In the past month, the team has become much more potent on offense. Especially noteworthy is the emergence of the Kings power play as a viable threat to score.
Prior to the trade deadline, it was operating at a meager 14.2 percent. Over the 14 games that Marian Gaborik has spent in L.A., the man advantage has clicked at a rate of 23.3 percent. That kind of efficiency over a full season would place the Kings second in the league on the PP.
It currently ranks 25th on the season at 15.6 percent, which goes to show the degree to which Darryl Sutter’s squad has built one of its flaws into a strength.
Here’s how L.A. has improved on the man advantage.
Where the Kings PP moved at a listless pace before March, holding on to the puck for seconds at a time before choosing to shoot or pass, the unit has since become much crisper in its execution.
Continually shifting the position of the puck challenges the integrity of the penalty kill’s shape. A higher level of activity creates doubt and lanes through which L.A. can attack. Playing keep-away on the outside does little other than allow the PK to sit in its box for two or more minutes.
Against the Washington Capitals on March 25, Jake Muzzin and Justin Williams exchange the puck inside the offensive blue line. It’s then distributed to Alec Martinez. Rather than dilly-dallying, the red-hot blueliner takes what’s there: an open shot with traffic in front of the net.
He doesn’t waste a second, either, one-timing the pass toward Washington’s cage.
It doesn’t get all the way through to goaltender Jaroslav Halak, but it accomplishes the vital task of getting by the high penalty-killer. This puts the Kings in an ideal situation: Caps defenseman Jack Hillen now must contend with both Mike Richards and Dustin Brown for a stray puck.
He loses the battle, and Richards pots home an important marker to pull the team back to within one goal.
Against the Pittsburgh Penguins two days later, it’s Gaborik’s turn to grab the bull by the horns with an assertive play.
On the receiving end of a nifty Anze Kopitar pass near the blue line, the sharpshooter immediately swivels to face the net and fires a wrister on goal. Jeff Carter is planted in front of netminder Jeff Zatkoff and deflects the puck by him for the 1-0 tally.
Those are just two examples of Kings players making fast decisions and carrying them out with a great deal of conviction.
Martinez deserves extra attention for his contributions in this respect. There are few—if any—blueliners in the world who make up their mind on as short notice as the 26-year-old.
The proof is in the advanced-stats pudding: His on-ice Corsi (shot attempt differential per 60 minutes) on the PP is tops among Kings players and fifth among NHLers who receive a regular shift (over 1.50/60 TOI) on the man advantage.
Beyond merely attempting shots, he also has a knack for getting them through traffic—a trait that Muzzin and Slava Voynov, who was replaced by Martinez on the top unit three games ago, are sorely lacking. His iFenwick/60 (an individual's shots and missed shots per 60 minutes) and shot total per 60 minutes on the PP are higher than those of anyone on L.A.'s roster.
He attempts a ton of shots and consistently manages to avoid shot-blockers. It seems obvious, but that comes in handy on the PP.
When the puck travels quickly, penalty-killers aren’t afforded the luxury of a comfort zone.
When that’s paired with an emphasis on shooting the puck toward the net, all kinds of chaos is generated, opening the door for rebounds, deflections and a number of passing lanes.
Attacking the Middle
The periphery is where power plays go to die. If a team can’t fire pucks into dangerous areas, then it has to find another way to get there.
The Kings have of late. Gaborik’s skill set has been particularly effective in this department.
Against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, Gaborik retrieves the puck down low. Most Kings—and NHL players—would take the opportunity to regroup in this situation, but he senses that Adam Pardy is out of position and slings a pass through the slot to an open Jeff Carter.
L.A. doesn’t capitalize on the scoreboard, but that’s a terrific opportunity created by a willingness to test the heart of the opposition's defense.
Gaborik displayed his ability once more against the Phoenix Coyotes on Wednesday night.
Off a won faceoff in the offensive zone, Martinez dishes the puck to Gaborik on the left half-wall. His vision and talent come to the fore in the blink of an eye, as he notices that Coyotes penalty-killer Martin Hanzal is too high in the formation and that Kopitar can skate into a prime one-timer opportunity.
Without hesitation, he filters a pass through Phoenix’s defense, and Kopitar rockets it by Thomas Greiss for a game-sealing 4-0 goal.
Granted, it’s awful penalty-killing, but those windows do present themselves often enough to be exploited.
The Kings power play has looked less studied and more instinctive since the beginning of March. Sutter has placed a more decisive player at the point, the team as a whole has increased its volume of shots and Gaborik has brought an infusion of talent that’s unlocked the middle of the ice.
Instead of working the puck around the outside hoping for the perfect play to materialize, L.A. is taking the game to the opposition. It’s chosen to attack.