Randomness is often lost in consistency.
Since winning the Stanley Cup, the Los Angeles Kings are the NHL’s leading example of shot differential consistency. They’ve carried the play for a league high 55.75% of the 5v5 time since 2013-14. Goals haven’t streamed out as easy, averaging 6.84% shooting percentage over that span, the fourth lowest among such teams as Carolina, Arizona and Buffalo – despite being a perennial Stanley Cup contender.
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Even in a down year, failing to the make the playoffs in the title defense season. The Darryl Sutter era has been consistent – and entertaining – but intra-season results have played out different.
Take the season they won the Cup, 2013-14. Using a neat new feature on hockeyviz.com, player and team heat maps, outlining unblocked (i.e. shots on goal and missed shots) shooting patterns relative to the rest of the league. Heat maps have been around for years, outlining different locations with a propensity to shoot, and adding intensity with vibrancy from color.
The map below shows the Kings Stanley Cup Championship season, with unblocked shot attempts at 5v5. The patch around the net indicates how much more effective they were in front of the opposition goal – and a certain spot occupied by Drew Doughty at the point.
The heat map at the bottom specifies 5v5 unblocked shot attempts, with the blue shade signifying less unblocked shots against relative to the rest of the NHL.
Los Angeles owned the net front presence and the boards during their Championship season, while clearing their own crease area.
A note is required to elucidate background on the heavy shooting off the left wall.
Known in analysis circles to play the ‘heavy’ game, using intelligent physicality and unremitting pressure in loose puck recovery, the Kings recoveries lead to wall pressure and net front presence. Recovering dump-ins creates the secondary effect of buying time for players to flood into the zone. Pursuit and support players (F1 & F2) set up along the boards, and the stragglers make direct lines to the net front. Shots are fired and rebounds/chaos is created in front.
Relentless puck pursuits lead to exceptional results, especially in light of the ability to recover pucks that are strategically dumped into the offensive zone. The Kings inflated shot differentials are direct indications of this. The consistency in which they’ve maintained elite results are based on these strategies.
Dumping the puck is fashionably taboo since studies indicated that controlled zone entries yield higher percentages of shot attempts than pucks that are dumped into the offensive zone. The ability to design puck recovery strategies has aided the Kings in the offensive zone, and the shot differential results are difficult to argue.
Defensively the physicality and quick transition are hallmarks cutting down shot attempts and skewing shot differential disparity. Putting the net-front domination in their own zone into context, if you’re winning battles to get pucks back defensively, energy is expended on transitioning to offense and shot generation. Instead of battling in front of the net, the Kings excel at keeping the puck to the outside, along the wall – the area more conducive to creating turnovers and getting the puck back than open ice.
Not every season contains the same process. Take the individual Corsi components (shot on goal, missed & blocked shot) makeup on a running 10-game basis as shown in the chart below. The dark chart is Corsi For components as a percentage of their overall Corsi makeup. As the season rolled on, shots on goal (white) based almost 50% of the Kings Corsi For totals, with blocked shots (yellow line) constituting a higher percentage more often than missed shots. Regardless, in-season Corsi components can change according to team play.
Defending the Stanley Cup Championship in 2014-15, they maintained some net-front presence but didn’t dominate like the previous season, underperforming in the high slot area relative to the NHL. The play seemed to be up to the left point and along the left side with crease-front presence, but lacking secondary support in the slot.
Their own crease front relative to the NHL was solid, scattering shots around the zone with a lower concentration of hot spots other than the left point. Comparing it to the amount of point shots from 2013-14 is a striking difference.
The rolling 10-game chart is bumpier than the steady ’13-14 version, despite shot share constituting over 50% of the Corsi For makeup, there were more peaks/valleys representing less stability than in the Championship season.
Defensively, they gave up more shots against relative to the previous season, closer to 60% at the beginning of the season until stabilizing it down to the 50% level once again, implementing more blocked shots over the second half to offset drop in shots on goal.
Last season, 2015-16, vindicating the non-playoff berth in ’14-15, there were key differences. The left point still accounted for the heaviest workload as the main trigger, complemented by more profound net-front presence, but an isolated slot presence, less pronounced than in ’14-15, but still existing where the Kings simply didn’t conform to their strategy. The point shots and rebounds seemed to be more prevalent than offensive zone time and creating shots in the high danger areas of the slot.
The other shift is the shots concentrated more on the right side than any time in the previous two seasons. Point shots aside, shots were heavy off the right side in the faceoff circle.
Defensively, the point shots were kept in check, especially relative to the league, but there was a noticeable slot area increase in shot concentration unavailable at any time over the past two seasons. The Kings seemed to be leaking unblocked shot attempts from right inside a high danger spot in the slot.
The rolling 10-game charts for ‘15-16 appear below, with Corsi For (top) and Corsi Against (bottom). As the season drew on, increase in blocked shots replaced shots on goal. As blocked shots (and an increase in missed shots) against peaked. Guessing on the heat map construction by a time frame rather than aggregated, it likely would have identified the concentration of shots in the high slot, forcing team adjustments. (That could be a good project for an enthusiastic Kings fans looking to make an analytics impact.)
At the midpoint of 2016-17 we have a running view of the Kings shooting locations as shown below. Halfway through the season, the Kings still show the propensity to shoot from the left side, but their net/crease front presence is missing, and underperforming relative to the rest of the NHL.
The rolling 10-game chart is shown below for the half season. Lately the shot share has been reducing, replaced with blocked shots. This could explain some of the underperformance in the slot/crease area, considering there aren’t likely many rebounds or chaos down front with an increase in blocked shot attempts.
Defensively, the rate at which blocked shots are reducing are being replaced with missed and shots on goal, an element to be aware of during the second half.
Consistency and randomness dwelling side by side. The randomness of events still yielded the familiar results.