The Stanley Cup Finals being tonight at the Staples Center in Los Angeles (8 PM ET, NBC). The Los Angeles Kings are the betting favorite against the New York Rangers. Here’s a look at how the Kings got here, which includes debunking some myths…
Los Angeles hoisted the Stanley Cup in 2012 and made it to the conference finals in 2013, before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. Los Angeles avenged the latter defeat as they survived a thrilling seven-game series with Chicago to get to this round. Here’s a summation of the season arc for the Kings.
*Los Angeles went 46-28-8 in the regular season and were sixth in the Western Conference. The strength of the team was defense, as they were the best in the league in goals allowed. It stands to reason then, that the offense was a little shaky, and they ranked 26th.
*The path Los Angeles to their respective rankings on offense and defense was a little curious though. Goaltender Jonathan Quick did not have a good year, with his 91.5% save rate ranking 23rd among NHL goalies. It was outstanding team defense, limiting opportunities that keyed the Kings’ defensive success.
*On the flip side, Los Angeles had no problem generating shots on goal, ranking seventh in the league at assaulting the net. Over an 82-game schedule you would expect that to work itself out—especially with veteran scorers like Jeff Carter who know what they’re doing with the puck. But it did not.
*Anze Kopitar was the team’s most productive offensive player all year, with his 70 points marking him a top-30 player. I use the benchmarks of 30/60/90 since there are thirty teams in the NHL and if talent were equally distributed it gives a sense of who’s a front-line scorer, a second-line and third-line. A crude statistical breakdown to be sure, but it gives us a general sense of where players fit in the overall scheme of the NHL.
*Kopitar was a front-line player on both goals and assists, while Carter was a second-line scorer with 27 goals. The weakness of the offense came in that not a lot of other contributors stepped up.
*That all changed in the postseason. Los Angeles has been the most explosive offensive team in the playoffs, calling to mind their 2012 run when players like Drew Doughty and Dustin Penner suddenly morphed into Wayne Gretzky for a couple months. Penner is gone, but Doughty is one of the multitude of players whose game has found a new level. It includes Marian Gaborik, Justin Williams and Dustin Brown.
*Kopitar and Carter are still going strong. Kopitar is the leading point producer in the postseason and the leading Kings’ candidate for the Conn Smythe Award, given to the MVP of the entire playoffs. He leads in assists, while Carter ranks second in both goals and assists through three rounds of playoff hockey. Gaborik’s 12 goals are the most of any player.
*There’s a myth that exists which says that Quick—the Conn Smythe winner in 2012 and the U.S. Olympic goalie at Sochi this February—has elevated his game. In reality, he has not. Quick has had some very good games at some really big moments to be sure, and I’m sure no one in Los Angeles is complaining that he’s in net. But the 90.6% save rate for the postseason places him in the middle of playoff goalies. He coughed up third period leads in Games 5 & 6 against Chicago, both close-out opportunities that nearly cost the Kings dearly.
*Ultimately, the story of the Los Angeles Kings in these playoffs is that of a team that simply refuses to die. They were down 3-0 in games to the San Jose Sharks in the first round and became the fourth team in NHL history to win four in a row. Los Angeles won two straight elimination games against a very good team in the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.
Finally, Los Angeles won a Western Conference Finals against the defending Stanley Cup champions in overtime of Game 7 on the road, concluding a series that met the very definition of epic. If the Rangers ever think the Kings are dead at any point in this series, New York might want to twist the knife and kick the body a few times just to make sure.