Photo credit: Andrew Fielding / Reuters

Oft heralded as an intense rivalry, the LA Kings and Anaheim Ducks will meet in the postseason for the first time ever in the history of both franchises. Typically wavering between really good or really bad, both teams are finally good at the same time and the realignment has provided a chance for one team to be crowned winner in the Battle of California. However, this supposed “rivalry” is mostly manufactured in the media and the fanbases. Since they’ve never met in the playoffs, a “hatred” for each hasn’t really formed. Kings’ Coach Darryl Sutter is of the opinion that rivalries are formed in the playoffs.

“They are. It’s a fact. I mean, anything else is not. I went through it enough in the Norris Division 30 years ago, and I went through it in Edmonton and Calgary. Until you play [in the playoffs], there’s not a rivalry. And, quite honest, with the way game is now, a lot of guys are neighbors.”

So the Kings and Ducks aren’t really rivals due to lack of postseason history. But that doesn’t mean that the Kings should take their southern counterparts lightly. The Ducks won the regular season series 4-1, sweeping all of their road games (including the Stadium Series, sigh) and losing only once in the shootout at home. They were also Pacific Division champions for the second year in a row (not that that means anything to Sutter, who believes division titles are just dirty banners).

However, there are some interesting things to note about these two teams. We’re going to delve into the #fancystats here so I’ll take the time to shout out to Jewels from the Crown for their hard work in previewing this series as I’m going to borrow a little bit from them.

As everyone knows, the Kings are an elite possession team, posting a league best 56.7 fenwick for percent at 5v5 close (fenwick for is the total amount of shot attempts excluding blocked shots; 5v5 close is the chosen measurement since the majority of games are played at 5v5 with the score close). The Ducks, on the other hand, are a middling-to-average at best possession team. While the Kings find success in playing keep away and making their opponents chase them for the puck, the Ducks have gotten away with… well… just shooting, really. They have a ridiculous team shooting percentage at 5v5 close, part of which is due to luck.

Anaheim finished first in the league a 10.7 sh% in the regular season. There’s no possible way that it’s all skill because it’s not like they barely edged out their competition. The Colorado Avalanche (also another lucky team as their possession time is pretty atrocious) was second behind Anaheim with a 2% difference. Anaheim has had the fortune of lucky bounces breaking their way while receiving average-to-above-average goaltending (Jonas Hiller and Frederik Andersen are a good tandem but neither are especially elite). Their sh% is mostly driven by their two stars Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, who have historically sustained above average shooting percentages. However, they’re also getting outrageously high shooting percentages from their bottom 6, with the only forward on the team who played in 60 or more games posting a percentage below average was Daniel Winnik.

On average, of the 600 plus players who dress regularly, forwards will have an individual shooting percent around 10%. There are guys like Martin St. Louis, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin (to name a few) that are elite shooters and will routinely convert more than 10% of their shots into goals. But the Ducks are not an All Star team full of elite shooters, so their high shooting percentages can be explained by simple, random variance which can run even over the course of a season. In essence, it’s luck and the Ducks have gotten a lot of this season. That’s not to say that they’re not a highly skilled team because that’s not true, either. They’re able to hold their own in the tough western conference but they can’t rely on their luck to continue. For a more in-depth look at this, check out Andrew Lifland‘s post on Jewels from the Crown. He does an excellent job of breaking it all down.

On the flip side, Los Angeles has been buoyed by excellent goaltending while seeing an unsustainably low shooting percentage this year. If both teams regress to the mean at the same time, LA is the better team and will probably come out on top. But random variance can be mean so whoever gets the better bounces will move on to face the winner of Chicago/Minnesota.

Projected Lineups

Anaheim Ducks:

Matt Beleskey – Ryan Getzlaf – Corey Perry
Patrick Maroon – Mathieu Perreault – Teemu Selanne
Andrew Cogliano – Saku Koivu – Jakob Silfverberg
Devante Smith-Pelly – Nick Bonino – Emerson Etem

Cam Fowler – Ben Lovejoy
Hampus Lindholm – Francois Beauchemin
Bryan Allen – Mark Fistric

Jonas Hiller

There was some question surrounding the starting goaltender because Bruce Boudreau likes to play head games and create goalie controversies apparently. Hiller was not on the ice for the morning skate so he’s the projected starter for the series.

 

LA Kings

Marian Gaborik – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
Dwight King – Jarret Stoll – Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford – Mike Richards – Trevor Lewis

Jake Muzzin – Drew Doughty
Robyn Regehr – Slava Voynov
Alec Martinez – Matt Greene

Jonathan Quick

Unfortunately, defenseman Willie Mitchell suffered an undisclosed, mysterious lower body injury in the Game 6 victory against the Sharks so Matt Greene will draw back into the lineup.

(Stick tap Jon Rosen for the lineup projections)

Players to Watch

Anaheim:

Hiller or Andersen?? Hiller had a good regular season before he was mysteriously ousted by young rookie Freddie Andersen. Who’s starting? What is his mental state like after the Dallas series?
4th line – they’ve been getting a lot of luck but they’re terrible at possession. They barely break even at best so how will that affect the game? How much will they factor into Anaheim’s success?

 

LA:

Matt Greene – he was effective against San Jose when he replaced the injured Mitchell, but he wasn’t very good in the regular season and became a healthy scratch for several games. His foot speed and penchant for taking penalties is of concern, especially since LA’s PK has struggled.

Mike Richards – he was great after being dropped to the 4th line and was able to take advantage of soft minutes against the Sharks’ weak 4th line. He needs to take advantage of the golden opportunities presented to him, though, and he will be huge if he can put the biscuit in the basket and silence critics about his scoring woes.

Jeff Carter – is he injured or is he healthy? He potted two goals and had four assists, but seemed invisible in the last three games against San Jose. Of course, he was centering two rookies so perhaps he decided to focus more on his defense. No matter, the team will desperately need his speed and his elite goal scoring abilities to be able to beat Anaheim.

 

Schedule:

Game 1, Los Angeles at Anaheim: Saturday, May 3, 5:00 p.m.
Game 2, Los Angeles at Anaheim: Monday, May 5, 7:00 p.m.
Game 3, Anaheim at Los Angeles: Thursday, May 8, 7:00 p.m.
Game 4, Anaheim at Los Angeles: Saturday, May 10, TBD
Game 5, Los Angeles at Anaheim: Monday, May 12, TBD*
Game 6, Anaheim at Los Angeles: Wednesday, May 14, TBD*
Game 7, Los Angeles at Anaheim: Friday, May 16, TBD*
*if necessary. All times PT.

Games 1, 2 and 3 will be broadcast on NBCSN, TSN and RDS. The broadcast schedule for Game 4 and any additional games will be announced at a later date.

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