The Los Angeles Kings: Road Warriors

Jonathan Willis
May 25 2012 12:42PM

While it is fair to say that no team in the NHL post-season has been as dominant as the Los Angeles Kings, it’s even fairer to say that no playoff club has been as good on the road. At home, the Kings are 4-and-2 and have outscored the opposition 11-to-9. On the road, they’re 8-and-0 with a whopping 30-to-13 goal differential.

How are they doing it?

The first question is whether or not this sort of road performance is unique. Here are all the teams in this year’s playoffs with a positive goal differential on the road:

Season Team GF GA Differential Ratio
2011-12 Los Angeles 30 13 17 2.31
2011-12 Phoenix 14 8 6 1.75
2011-12 New Jersey 26 25 1 1.04
2011-12 Boston 9 8 1 1.13
2011-12 Chicago 8 7 1 1.14
2011-12 Vancouver 3 2 1 1.50
2011-12 NY Rangers 15 15 0 1.00
2011-12 Philadelphia 19 19 0 1.00
2011-12 Ottawa 8 8 0 1.00

All the playoff teams this year with a positive differential, combined, are plus-10 on the road. Los Angeles is plus-17. The only other team more than a whisper ahead of break-even is the Phoenix Coyotes, and they’re well back of the Kings in this department too.

What of previous seasons? I went back over post-lockout playoff teams, and compiled the road goals for/against records of all the Stanley Cup Champions, as well as a few other teams eliminated early who stood out as being especially good in this area. Here’s the list:

Season Team GF GA Differential Ratio
2011-12 Los Angeles 30 13 17 2.31
2005-06 Ottawa 17 10 7 1.70
2007-08 Detroit 37 25 12 1.48
2010-11 Tampa Bay 32 22 10 1.45
2009-10 Chicago 42 29 13 1.45
2005-06 Anaheim 28 20 8 1.40
2010-11 Boston 35 28 7 1.25
2008-09 Detroit 32 28 4 1.14
2006-07 Ottawa 32 29 3 1.10
2008-09 Pittsburgh 40 37 3 1.08
2006-07 Anaheim 22 22 0 1.00
2005-06 Carolina 22 24 -2 0.92

In the post-lockout NHL, Los Angeles’ record of road dominance in the post-season stands alone at the top. Some Stanley Cup winners – Detroit in 2008, Chicago in 2010 – have been excellent in this regard, but then Carolina managed to win it all with a negative road goal differential.

Possession or Percentages?

Of course, the next question to ask is this: how are the Kings doing it? Two possibilities exist: that the results are driven by possession (i.e. more shots for, fewer shots against) or by the percentages (the Kings average more goals on the same number of shots, or allow fewer goals on the same number of shots). Possession tends to be a relatively stable predictor of behavior – teams can be legitimately good at it over the long haul. Percentages are less stable – goalies get hot and cold, posts get hit, and over the long term it is very difficult to sustain either a very good or very bad percentage (save for employing either a very good or very bad goalie).

Some of the answer lies in save percentage – Jonathan Quick has been somewhat better on the road than at home. He’s stopped 238 of 251 shots while away from Staples Center (0.948 SV%), while stopping 146 of 155 shots on home ice (0.942 SV%). Both numbers are superb, and Quick isn’t the reason the Kings are more dominant on the road than at home (though he’s a huge part of the reason they’ve been so dominant overall).

The lion’s share of the answer comes from shooting percentage, though not all of it does. On the road, the Kings have scored 27 goals on 288 shots for a 9.4% conversion rate (excluding three empty net goals). At home, the Kings have scored 10 goals on 168 shots for a 6.0% conversion rate (excluding one empty net goal). That sounds like a small gap, but it isn’t – it means that the Kings’ road shooting rate has been more than 150% of their home shooting rate.

Interestingly, though, the Kings have been slightly better possession-wise on the road than at home. Over an average 60 minutes of playoff hockey on the road, they have outshot their opponents by a 35-to-30 margin. Over the same 60 minutes at home, they’ve outshot them 28-to-26.

Working against the notion that this is a sustainable trend is the Kings’ results during the regular season, where they were much better at home than on the road in terms of possession. Of course, other factors – the coaching change, the number of back-to-backs during a regular season road schedule – complicate that.

Based on the data overall, I would suggest a few things about the Kings’ playoff performance and their record on the road:

  • Like all successful playoff teams, luck has been on their side
  • Their overall road goal differential is in all probability an aberration, fed mostly by the percentages, and something that will disappear over the long haul
  • Even so, they're a good road team, just nowhere near as dominant as a quick glance at their goal differential would indicate.

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Jonathan Willis is a freelance writer. He currently works for Oilers Nation, the Edmonton Journal and Bleacher Report. He's co-written three books and worked for myriad websites, including Grantland, ESPN, The Score, and Hockey Prospectus. He was previously the founder and managing editor of Copper & Blue.
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#1 Kent Wilson
May 25 2012, 04:01PM
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LA is one of those rare teams that seems to have everything going at the same time. Reminds of Boston around December when they were rolling over everyone.

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#2 Danthestatman1
May 25 2012, 04:41PM
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Agree wholeheatedly with yr conclusions Jonathan.

LA also ~+19 in PowerPlay Diff. (larger if you consider 5-3 ratio) Since they are clearly an aggressive team (6th most penalized) this 'luck' has also helped to create an illusion that skill is primarily responsible for their ridiculous observed dominance.

Having to kill a large amount of penalties really hurts in playoffs (AV/Babcock & Hitch) all mentioned it, even if successful in doing it key players get tired. However we have seen very little of this with Kings because they simply haven't faced the usual adversity from random Powerplay calls/distribution. I believe the only game they did was vs St.louis when they were already up 4 0 Very very lucky indeed.

As a very rough estimate when I try to equalize 'luck'- (i.e. shooting% % PP calls, injuries of opponents)I have Kings around 8.5 W. 5.5 L a exp. win% of ~60.5% based on my formulas..

and still playing/ fighting in 3rd round

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#3 Sunshine
May 27 2012, 04:07AM
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Great analysis.

It's clear the zebra luck has been on LAs side. As you said, they've had 17 more PP opps than their opponent. Franky, that number is absurd. Not sure we've seen those numbers from any playoff team going into the SCF. We definitely didn't see it last year.

I don't even know how to explain this anomaly. They were highly penalized in reg season, then suddenly play a different brand of hockey? It's odd.

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#4 ncsoltman
May 27 2012, 10:18AM
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It seems likely the Kings will (or would, if there were more than 2-4 games left this playoffs) regress on the road, but might they also see an upswing in their home performance? A 9.4 percent shooting rate is awfully high--but isn't a 6.0 percent rate awfully low? Or do shooting percentages tend to decline in the playoffs, because teams play tighter, etc.?

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