While a denizen of hockey’s May/June journalists descend and drool upon Anze Kopitar’s worthy overtime winner in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, there will surely be some New Jersey Devils supporters— and hockey fans in general— who question how the Los Angeles Kings have managed to win 13 of 15 games this postseason. Kopitar’s brilliant breakaway goal on Brodeur will leave many ruminating over a game that will be remembered as an even affair and an underwhelming performance by the darlings of this year’s playoffs, as there was no Kings opening game steamroll as many predicted.
In fact the Kings have had few easy games this postseason as the narrative of a 13-2 record has inevitably taken on a life of its own. If you strip both Game 2′s from the St. Louis and Phoenix series away, the Kings have been involved in good-old tightly contested NHL Hockey playoff games; close games, with good goaltenders (Luongo, Schneider, Elliott and Smith) capable of standing on their heads and stealing one. Why have they won most of these games? Luck? Jonathan Quick? Refs (No Phoenix, sorry, not true)? Bounces (Again Phoenix, no, you just lost)?
The overwhelming reason why the Kings have been so successful this postseason, after a regular season full of mediocrity, is simple— the Kings have been creating far more quality scoring chances than their opponents. The only thing more predictable than the Kings out chancing their opponents in the 2012 playoffs, is Barry Melrose wearing a white checkered suit. Now “advanced” metrics such as CORSI might say different (I have my doubts about CORSI in weighing each and every shot as equal) but anybody who has been watching the Kings throughout the playoffs cannot argue with the fact that the Kings have been dominating on chances. Bottom line— the Kings pass the eyeball test.
Over the course of a game the Kings are getting more sustained forechecks and quality chances than their opponents and usually by a large margin. What New Jersey was able to do in Game 1 was temper this trend by limiting the Kings usual dominance. Unfortunately for the Devils, they were only able to muster four memorable chances themselves:
1) Zajac’s powerplay shot in the slot in the 1st period
2) Zubrus’s wrister off a turnover in the 2nd
3) Fayne’s missed open net on a bouncing puck in the 3rd
4) Parise’s premature hand pass into the goal when a waiting teammate might have been able to jam it in moments later.
Those limited chances are a tribute to the Kings disciplined defense throughout these playoffs that have allowed them to hold a wide enough margin in scoring chances that don’t leave them relying solely on the brilliance of Jonathan Quick…which they can count on.
These Kings are not the Giguere-esque Ducks of 2003. What New Jersey did well in Game 1, that other teams have been unable to do against the Kings prior, was limit the Kings quality opportunities:
1) Browns chance on the doorstep 3 minutes in
2) Browns semi-breakaway just before his bogus interference on Brodeur in the 1st
3, 4) two tight 2 on 1′s for Penner/Carter
5) Richards feed to Doughty in the slot midway through the 3rd that Brodeur stacked to save
6) Kopi’s winner
Of course each team had a handful of half-chances but it was clear the Kings had the better of those as well, especially in the first half of the first period.
In postgame interviews the Devils were claiming it was their worst game of the playoffs but in truth they were the first team to truly limit LA’s chances. There is no doubt a bounce (no need for two) could have tilted Game 1 in their favor and we would all be talking about how brilliant a 40-year old was tonight.
Devils coach Peter De Boer in truth will be hoping for a similar effort in Game 2, otherwise they will be the fourth team headed to Los Angeles down 2-0 this postseason.