The Battle of the Champions – Chicago, Los Angeles Saturday 11/28

Last night the two best teams in hockey played each other to a near-standstill. Recently both teams have been neither gaining nor losing significant momentum in their respective pushes for what is most likely a second or third seed in the playoffs.┬áThis was the Kings first game of a 4-game homestand, while the Blackhawks were closing out the third game in four nights on a long road trip – decidedly, the scheduling for this game favored the Kings.

Decidedly, the Kings succeeded at executing their gameplan of establishing a forecheck, wearing down the adversary’s defense, and creating opportunities off of the cycle. This paid off against a Blackhawk blueline that is lacking in terms of depth, although it was star defenseman Brent Seabrook who coughed up a puck toward the end of the third period. Kopitar took the turnover and held on to the puck for what seemed like too long until he dished out a no-look backhand pass to Marian Gaborik for not only the game-tying goal, but the goal that really seemed to break the Hawks morale in this game. It was only because of strong defensive plays by Keith and Toews (who, in classic Toews fashion, had a breakaway opportunity with 10 seconds left in the game) in the waning minutes that the Hawks reached overtime at all.

The Kings are the darlings of the analytics community, and tonight should be another feather in their cap in this regard. According to War on Ice, The Kings doubled up their Corsi (total number of shots for, including shots that miss and are blocked) against the Blackhawks.

What the analytics community will probably ignore is that the teams were even in terms of high-quality scoring chances – both goalies saw 8. The Blackhawks were playing their game, their style of Kung-fu, which can exist mutually with the Kings’ gameplan. The Hawks seemed to generate a high-quality scoring chance every time they were in the Kings defensive zone. Their willingness to try high-skill offensive plays, unique in the NHL, creates absolute chaos for the defense. Their lower lines were simply inadequate for a game of this caliber, however, as they were unable to generate any kind of pressure or offensive zone cycling time.

Although this tilted the ice against them, after perusing the advanced states, to me this was really a game about goaltending. On sum, neither goalie was remarkable. Quick stopped all but one high quality shot, which was on the back of impressive saves on several in-close chances – but he also let in a point-shot with no deflection or traffic in front of him. Darling made some good saves, but his rebound control was not very good, and in today’s NHL, letting in 37.5% of high-quality scoring opportunities is mediocre.

Other notes:

  • Gaborik closed it out in overtime for his second goal (he is starting to heat up) in the best 3v3 overtime that the league has seen yet (you can watch it here). Also note in that play that Kopitar is gasping for air and is clearly dead-tired. His ability to execute the pass almost perfectly to close out the game demonstrates his fantastic endurance.
  • Oh sorry forgot to mention that Kane scored a point in his 19th game in a row, which gives him the all-time record for point-scoring streak by an American. It also puts Kane in first-place in the NHL scoring race.
  • We all know that Robitaille gets “Luuuc’ed” and Doughty gets “Dreewww’ed” but now Lucic gets “Looo’ed” by the Kings fan
  • So we also got another Keith vs. Doughty matchup. I would say that Keith comes out on top, not by a wide margin, but he played mistake-free defensive hockey while making an impact in the offensive zone. I have a feeling Keith doesn’t win the Norris trophy this year, but he definitely should.
The Battle of the Champions – Chicago, Los Angeles Saturday 11/28