In this week’s column in the Toronto Star (http://www.thestar.com/sports/hockey/2014/06/05/stanley_cup_jonathan_quick_has_been_awful_in_nhl_playoffs_for_la_kings_analytics_show.html), we focused on the goaltending matchup between Jonathan Quick and Henrik Lundqvist in this year’s final.
The chart below (to access it, copy the link into your browser) gives a picture of how both of these goalies have performed over the past 3 seasons, and it’s clear they’re both solid.
What a lot of people love about Lundqvist is his consistency, and they’re right about that. The guy is a machine, posting a Sv% of .851 or better 92.26% of the time vs. 83.23% for Quick. I’ve set an arbitrary cutoff of .850 for what I would call a grotesque showing, and by that standard, assuming Lundqvist gets 60 starts, he will only be awful in 5 of them. Quick, meanwhile, would be awful in 10.
At the other extreme, thanks to a bit of rounding, Quick gets two extra shutouts.
But here’s the interesting part. If you look at games above .950, Lundqvist is the better goalie, with 32.14% of the games in this range vs. 28.39% for Quick. That gives Lundqvist a 19 to 17 game advantage in that range. It’s true anything other than a shutout could still result in a loss, especially on teams that were 18th and 25th respectively in goals for this season. But still, better than one goal in 20 shots against is still a good place to be.
We know playoffs are a small sample, but if we don’t know anything else about a player, our best guess at how he’ll do in each game is what he’s done in the past. Put differently, every time Quick or Lundqvist gets on the ice, if we’re laying bets and don’t have any other information about their health, teammates or opponents, we should assume the most likely outcome is they’ll post a Sv% in the .901-.950 range because each of them does that more than 35% of the time in the regular season.
As luck would have it, they both did that last night in Game 1.
Two things we didn’t get to talk about in the column were possession and shooting.
The Kings were possession beasts in the regular season, with a FF% during 5 v 5 close play of 56.7%, which put them first overall by a decent margin.
During the playoffs this year, including last night’s game, they’ve been a mere 51.0%.
Personally, I wouldn’t put too much stock in this. To get to this point, the Kings had to play the Blackhawks and Sharks, who were second and third respectively in this regard. Even the Ducks, who were 15th, were still slightly above 50% (50.2% to be precise).
So I’m going to chalk this up to a small sample size coupled with much tougher opponents than they saw in their regular season schedule.
So if Quick hasn’t been great and the team hasn’t dominated in possession, how did they get here?
Well, for starters, it took 21 games, so any of those series could have gone either way.
Moreover, while Quick has had some rough outings, as the chart below shows, in 11 games he still managed to post a Sv% above .901. That’s not great, but it’s been enough to keep the Kings competitive against three teams that also had their own goaltending woes. Lundqvist, meanwhile, had to be at that level in 12 of 20 games in order for the Rangers to get to this point.
It’s of course debatable whether the Kings have faced mediocre goaltending or simply found their scoring touch. The addition of Marian Gaborik, who currently has 12 goals, certainly helps, but the team has an overall Sh% of 11.0% this playoff, compared to 7.6% during the regular season, and during 5 v 5 close play those numbers are 8.9% and 6.0% respectively.
So no matter how you cut it, the Kings are scoring a lot more this playoff than they did in the regular season.
We haven’t sat down and watched game tape at this point, but from the games I’ve watched this playoff, the Kings do look like a different team. They just seem a lot more dangerous than the methodical group I’ve watched in the past, whose approach seemed to be to dominate on possession and rely on the fact that, with a goalie who is better than most, they should be able to win.
Perhaps it’s all an illusion and all I’m seeing is a team that has dominated in possession all season finally get some puck luck. Kind of the opposite of what a Leaf fan got when he suddenly had to wonder where it all went wrong after game 66.
Or maybe it’s all Gaborik, although I find that explanation unlikely. In either case Lundqvist isn’t likely to fold too often, so I suspect he will challenge LA’s shooters, and ultimately this series will come down to LA’s ability to dominate in generating shots and Quick’s ability to avoid train wrecks.