Game #76 Preview - If you Come at the Kings, you Best Not miss

Thomas Drance
March 26 2012 11:36AM

Fresh of their final extended roadtrip of the regular season, the Canucks will renew acquaintances with the the new-look Los Angeles Kings on national television tonight in Vancouver. The Kings are a tough team, and while they've struggled offensively this season, they absolutely dominate possession and have received superb goaltending from Jonathan Quick. The combination makes the Kings nigh impossible to score on.

The Kings are currently holding down eighth spot in the West, but are only a single point out of third place in the conference. If the Kings fail to win their division (though, I suspect they will figure out a way to win it) they'll be a nightmare first round opponent for either of the top-two seeds. Tonight's game is a potential playoff preview against a physical team that has punched the Canucks squarely in the mouth several times this season, and have spoken openly about their animosity for the Canucks players. Sounds pretty fun!

Click past the jump for a more thorough recap and the underlying numbers!

Broadcast Info

Puck Drop: 7 PM PST

Television: TSN Radio: The Team

Setup

The Kings in Vancouver means Willie Mitchell gets to play in his home Province, where he remains extremely well regarded. Mitchell was a warrior for the Canucks, and despite being something of a goat in games 4 and 6 of the 08/09 series against the Blackhawks, Mitchell remains one of the team's most popular former players.

After the severe concussion symptoms he dealt with in his final season in Vancouver, Mitchell has managed to stay healthy this season, appearing in 68 games and playing very solid hockey for the Kings. That's great news. Not such great news?Because the game is on TSN as opposed to Sportsnet Pacific tonight, we won't get to hear Shorty's constant suggestive references to Willie Mitchell's "long-reach." 

In three previous meetings against the Kings this season, the Canucks are 1-1-1 having won once, lost once and lost in the shootout once. In aggregate, the Kings are absolutely kicking the Canucks' teeth in, and handily controlling the game at even-strength. The Kings have controlled 57.1% of the even-strength shots in the team's previous three meetings, and they've buried the Canucks in total shot attempts 5-on-5. 

In the first game of the season, the Kings played undisciplined hockey and threw the game away early (before the Refs made two bad calls, waiving off a Rome goal that should've counted, then making a reputation call and throwing him out of the game for a legal hit that allowed LA to make the game somewhat interesting.) In the second meeting of the season, the Canucks put in some uninspiring work and were pushed around and convincingly routed on New Years Eve. In the third meeting between the two teams, the Kings pulverized Vancouver's club, but a late David Booth goal took the game to a shootout, as the Canucks earned an undeserved point.

I'm willing to chalk up what happened on New Years Eve up to an "unmotivated" Canucks team, and the late January loss as part of the team's wider "get out-shot badly and take the game to OT" trend that they were going through at the time, but certainly you'd like to see Vancouver do a better job of dictating proceedings tonight.

When looking at the Kings underlying numbers, they're a frighteningly good possession club and are dynamite on the penalty-kill. A physical team that excels on the PK and can crush you with their even-strength puck possession game is the perfect description of a team that the Canucks tend to have difficulty matching up with. As such, while the Kings are a desperate team scrapping to get into the playoffs - hopefully the Canucks can use the "measuring stick" aspect of this game to motivate themselves, battle to match LA's physical style and play a full, defensively sound sixty minutes. 

And if they don't? Well at least we'll always have this, classic Edler moment:

Numbers Game

This table includes what we believe to be the best "predictive" team metrics in hockey. Beyond the self-explanatory stats like record, powerplay percentage and goal differential, the table includes: 5-on-5 Goals For and Against Rate, which measures a team's even-strength goal differential on a per game basis. Today the table is somewhat modified because timeontheice's "mplayershots" scripts have been glitchy over the past week, so we've dropped shot% and shot% tied from the table. However, Fenwick% close is a great indicator of possession, and shows us which team is better at controlling play. We'll also include Fenwick% in a tied game state, which, has been proven to be the gold standard for measuring "real" team quality. We'll also include PDO to qualify a team's record - and try to isolate whether or not a particular opponent (or the Canucks) are actually as good as their record indicates, or whether or not they've just been lucky (or unlucky).

 

  Canucks Kings
Record 45-21-9 37-26-12
Venue Record (Home/Away) 21-10-4 16-12-8
Last 10 4-5-1 7-3-0
PP% 20.9% 15.8%
PK% 85.7% 87.6%
Goal Differential +42 +11
5-on-5 Goals F/A 1.16 0.95
Shots % 50.3% 53.2%
Fenwick % 51.5% 52.8%
Shots Tied % 50.4% 54.6%
Fenwick Tied % 52.2% 54%
PDO 101.2 98.8

The Kings' low PDO is largely shooting% driven, and I'd suggest that their exceedingly low team on-ice shooting% is a result of their system as opposed to a lack of elite skill. The Kings play conservative hockey but they do a masterful job of absolutely dominating the puck. 

Game Notes

Aaron Rome was injured on Saturday, so he'll draw out of the lineup and be replaced with Gragnani. With Rome out, I'll be curious to see if the Canucks reunite Tanev-Gragnani. More likely Tanev will play along-side Hamhuis, and Gragnani will skate with Salo on the third pairing. Luongo has started in the three games against the Kings so far this season, and I'd expect that'll be the case again tonight (he's been unreal in his last two starts). I'd expect the forward lines to remain unchanged, as the Canucks third line especially seems to be starting to "gel" into a seriously imposing unit.

On LA's side, they're reunited Carter and Richards on their second line of late whle Kopitar is skating with Williams and Brown, and Jarrett Stoll holds down a really good third line. Kings bruiser Kyle Clifford has a history of getting under the Canucks skin with a collection of borderline hits, and I'd expect that to continue this evening. To go with Doughty, and the unbelievably good Voynov, LA has another solid, under-rated defender in Alec Martinez. He plays on their third pairing with Greene and has posted strong underlying numbers this season.

Three Keys

  1. The LA Kings have one of the leagues most aggressive penalty-killing systems, and the Canucks have been woeful of late on the power-play. That sounds like a losing combination... The Kings play physical hockey, they run around, and they'll take liberties with the Canucks if Vancouver doesn't show some gumption with the man-advantage. Vancouver will get their chances tonight, so their performance on the power-play is going to be essential tonight.

  2. Don't get buried. The Kings have out-possessed the Canucks by a wide margin in the team's three meetings so far this season, and in the last game the two teams played the Kings generated 38 shots on goal! It would really boost my confidence in the team if the Canucks could control events against one of the league's best puck-possession sides tonight.

  3. Win the goaltending matchup. Jonathan Quick has been spectacular this season, but his game isn't exactly flawless. The Canucks punished him glove-side high the last time the two teams met in the playoffs, and openly taunted his inability to cover the top half of the net. Similarly, the Kings have been keen to exploit Roberto Luongo's weakness side-to-side (if you deke across Luongo, he'll sometimes go down and leave the top of the net open for a high backhand) in the previous meetings between the two teams this season. Both teams know the book on the other team's goaltender, and have exploited their relative weaknesses in the past. In what's likely to be a low scoring game tonight, the team that gets the better goaltending will probably emerge victorious.

Game Day Links

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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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