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Photo Credit: © Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A deep dive into the Los Angeles Kings ahead of their upcoming playoff series against the Edmonton Oilers

With a shootout win over the Vancouver Canucks on Friday, the Edmonton Oilers officially concluded their regular season. 

They finish with a record of 49-27-6, and 104 points. This exceeds their 103-point season in 2016-17, and it’s the first time Edmonton has achieved the 104-point mark since 1986-87. Under Jay Woodcroft alone, the Oilers are at a record of 26-9-3, which equates to a 119-point pace over 82 games.

As they rank 2nd in the Pacific Division, they’re currently set to play the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the playoffs. With a record of 44-27-11 and 99 points, the Kings conclude the season in 3rd place in the Pacific. 

It’s a fascinating matchup in the sense that former Oilers head coach Todd McLellan is coaching the Kings, and he will face his prior protégé in Jay Woodcroft, who currently coaches Edmonton. Woodcroft was the assistant coach under McLellan in San Jose, and in Edmonton until 2018-19. 

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In this piece, I’ll take a detailed look into LA’s forward lines, defensive pairings, play style, and overall results using a combination of on-ice metrics and microstats. What are their strengths and weaknesses? What should Edmonton need to do to win this series?

*All microstats via Corey Sznajder and all other stats via EvolvingHockey unless stated otherwise

Forward Lines

The following lines are primarily based on my prediction of what Los Angeles could realistically run, and the actual lines may not be exactly the same as these ones. I expect the bottom six to be frequently shuffled around.

First Line: Alex Iafallo – Anze Kopitar – Adrian Kempe

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Recently, I developed these radar/spider charts to obtain an idea of a player’s play style in numerous facets, and to view potential line chemistry. Here’s how LA’s projected top-line looks.

Iafallo is a pretty underrated player. His defensive and possession metrics are stellar, he’s solid at generating chances near the front of the net, and he excels at exiting the zone with possession. He’s a decent forechecker as well. Iafallo doesn’t generate much offence off the rush, as Kempe and Kopitar are the primary rush attackers on this line.

Kopitar is also the primary play-maker among this trio, with his Passing score ranking in the 79th percentile, and his Cycle Offence ranking in the 85th percentile. Kempe is the main “trigger-man” and shooter, with his Volume Shooting ranks in the 82nd percentile, and he has 34 goals this season.

This trio is well-rounded overall, with an excellent defensive presence in Iafallo, a strong two-way playmaker in Kopitar, and a shooter/goal-scorer in Kempe. They have a decent 50 GF% and 52 xGF% this season, but compared to other top lines around the league, this trio isn’t exceptional by any means.

Second Line: Trevor Moore – Phillip Danault – Viktor Arvidsson

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I’d argue that LA’s second line is more dangerous as opposed to their first. This trio is a strong transitional line, with all three players ranking at or above the 64th percentile in both Exit Transition and Rush Offence. All three of them are also skilled passers, avid shooters, excellent possession players, and perform well at generating chances at the front of the net.

They aren’t necessarily defensive stalwarts, though; Danault had a superb defensive year in Montreal last season, but his defence has declined in Los Angeles. Regardless, he and Moore still rank above-average defensively, and Arvidsson is by no means a defensive liability. 

Danault and Moore aren’t avid forecheckers, but in Los Angeles alone, Arvidsson’s forecheck results are quite good (these charts are based on a two-year sample, and Arvidsson was a weak forechecker in Nashville’s system, which consequently drags his multi-year score down).

This season, the trio has played 471 TOI together and have posted a superb 56 GF% and 59 xGF%. They’ve generated an excellent rate of 3.6 Goals/60, and 3.8 xGoals/60. This is certainly a line to watch out for.

Third Line: Andreas Athanasiou – Dustin Brown – Quinton Byfield

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Quinton Byfield has a high ceiling moving forward, and his offensive game hasn’t fully developed yet. So far, he’s been fine in LA as a forechecking defensive player. He’s decent at generating chances off the cycle as well.

Even in LA, Athanasiou has remained what he’s always been; a speedy, skilled, one-dimensional winger who excels at generating chances off the rush, but is brutal defensively. He had a short-lived and quite poor tenure in Edmonton. 

Currently set to retire after this season, Dustin Brown is a solid bottom-six piece, who exits the zone at a surprisingly lofty rate. Additionally, he’s an above-average passer and shoots at a decent rate as well.

Overall, it’s a pretty average third line, and nothing exceedingly special or significant.

Fourth Line: Carl Grundstrom – Blake Lizotte – Arthur Kaliyev

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Arthur Kaliyev is an excellent defensive forward, as he drives possession and excels at exiting the zone with possession. He shoots at a high rate as well.

Blake Lizotte is also solid at exiting the zone, and his possession results are quite strong as well, largely due to his forechecking. 

Grundstrom is essentially the primary physical presence in the bottom six, ranking in the 91st percentile in physicality. His exits and volume shooting are also decent.

In general, this is a pretty strong fourth line, especially in regards to exiting the zone and shooting the puck at a high rate.

Defensive Pairs

First Pairing: Alexander Edler – Matt Roy

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With Drew Doughty out for the remainder of the season, Matt Roy will be the top RD. Doughty obtained the toughest matchups in LA, playing 40.7% of his TOI against elite competition per PuckIQ. Of course, Doughty is certainly not as good as he used to be, but he’s posted strong possession results and transitional metrics in a difficult role. He’s an exceptional PP quarterback as well, so LA will undoubtedly miss his presence.

Matt Roy has posted strong and balanced results, but he does perform poorly at defending the rush. 

I find Edler’s deployment quite fascinating. He leads LA’s left-defencemen in TOI/GP, and yet his quality of competition isn’t exceedingly high; he’s played 27.4% of his TOI against elite competition, which ranks last among LA d-men with at least 50 TOI against elite. Regardless, he’s still the projected 1LD, and his results are quite good. His skating/foot-speed is gradually declining, but he’s still a well-rounded defenceman overall.

Both of them are fine defenders deep in the defensive zone. However, Edler’s above-mentioned declining foot-speed, combined with Roy’s poor entry defence results, consequently means that the most significant key to exposing this pair is attacking them off the rush with speed. 

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Second Pairing: Tobias Bjornfot – Sean Durzi

Not the most encouraging 2nd pair.

Sean Durzi excels at breaking the puck out of his zone, using both his individual exit transition abilities and his breakout passing skills. He’s above-average at Entry Transition as well, and blocks lots of shots. I don’t think he’s a bonafide top-four D due to his defensive abilities, but he isn’t the major issue on this pair.

Meanwhile, Tobias Bjornfot has one of the weakest play-style profiles in the entire database; he doesn’t rank above average in any category. I assume they’ll be the 2nd pair, as this duo has played more than any other defensive pair on Los Angeles. They’ve played 598 TOI and posted a brutal 36 GF%, and substandard 48 xGF%. This duo is quite poor defensively, and provides minimal offence.

Third Pairing: A toss-up between Olli Maata, Mikey Anderson, Jordan Spence, Jacob Moverare

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LA has multiple depth defencemen, and it’s somewhat difficult to project a fixed third pair.

Maata is LA’s best defenceman at defending the blue line. His Entry Defence score ranks in the 85th percentile, and similar to most of LA’s other players, he’s solid at exiting the zone.

Mikey Anderson, who frequently played on the top pair with Drew Doughty, is excellent at defending deep in his own zone. His Deep Defending score ranks in the 90th percentile. He’s decently physical as well, but doesn’t provide notable value in any other facet.

Jordan Spence and Jacob Moverare haven’t played a lot in the NHL this season. Moverare isn’t anything special in regards to his results so far, but Spence’s possession results are quite strong, as he has a 56 CF%, and 53 xGF%. He struggles in his own zone, but he’s fine as a third-pairing d-man.

Playing Style/Microstats

Here’s a microstat breakdown of the Kings;

Look at all that blue!

The Kings rank high in numerous different microstat categories. They’re a superb transitional team, ranking 2nd in the league in controlled zone entries and successful zone exits. They’re also excellent at exiting the zone with possession and generating chances off their entries. Furthermore, their in-zone offensive microstats are generally exceptional too, ranking 2nd in OZ shot assists, and 5th in shots off the cycle.

Their forechecking metrics are interesting. Looking at the radar charts above, LA doesn’t have any notably strong forecheckers besides Lizotte, so how do they rank top-five in the entire league?

Last season, they ranked 24th in Pressures/60, but this season, they’re considerably superior. The radar charts are a two-year sample, so looking at it in the past two years, LA is about an ~average forechecking squad, but they’re much better this season. LA’s best forecheckers in 21-22 alone are Lizotte, Iafallo, Byfield, and Kempe.

In regards to Entry Defence, they deny the entry at a top-five rate as well. However, in spite of their high zone denials, they are somewhat prone to allowing a lot of rush chances. With that said, generally, the microstats suggest that Los Angeles is an exceptional and highly dangerous team at 5v5, right?

However, there’s more to the story in this situation.

Overall On-Ice Results

Here’s how LA’s overall offensive results look this season, at 5v5 and on the PP.

LA shoots the puck at a very high rate, ranking 6th in the league in shot volume/quantity, and consequently, their expected goals rank decently high as well. However, Los Angeles highly emphasizes quantity over quality, especially their top line. 

As seen in their microstat profile, their in-zone offensive metrics are still generally solid, but the team shoots low-quality shots at an excessive rate from the perimeter. Teams coached by Todd McLellan are often notorious for their lofty rate of low-quality point shots. Their average shot quality ranks merely 20th in the league. Quality is measured here by the average xG value of each team’s unblocked shot attempt (aka, the average probability of each unblocked shot going in the net).

Furthermore, their poor quality chance generation is likely a major factor as to why Los Angeles is the worst finishing team in the league. They rank 21st in the NHL in EV Goals/60, and have scored 155 5v5 goals on 180.1 expected goals. They’re a poor team on the power play as well, ranking 27th in PP Goals/60. 

Looking at LA from this perspective, their microstat profile seems considerably less encouraging. They’re still excellent in transition, generate a high rate of shots and chances off the rush, and they’re typically a strong team off the cycle as well. However, an unfavorable combination of abysmal finishing and below-average quality chance generation makes it evident that LA isn’t the most dangerous offensive squad.

Here’s how the Kings look on the defensive side;

The Kings are generally a solid defensive team, but we see a similar trend here; LA seems to prioritize shot quantity over quality.

They rank 5th in the league in shot attempt volume against (CA/60), but they rank 26th in shot quality against. It somewhat makes sense considering their microstat profile, as they deny the zone at a high rate, resulting in fewer shots against, but they still allow an alarming rate of rush chances against. Furthermore, their quality against suggests they aren’t a strong in-zone defensive team either. 

Their goaltending is solid. Quick’s SV% of 90.9% isn’t exceptional, but his GSAx (goals saved above expected, which accounts for shot quality unlike SV%) is at 12.01. In other words, he’s saved roughly 12 goals above expected, which is quite good. With that said, it’s worth noting that Quick’s recent performance isn’t exceedingly encouraging; in his last 20 games, he has a 1.2 GSAx, and a SV% of 90.3%; he had a stellar start to the season, but he’s cooled down. Something worth noting.

The Kings rank 22nd in goals against on the penalty-kill. I’m uncertain of the accuracy of public expected goal models for power-plays/penalty-kills, but they also rank 19th at PK xGA/60. Consequently, they aren’t a strong team in regards to special teams at all.

Overall, here’s how they rank, in regards to the entire season and the last 25 games.

They rank second-last in the league in Quality +/-. Combine this with their abysmal finishing, and as a result, their 5v5 goal share is unimpressive. Their GF% has been even worse in the past 25 games, likely due to their recent injuries.

Conclusion and Predictions

I feel that Dave Tippett’s Oilers would struggle in a playoff series against this LA squad, at least at 5v5. Under Tippett, Edmonton was brutal in the neutral zone, and allowed a plethora of rush chances against. Meanwhile, Los Angeles is one of the strongest transitional teams in the league.

However, Edmonton’s rush defence has significantly improved under Woodcroft and Manson, and so has their 5v5 play in general. 

As pointed out by Jason Gregor here, Edmonton still struggles with suppressing slot shots. Los Angeles is quite good in regards to cross-slot passes, but overall, their quality chance generation is still substandard. Furthermore, as mentioned previously, their finishing is also dreadful.

My eventual prediction is for Edmonton to win in six games. I could be wrong, as the playoffs are exceedingly unpredictable, especially in regards to goaltending; there’s a very legitimate chance that Mike Smith regresses yet again, and/or Jonathan Quick decides to randomly perform at a Vezina-calibre level. 

However, I think Edmonton’s dynamic offence under Woodcroft will shine against a team that allows high-quality chances near the front of the net and off the rush at a high rate, and they have a considerable edge in special teams as well. If LA’s finishing struggles persist and Smith plays at an above-average level at the least, it’s a very likely chance that Edmonton emerges victorious. 

What are your thoughts and predictions?

Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)

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