Ahead of the Ducks and Kings' first ever playoff meeting we at Anaheim Calling reached out to the folks over at SBN's Kings blog Jewels from the Crown for a little insight from the enemy's point of view. Here are my questions and John Carroll's answers, and be sure to surf on over to JFTC for my answers to Eric's questions.
Q: Everything that I've read seems to suggest that the Kings will win this series in 6-7 games. What is the "X-Factor" that will propel them past the Ducks?
A: The Kings are a better puck possession team than the Ducks, which as we all should know by now is a greater predictor of future success than even past wins. Of course, it doesn't guarantee anything in a 7-game series, but it would probably be the biggest factor as to why the Kings are going to win this series against the Ducks (unless you believe in things like "playoff clutch" or "Cup-winning experience" or some such nonsense). In black-and-white, the Kings this year were a 56.7% Fenwick team with the score close (which is the percentage of unblocked shot attempts), first in the league by a fairly wide margin (2nd place Chicago were 55.2%). Anaheim, on the other hand, were a decidedly average 50.2%, good for only 15th in the league. The Kings should have the puck more often than the Ducks, and all other things being equal, should win this series.
Another "x-factor" may be the play of Marian Gaborik since his acquisition at the trade deadline, as well as what his addition has meant for the Kings' overall forward depth. Although Gaborik is not a driver of puck possession on his own, he has over the course of his career been a driver of on-ice shooting percentage. Almost anyone who pays attention to the Kings can tell you that a lower-than-average shooting percentage is probably the biggest thing that's held them back from having more success in the regular season. However, since acquiring Gaborik and placing him on the top line with Anze Kopitar and either Justin Williams (throughout most of the regular season) or Dustin Brown (late in the playoff series with the Sharks), Gaborik has risen the Kings' usually putrid on-ice shooting percentage to something more in line with the league average, hovering around 8% during his time on that line. The fact that he's done this throughout his career should help make the argument it's not exactly a fluke, either. And Gaborik's presence on the top line has allowed the Kings to make key adjustments such as the aforementioned swap of Corsi hero Justin Williams with Dustin Brown, which allowed LA's third line to go from a weakness to a huge strength against the Sharks. Including the playoff series with San Jose, the Kings went 17-9-0 with him in the lineup. The Kings were a strong team before his addition, but he has made their offense more dangerous both with his play and by allowing the Kings to roll four optimal lines.
Q: In his series preview for ESPN, Pierre LeBrun argued that Tyler Toffoli will be an impact player this series. What is it about Toffoli's game that will make him so effective?
A: Tyler Toffoli has been a pretty good puck possession player so far with the Kings- after starting out as a -0.2% Corsi rel (the Corsi of the Kings with him on the ice compared to the Corsi of the Kings without him on the ice) in 10 regular season games in 2012-13, he was a +8.3% in 12 playoff games in 12-13, a +4.3% in 62 games in 2013-14, and a +7.6% in the 7-game opening round series against the Sharks. Where he has really excelled, however, is in shooting percentage, which again has always been a weakness of the Kings as a team. At 5-on-5 he shot 12% in those 10 games in 2012-13, 8.8% in the 2012-13 playoffs, a strong 8.3% over the course of the entire 2013-14 season, and 9.8% in the series with the Sharks. When you compare those numbers to the Kings' dismal 5v5 shooting percentage numbers overall- a 7.6% shooting percentage in the 2012-13 season, 5.8% in the 2012-13 playoffs, and 6.6% in the 2013-14 regular season- immediately you can see his value to the club. Simply put, so far in his (admittedly young) NHL career, he has shot much better than the rest of his team. Even in the 7-game series against the Sharks, where the Kings shot a probably unsustainably-high 9.7% at evens (thanks, Niemi and Stalock!), Toffoli was still very slightly above the rest of the club! Given the fact that he has been a goal scorer at every level below the NHL, including two 50+ goal seasons in the OHL, one would have to consider Tyler's shooting skill to likely be sustainable.
The biggest knock on him has always been his skating, but he seems to have gotten better at that since coming to the NHL. In addition, he has very strong chemistry with linemate Tanner Pearson, who he played with in AHL Manchester for long stretches as well. Tanner excels at the things that Tyler does not- he skates well, forechecks very hard, and thinks the game at a high level. They connected for the Kings' third goal that basically put the Sharks away in Game 7, and Tanner's strong play setting up Tyler is the kind of thing that Kings fans are hoping to see more of in the series with Anaheim.
Q: Jonathan Quick struggled early in your quarterfinal series against the Sharks, but turned in a spectacular 39 save effort in Game 7. Will his momentum carry over into the semifinal?
A: Predicting the performance of starting goalies over small sample sizes is a difficult proposition already, but I would argue it's nigh-impossible when it comes to Mr. Quick. I'm glad that Jonathan really turned his play around in the latter half of the series, but it's going to be basically impossible for him to keep up the .960+ sv% he posted from games 4-7 (of course, he was so bad in the first three games that only brought his overall playoff save percentage up to .914). In general I think Quick's hyper-aggressive style leads itself to incredibly high variance; over the course of his career, if you combine his regular season and playoff stats, he is pretty clearly a slightly above league average goalie. But he is prone to extremely hot streaks where he is virtually unbeatable (see: the entire 2011-12 season and playoffs, the 2012-13 playoffs until the Chicago series, those last 4 games against San Jose, etc) as well as incredibly cold streaks where is a total sieve (see: the entire 2012-13 regular season, some long stretches of the 2013-14 season, the first 3 games against the Sharks, etc). So what I'm basically saying here is, he will probably be really awesome or really awful (perhaps in the same series like he was against San Jose!), and probably not really anywhere in between.
Q: All of your centers (especially Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards) are terrifying. How do you think that Darryl Sutter will deploy them against the Ducks?
A: Sutter doesn't care much about line matching, as evidenced by the fact that he barely bothered with it against the Sharks. He tends to want to simply roll four lines, and with the depth the Kings have at center- Kopitar, Cater, Stoll, Richards as your 1-4C is pretty sick, yes- I think he can more than get away with it.
Q: Drew Doughty had an outstanding series, scoring a goal and seven points. The Kings also had 57.1% of the shot attempts at even strength when Doughty was on the ice. Ryan Getzlaf has recieved a lot of kudos for his leadership of the Ducks, but would you consider Doughty to be the undisputed leader of the Kings?
A: Doughty is one of the best defensemen in the league, but I don't know about "undisputed leader" or anything like that. I think Dustin Brown, even despite his awful regular season this year (which, by the way, was based on unsustainably low percentages and he would be a pretty nice candidate to bounce back next season, at which point the Kings should probably trade him before he really starts declining), is still the unquestionable locker room leader. That's just the vibe I've gotten from listening to interviews and the like, but they definitely seem to respect and follow Dustin, whatever outside fans may think of him. But Drew is, again, a hell of a player and easily a top 3 defenseman in this league.
Thanks to John and Eric for participating and we wish them bad luck as the series begins tonight.