It took only 20 minutes for the entire course of the Los Angeles Kings’ season to be altered. In the first game of their season, their franchise goaltender Jonathan Quick was lost to an injury that he has yet to recover from.
With the Salary Cap also a concern for the Kings, looking elsewhere for another goaltending answer seemed to be out of the question. So they would have to roll with the combination of Jeff Zatkoff and Peter Budaj.
While Budaj saw some success this year, it has been tough sledding for a team that has won the Stanley Cup two of the last five seasons. Los Angeles currently sits fifth in the Pacific Division, but also hold down the second wild card spot.
One thing that remains consistent this seasons as in previous, is that the Kings remain the ‘darling’s of the analytical world.
No team has been better at possessing the puck over the last five years than Los Angeles. While some may be torn on their feeling towards Corsi and other advanced stats, the numbers have proven you have a better chance of winning when you possess the puck. Three of the better teams when it comes to Corsi % – the Kings, Chicago Blackhawks, and Boston Bruins – won the Stanley Cup six straight years in a span between 2010 and 2015.
None have been better than the Kings though. Since the start of the 2012 season, the Kings rank first in Corsi-For% (CF%), Fenwick-For% (FF%), Shots-Against-per-60 (SA/60), and Goals-Against-per 60 (GA/60). They also have the third lowest Expected-Goals-Against-per 60 (xGA/60) – which takes into account the opponent’s shot selection, distance, etc.
This year has been a lot of the same. They rank second in CF% and are tops in the league in SA/60.
If the Kings are the ‘model’ team when it comes to having success in analytics, then consider Anze Kopitar your poster boy for Corsi. Since 2012 no player (who has played at least 4,000 minutes at even strength) has a better CF% than Kopitar.
He isn’t alone in the top of the rankings either. Four current Kings – and one former – are in the top ten, with Jake Muzzin, Drew Doughty, and Dustin Brown all joining Kopitar.
Justin Williams – now in his second season with the Washington Capitals – spent the early part of the sample size with the Kings.
Some better goaltending would go a long way as they have gone to an even rotation the last six games between Zatkoff and Budaj. Over goalies with at least 250 minutes at even strength, only Michal Neuvirth has a worst save percentage than Zatkoff. Budaj is 22nd among that same group, but if you clean it up to goalies who have played 1,000 minutes, he moves all the way up to eighth.
Anytime you lose your starting goaltending you are going to suffer some in the wins/loss column. As long as they remain in the playoff picture, Los Angeles remains a dangerous team to watch out for. Add in the fact that analytically, this team has been almost no different than those in previous years, it shouldn’t be a shock if they are making some noise come playoff time.