6, 2012. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

DANNY MOLOSHOK

We have seen eighth seeds go on a run and win plenty of playoff games before.

There were the Edmonton Oilers in 2006, for one, as they knocked off the top seeded Detroit Red Wings (124 points), the fifth seeded San Jose Sharks (99 points) and sixth seeded Anaheim Ducks (98 points) en route to finally losing in Game 7 of the finals.

That Edmonton team had 95 points during the year despite getting fairly abysmal goaltending, with a .884 save percentage that was dead last in the league.

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They acquired Dwayne Roloson near the trade deadline to fix the problem and, voilà, he posted a .927 that was the single biggest reason for their surprising improvement from the regular season.

That's often what it takes for an eighth seed to pull of that many upsets in a row: a key change that basically means they're an eighth seed in name only.

So what do we make of the Los Angeles Kings this year?

Well you can point to two moves they made that may be responsible for what we're now seeing:

1. They changed the coach, firing Terry Murray in mid-December and bringing in Darryl Sutter a week later.

2. They dealt a defensive liability in Jack Johnson to Columbus for an offensive weapon in Jeff Carter.

You can debate which move had a bigger impact, but the fact was they were a far better team after both changes were made.

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The Kings went 13-12-4 in 29 games under Murray to start the year, and as was the case a year ago when they lost in the first round, goal scoring was a huge problem.

But after Sutter came in, they finished the season 25-13-11 with a 102-point full season pace that would have won them their division.

Likewise with the Carter trade, they went an impressive 13-5-3 once he was added to the roster. (He was hurt for some of those games, too. Including the playoffs, the Kings are now 19-6-0 with Carter actually in the lineup.)



<h5 style='border-top: #000 1px solid; border-bottom: #000 1px dotted; font:14px Georgia,serif; font-weight: normal; width: 460px; padding: 5px 0; margin: 20px 0 0'>Kings points percentage during season</h5><p style='font:12px Verdana,sans-serif; width: 460px; margin: 5px 0 0 0; line-height: 1.4em;'>A .500 points percentage is the equivalent of an 82-point pace while a .610 points percentage is a 100-point full season pace. </p><iframe src="https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/legacy/static/test/charts/google/google_iframe_04.html?id=000&type=bar&ssid=0Ar3M_smeSBJsdDhibWhvRHVGd3gzYkVwZ214Z0hhenc&bm=40&lm=100&w=460&h=300&token=1490529414" scrolling='no' frameborder='no' width='460' height='300' style='border-bottom: 1px dotted #000; margin: 20px 0 0' ></iframe>


What's also interesting is how the Kings improved. One of the league's lowest scoring teams last season under Murray (sixth last with just 2.51 goals per game), they had just 2.21 per game before he was fired 29 games into the season.

This on a team with Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Justin Williams and (at least early on) Simon Gagne on the roster.

In comes Sutter and the team's offence finally came alive a little, with a more respectable 2.41 goals per game after the coaching change and 3.00 goals per game after the Johnson-for-Carter deal.

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They've scored three goals a game in the playoffs so far, too, despite getting little from their power play.

Some of that is simply having some better luck, as Los Angeles was dead last during the season in shooting percentage at just 7.5 per cent. That's up to 10.5 per cent in the playoffs after nine games, which would have ranked them first during the season.

The Kings goals against, meanwhile, dropped from 2.24 per game under Murray to what would have been a league low over a full season (1.86) under Sutter, despite the fact Jonathan Quick's save percentage remained basically the same.

The reason? They were allowing far fewer scoring chances and shots against per game, with Quick having to make roughly four fewer saves a game over the final 50 games of the season.

In fact, under Sutter, the Kings netminders faced the fewest shots in the league at 25.9 per game.

Add all of those improvements up, and it helps explain why this eighth seed is much better than most and why they are likely the favourites to win the Western Conference.

That said, history isn't really on their side here, as a team ranked lower than ninth overall during the season has never won the Stanley Cup.

There remain three teams that can still pull that off: Phoenix was 11th, Los Angeles 13th and Washington 15th.



<h5 style='border-top: #000 1px solid; border-bottom: #000 1px dotted; font:14px Georgia,serif; font-weight: normal; width: 460px; padding: 5px 0; margin: 20px 0 0'>Comparing the Kings</h5><iframe src="https://beta.theglobeandmail.com/legacy/static/test/charts/google/google_iframe_04.html?id=000&type=bar&ssid=0Ar3M_smeSBJsdFVyRHNhbm9BMkFfeXdETlE1dHdLTFE&bm=45&lm=100&w=460&h=300&token=1490529414" scrolling='no' frameborder='no' width='460' height='300' style='border-bottom: 1px dotted #000; margin: 20px 0 0' ></iframe>


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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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