With the exception of a 7-0 shellacking by the Boston Bruins aside, the Los Angeles Kings have performed above expectations in 2021-22.
Very few indications leading up to the onset of 2021-22 offered an optimistic view about a chance for a playoff spot this season, yet, they are within a stone’s throw of first in the division, while they sit in second place behind the Calgary Flames in the Pacific division heading into the NHL trade deadline.
Very few indicators indeed, so it takes a special kind of boldness to come up with saying the Los Angeles Kings were going to be good prior to the season.
LAK is gonna be good this year...
— Jack Han (@JhanHky) September 23, 2021
Well, he was right .. the Kings are actually good. In the article embedded in this tweet, Jack describes the Kings playing styles in depth, a worthwhile read.
The Los Angeles Kings are actually good.https://t.co/YbHniqRgLX
— Jack Han (@JhanHky) February 26, 2022
Using data from Natural Stat Trick, we can isolate the Kings array of numbers measuring their individual performances in key spot situations.
For instance, at even strength, they rank third overall in the NHL in high danger chances for per 60 minutes (HDCF/60) and fourth in HD goals for per 60. We will return to the danger areas but before we do that, we should look at their expected results and real results for goals for and against.
Focusing on their top five ranking in expected goals for, that production had been humming along before the spike leading to mid-January, complimenting their penchant for getting into high danger scoring areas and translating chances into goals as we shall soon see.
Defensively Los Angeles ranks in the middle league wide, at 5v5, over a variety of different shot metrics, including expected goals, but putting their season into perspective, their moving average of goal allowed per 60 minutes is very erratic, featuring peaks and troughs, indicating a sink or swim scenario throughout the season. They’ve been scoring more and allowing more in recent games, a bittersweet uptick. Maybe the 7-0 drubbing is a wakeup call to follow the trends explicitly on the page. Los Angeles hired Rob Vollman as their analytics guru where things like this can be spotted as triggers to relay to coaching staff.
At 5v4, they continue the same high danger presence, ranking fourth overall in HDCF per 60, but they’re 28th overall in high dangers goals for per 60, partly responsible for the dreadful 9.93 shooting percentage and 26th overall power play efficiency (16.4%).
It’s clear the Kings are doing it with scoring, flexing those offensive muscles, but primarily at 5v5 not with special teams.
The chart below shows the 5-game moving average for low, medium and high danger zone scoring chances for and against. There’s a distinct bump coinciding with the Omicron wave of the COVID pandemic, perhaps showing some new insights and tactics to implement as games were being rescheduled.
The high danger rate has been falling to season lows recently, with a small corresponding increase in medium danger areas. Having a robust presence in high danger areas enhances the probability to capitalize on the randomness that is hockey, although at 5v4, this hasn’t translated into immediate success.
The reduction in low danger areas that coincides with the increase in high danger chances for, is a weak indicator of a change in playing style. Los Angeles has choked their defense to limit more scoring chances from all danger areas, in conjunction with increasing their high danger capability. Scoring has faltered as they’ve moved away from generating more high danger chances per 60. They seemed to be allowing more medium danger goals. They’ve been giving up more high danger chances in recent play.
So how are they achieving this offensive success? Let’s look at their most recent best line, featuring two players acquired from different teams, and an off season free agent addition.
Kings Crowing Achievements
Leading the Kings in scoring at 5v5 is off season addition, former Montreal Canadiens pivot, Phillip Danault. Known primarily among the league’s upper echelon of defensive play, the subtly skilled Danault has capitalized on high danger presence, highlighting this high danger zone with career best individual rates, where at this pace he challenges his career best HD chance generation. His play is reflected by scoring a career best 14 goals – courtesy of a career high bloated individual shooting percentage – 14.9% to also lead the team, and sets a new career mark with every point scored.
As an interesting side note, at 5v5, Adrian Kempe has scored 12 goals in 51 games, firing at an inflated 12.5% individual shooting percentage but has points on only 57% of on-ice goals scored (measured by IPP – individual point percentage). There’s some potential to get more involved in the scoring play and contribute more than just four assists to bump up that IPP, but the Kings could enhance secondary scoring beyond the Danault line and Kings veteran, Anze Kopitar.
Danault, together with Viktor Arvidsson and Trevor Moore, over the last 20 games, they’ve been among the league’s best. They occupy three of the top four scoring spots at 5v5 on the team, with the indefatigable Kopitar and his continuing scoring presence appearing second overall.
Arvidsson has had a renaissance season, bouncing back to the 2.2 points per 60 range after a couple of down years facilitating a trade out of Nashville to the west coast and the Kings. He’s firing a career best shots per 60 rate and establishing career bests across the board in individual shot metrics. The former Predator is the likeliest to carry the puck, shown to lead the line in rush attempts per 60 and is firing at an almost double the team rate of shots.
Former Leaf Trevor Moore got his gull season opportunity in 2020-21, shuffled through the lineup with no set linemates. It’s difficult to produce under that kind of chaotic structure, and his season began similarly in 2021-22. He’s found a home with Danault and Arvidsson, while just adding to his already career best 22 points at 5v5, while firing a feeble 5.5%.
Looking for more from the Kings as they head into the trade deadline, especially if the defensive lapses aren’t being propped up by the solid and opportunistic scoring that was prevalent over the first half of the season.