During the 2013-14 regular season, the Los Angeles Kings were the NHL’s fifth-lowest scoring team, notching just 2.4 goals for every 60 minutes they were on the ice. On paper, no team headed into the postseason with as anemic an offense. Yet fast forward a month and a half and Los Angeles is on the verge of closing out the Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals partly because the Kings’ offense is sizzling. They put together a five-goal barrage in Game 4 against Chicago, and Los Angeles’ 3.3 goals per 60 minute mark leads all teams in scoring during the postseason.
How did the Kings’ offense suddenly become so potent? During the regular season, LA converted their shots into goals at a paltry 7.6 percent rate, which tied the Vancouver Canucks for the second-worst shooting percentage in the entire NHL. In the playoffs, though, they’ve upped their conversion rate to 11.3 percent (including 14.5 percent against the Blackhawks), which ranks second among playoff teams. Since they’re not shooting more often (to the contrary — they’re actually averaging 1.6 fewer shots per 60 minutes in the playoffs than during the regular season), the Kings’ goal-scoring increase can be traced to the huge uptick in shooting accuracy.
The Kings’ increased shooting percentage hasn’t been driven by facing a particularly easy set of goaltenders. Weighted by the number of shots they had against each opponent, Los Angeles’ playoff foes have had a composite save percentage of .913 during the regular season, which is slightly higher than the overall league average of .911 — certainly nothing that would explain a 3.7-percentage-point leap in shooting percentage. Nor has it been fueled by more time on the power play, where shooting percentages are higher: during the postseason, LA spent about 28 fewer seconds per game with a man advantage than they did in the regular season.
One other place to look is where the Kings’ goals have been coming from. For example, during the regular season, LA’s shooting percentage was well below the NHL average on shots from the high slot, the space between the two face-off circles and above the hash marks. And in their Game 1 loss to Chicago, the Kings attempted three shots from that area, missing all three. But ever since, they’ve scored three goals on eight shots (a shooting percentage of 37.5) from a zone of the ice where they usually turn only 6.7 percent of their shots into goals. Since goals are such rare events, even a shift like that on just one section of the ice can lead to a big overall increase in scoring.
Likewise, the late-season addition of Marian Gaborik, who leads LA in shots during the playoffs, and whose lifetime shooting percentage of 12.9 percent is well above the league average over his career, explains part of the team’s scoring burst. But it bears mentioning that while shot quality – and converting those chances into goals — makes a big difference in retrospect, it’s hard to tell how much is luck and how much is skill.
In other words, the biggest reason the Kings’ offense has caught fire in the postseason may simply be good fortune, with some regression to the mean thrown in for good measure. Los Angeles wasn’t ever as bad at shooting as their regular-season percentage suggested (they were in the middle of the pack the season before), nor are they as good as their postseason run would indicate. The truth lies somewhere in between, and as we’ve seen before with hockey stats, it’s a truth mixed in with a lot of noise.