The beauty of the Los Angeles Kings is that they bring together two opposing parts of the hockey world. These two factions have spent the better part of the past three years bantering back and forth, mostly via Twitter, about the merit and demerit of advanced statistics. Now they have a case study they can agree upon.
The dyed-in-the-wool geriatrics embrace the Kings for their throwback, defense-first, physical style of play backed by brilliant goaltending. They’re big, mean, nasty, iron-willed and brass-cojoned, and the old guard loves them for it.
The four-eyed number-needling geeks adore them, too, and rightfully so. After all, the Kings are the poster boys for the advanced stats revolution, particularly Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams who, along with Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, are the only players to be top 10 in Corsi close each of the past three seasons.
Count this corner among the pocket protector wearers (except cooler, of course), but fellow fancy stats freaks have to concede that the Kings belong to the traditionalists at least as much as they do to the futurists, because it’s the intangibles that make this team so great. And they showed that Friday night, stomping the Anaheim Ducks 6-2 in Game 7. (Imagine, Anaheim was 4-0-1 against Los Angeles during the regular season.)
Mental toughness is immeasurable (at least for now, as the advanced stats brethren will surely try to find a way to calculate that as well), but it’s clear the Kings are full to river flowing with it after winning six straight elimination games, four against the San Jose Sharks and two versus the Ducks.
So much is similar between the Kings club that won the Stanley Cup two years ago and this year’s team. It’s essentially the same roster, with 17 players held over from 2012. GM Dean Lombardi is still in charge, coach Darryl Sutter is still behind the bench, Dustin Brown is still the captain and Jonathan Quick is still in net. And the Kings’ M.O. is the same dominant defense that brought them their first Cup in franchise history. Throw out those first two games against the San Jose Sharks, which is precisely what Quick and Co. did, and Los Angeles has allowed an average of 2.00 goals against per game.
Still, there is a little something in this year’s Kings that they didn’t have much of two years ago: scoring swagger. And that can be measured. Los Angeles has averaged the second-most goals in these playoffs with 3.21 per game behind only the Montreal Canadiens at 3.27.
They’ll need to brandish this newfound scoring prowess of theirs against the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference final if they hope to win this time around. But they’ll also need the mental moxy they’ve perfected during these playoffs, too, because the Blackhawks are the one team in the West that can match them with it.
In the past three playoffs Chicago is the only team Los Angeles has lost to. The Kings have iced the San Jose Sharks (twice), St. Louis Blues (twice), and the Vancouver Canucks, Phoenix Coyotes, New Jersey Devils and now the Anaheim Ducks once each over three post-seasons. But the Blackhawks are different beast. They handled the mighty Kings with ease in last year’s Western Conference final, beating them in five games.
Whether Los Angeles can come through this time around against Chicago remains to be seen. But two things are for sure about the Kings: the dinosaurs dig them and the geeks are all agog over them. And Los Angeles will have healthy portions each base cheering for them cheering them on in Round 3. Finally, a team that both sides of the hockey world can share together and yet still claim as their own.
Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker.
For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.