It's the Gretzky Bowl! Two franchises once saved by the Great One face off in an unlikely all-Pacific Western Conference Final in a classic clash of possession vs. percentage. Phoenix has advanced to the Conference Final for the first time in franchise history, even dating back to their time as the Winnipeg Jets. The Los Angeles Kings are poised to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992-93, or if it weren't for Kerry Fraser, ever.
The Los Angeles Kings were the fourth-best possession team in the regular season, controlling the play 53.6% of the time when the game was close. Not just about hot goaltending, the team is built around players that commit to solid defensive play and who move the play forwardshedding non-possession-styled players like Jack Johnson was no accident.
The Phoenix Coyotes are instead a percentage team, controlling the play just 42.9% of the time this postseason, with the worst regular season possession numbers of those who made the playoffs except only their second round Nashville opponents. They rely on inexplicably effective goaltending from Mike Smith and a collection of grinders and role players like Antoine Vermette and Mikkel Boedker scoring at a 10% clip even against Vezina-caliber goaltenders like Pekka Rinne.
Phoenix Offense vs. Los Angeles Defense
Phoenix Coyotes Offense: -7.2 GVT (Rank: 18th in NHL)
Los Angeles Kings Defense: +22.0 GVT (Rank: 2nd in NHL)
Los Angeles Kings Goaltending: +20.8 GVT (Rank: 4th in NHL)
Total: Phoenix Coyotes, -50.0 GVT
It's not how many you score, but when you score them. Though Phoenix can be described as an adequate team offensively at best, they've scored them at key moments including four overtime victories, finishing off Nashville with just three goals in the final three games.
13 different players have scored for the Coyotes, including five from defensive specialist Antoine Vermette, three each from captain Shane Doan, playmaker Martin Hanzal, and depth options Mikkel Boedker and Taylor Pyatt. If you ignore Shane Doan, that's 14 goals from four players who combined for 39 in the regular seasondid anyone grab these guys in their playoff pools?
This will have to continue for Phoenix to advance because the fantastic Los Angeles defense is bound to continue to keep their top players (Doan, Ray Whitney, and Radim Vrbata) quiet. Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell, and Rob Scuderi form perhaps the most effective defensive trio you'll find on any NHL blue line, and they're backed up by Selke oversight Anze Kopitar and proven responsible two-way forwards like Dustin Brown, Mike Richards, and Jeff Carter. Together they allowed the fourth-fewest shots in the league in the regular season at a paltry 27 shots a minute, three fewer than Quick saw against the Canucks and Blues.
You'd think that a team with a goalie that's stopping 94.8% of shots would have the edge, but noJonathan Quick has stopped 94.9%. What makes Quick even more impressive is his consistency, allowing exactly one or two goals in seven of the nine games. Quick's had only one three-goal nightSmith has had three. Even in the regular season, Quick played at an eerily consistent level, earning the 14th-best single season Quality Start percentage since the lockout (68.1%).
Advantage: Los Angeles Kings
Los Angeles Offense vs. Phoenix Defense
Los Angeles Kings Offense: -30.2 GVT (Rank: 29th in NHL)
Phoenix Coyotes Defense: -3.5 GVT (Rank: 17th in NHL)
Phoenix Coyotes Goaltending: +25.0 GVT (Rank: 2nd in NHL)
Total: Los Angeles Kings, -51.7 GVT
Los Angeles struggled offensively this seasononly four players tied or topped Doughty's 10 goals and 26 assists in a Kings uniform: Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, and Mike Richards. Everybody else was outscored by Willie Mitchell. Let that one sink in for a few minutes.
In the regular season, the team was stung with an absurdly low shooting percentage of 7.5%, a problem that fortunately hasn't plagued them in the postseason (10.5%). Over half their players have shooting percentages in the double digits, including Dustin Brown's six goals in 31 shots.
Phoenix will have to use its home advantage to full effect to key in on Los Angeles' five key sources of offense (new arrival Jeff Carter is the other), a task most likely to fall on forwards Antoine Vermette and the highly underrated duo of Lauri Korpikoski and Boyd Gordon, as well as defensemen Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who we still maintain could be their most valuable skater, and veteran Michal Rozsival.
These key defensive players, together with NHL regular season GVT leader Mike Smith in nets, will need to keep Los Angeles to a single goal per game at most, and hope that it's either one of those games that Jonathan Quick allows two, or that they can continue to come out on top in the extra frame.
Advantage: Phoenix Coyotes
Phoenix Power Play vs. Los Angeles Penalty Kill
Phoenix Coyotes Power Play: -9.7 GVT (Rank: 28th in NHL)
Los Angeles Penalty Kill: +12.7 GVT (Rank: 4th in NHL)
Total: Phoenix Coyotes, -22.4 GVT
Phoenix's power play is like the unlabeled leftovers in the back of your fridgemysterious and stinky. They're not without their weapons, since Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle work the point quite well, and Whitney and Vrbata are both quite capable, but as a team they're not much of a threat. They started off with four goals against Chicago, their newest arrival Antoine Vermette scoring three, but had only Vrbata's marker to show for the twelve attempts against Nashville.
To make things even more grim, they're up against one of the league's best penalty kills featuring the fearsome quartet of Matt Greene, Willie Mitchell, Rob Scuderi, and Drew Doughty on defense, and big names like Mike Richards, Dustin Brown, and Jeff Carter and quietly effective forwards like Jarret Stoll and Trevor Lewis up front.
Together the Kings have managed four short-handed markers so far this postseason and could very well outscore the Coyotes this round. Are teams allowed to decline opponent's penalties like they do in football?
Advantage: Los Angeles Kings
Los Angeles Power Play vs. Phoenix Penalty Kill
Los Angeles Power Play: -1.0 GVT (Rank: 17th in NHL)
Phoenix Coyotes Penalty Kill: +7.4 GVT (Rank: 8th in NHL)
Total: Los Angeles Kings, -8.4 GVT
The Kings only have about five or six players who can score, which is fortunately just enough for a decent power play. Complemented by players like Jarret Stoll up front and Alec Martinez and Slava Voynov on defense, Los Angeles has managed four goals with the man advantage so far, only one on which came against the Blues last round.
Phoenix has a solid penalty kill, but not nearly enough to give them the edge overall on special teams. Their key strength all season, and especially in the postseason, has been experience. Players like Daymond Langkow, Shane Doan, Michal Rozsival, Derek Morris, and Rostislav Klesla are all reliable by-the-book penalty killers who should be sufficient to keep the Kings relatively quiet.
Advantage: Phoenix Coyotes
Season Series Results
These two teams have never met in the postseason, not even when Phoenix was in Winnipeg and the two teams were in the same divisionthat would have required either one of them to finish ahead of both Calgary and Edmonton, or for both teams to pull off upsets in the first round at the same time.
Three of their regular season match-ups ended regulation time in ties, at 0, 2 and 4. Of those resolved in regulation, the Kings bested the Coyotes 2-1, outscoring them by a combined 6-4 in those contests (and 12-10 overall, in regulation). In total there were four regulation time shutouts. The advantage for Los Angeles is so slim that it's essentially negated by Phoenix having home ice.
Injuries and Intangibles
Though he won the award in 2009-10, Dave Tippett was a shocking omission from this year's Jack Adams finalists, as voted by the NHL broadcasters association. Darryl Sutter knows all about snubs, having also lost out to John Tortorella back in Calgary 2003-04 when he helped an equally motley crew of hockey players overachieve their way to (and through) the postseason.
Phoenix have a couple of players with deep playoff experience (Antoine Vermette and Ray Whitney) but Los Angeles has the clear edge hereJustin Williams with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, Dustin Penner on the Anaheim Ducks' 2007 Kid Line, Rob "the Piece" Scuderi with Pittsburgh in 2009, and Colin "Cup of Coffee" Fraser with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.
Both teams are basically at full strength despite their shares of bangs and bruises throughout the first two rounds. With the exception of Raffi Torres' suspension, only Adrian Aucoin is questionable for Game 1.
In the end, the edge probably goes to the Kings, who are enjoying considerable momentum, having knocked off the President's Trophy winners in the first round and then swept the favored Blues in the second, standing at a mighty 8-1 so far this season, outscoring the Western Conference's best teams 27-15. Yowza.
The Los Angeles Kings were the fourth-best possession team in the regular season, and absolutely took off with the addition of Jeff Carter and new coach Darryl Sutter (and the departure of Jack Johnson). They've knocked off two of the league's undeniably top teams and done so in very decisive fashion. While Phoenix should be greatly celebrated for getting this far, the glass slipper simply doesn't fit their foot.
The good news for the Coyotes is that not even our predictions are immune to regression. Having gone 8-0 in my previews these past few years, I knew I was due for some bad luck this year. Stung by an upset in the first round, and then picking the wrong side of two coin flips in the second, I've dropped to 9-3the Kings could have been jinxed with this prediction. Caveat Emptor.
Kings in six games
Robert Vollman is an author of Hockey Prospectus.
You can contact Robert by clicking here or click here to see Robert's other articles.