Final Report Card for the Los Angeles Kings' 2013-14 Season
For the second time in three seasons, the Los Angeles Kings are Stanley Cup champions.
In a postseason for the ages, Darryl Sutter’s team played 26 hard-fought games and prevailed in three seven-game series against the Western Conference’s best on the road to glory. In the fourth round alone, L.A. claimed three overtime victories before finally earning the right to hoist the Cup.
Now that the dramatic 2013-14 playoffs have come to a close, it’s time to look back on the season that was. The Kings have been graded on offense, defense, goaltending, special teams, coaching and overall performance.
If you’ve been paying attention to the Kings since the 2011-12 campaign, you’ll know that this club measures itself primarily with postseason success.
Consequently, this latest championship weighs heavily on the following grades.
It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
After ranking 26th in the regular season in goals scored per game at 2.42, the Kings offense ran roughshod over the NHL’s finest in the postseason. L.A. averaged a league-best 3.38 GPG in the spring and appeared unstoppable when it mattered most.
By the time the Kings were crowned champions, they had the four most productive players in the playoffs.
In addition to the acquisition of sniper Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline, the promotions of Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson brought a spark to a lethargic attack, infusing the forward ranks with speed and creativity in the latter half of the year.
The Kings were no longer wasting shifts on the perimeter. With their new-look lineup, they were intent on attacking from the opening whistle and generated higher-quality bids on a more consistent basis.
This is reflected in their shooting metrics.
Despite leading the NHL in five-on-five Corsi percentage in the regular season, the team shot a pitiful 6.6 percent in such situations. Once the pieces jelled and that rate rose to a more respectable level (8.9 percent) in the playoffs, the Kings suddenly appeared capable of scoring at will.
Sutter placed Toffoli and Pearson with Jeff Carter on the second line for much of the season’s back half, which relegated Mike Richards to the fourth line. Meanwhile, Gaborik’s presence on Anze Kopitar’s left wing pushed either Dustin Brown or Justin Williams down to the third unit.
Those moves created phenomenal, unmatched forward depth.
Kopitar and Carter gave the opposition fits. Williams won the Conn Smythe Trophy while spending the bulk of his shifts on the third line. Richards came up huge as a clutch figure plugged in and out of various spots depending on game circumstances.
L.A. suffered through down regular seasons across the board—especially from Brown and Richards. However, for the Kings, punching a ticket to the dance was all they needed.
Once there, their four-headed monster at center (Kopitar, Carter, Richards and Jarret Stoll) and talented wingers proved too much for any club to handle, translating their strong puck possession into outstanding production.
In 2012, the Kings won their first Stanley Cup on the strength of team defense. In 2014, they prevailed in spite of it.
Demonstrating that the regular season really is just a dress rehearsal, L.A.’s defense was dreadful in the playoffs after taking home the William Jennings Trophy for the lowest goals-against average in the league during the year.
On the whole, the team was incredibly sloppy, turning the puck over at inopportune moments and regularly blowing straightforward coverage.
The team committed 13 giveaways per game (338 in 26 games) in the playoffs after an average of 10.6 (867 in 82 games) in the regular season. That may seem like an insignificant disparity, but given the minuscule margin for error with the Cup on the line, it can make all the difference.
It did in a couple of games.
These holes were always there, but the less intense nature of the regular season kept them concealed.
There’s nowhere to hide in the kiln of the playoffs, and liabilities such as Slava Voynov, Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene were eaten alive by San Jose, Anaheim, Chicago and New York. Luckily, the offense bailed the team out more than a few times in the postseason, mitigating a lackluster defensive showing by Sutter’s troops.
Another welcome change from the regular season to the playoffs involved Drew Doughty, who only gets better as the pressure rises. He followed up a decent 78-game campaign with a spectacular dose of poise, shutdown defense and highlight-reel rushes in the spring.
Jake Muzzin had a breakout year next to Doughty on the top pairing, limiting his gaffes from a year ago and tightening his defense to offer No. 8 a more reliable partner. His physicality and trigger-happy approach are great assets.
Alec Martinez was also a revelation in the latter half of the year, piling up points and pushing the tempo with his mobility, puck distribution and willingness to shoot.
Nevertheless, the blue line was porous on the whole.
Voynov lost every shred of confidence in his being over the grind of the regular season. This spilled into the playoffs, as he routinely lost battles all over the ice and was slow as molasses in his decision-making. A two-time Stanley Cup champion in only his third year, the 24-year-old rearguard was one of the very worst players in the entire postseason.
Meanwhile, Mitchell and Greene were running on fumes. Their experience came in handy, but it may have been undermined by their rapidly slipping on-ice contributions.
Brayden McNabb will likely be granted a shot at replacing one of the two grizzled veterans next season. Carrying both would be a show of ill-advised loyalty by management.
Much like the Kings as a group, Jonathan Quick’s season was marked by peaks and valleys.
On one hand, his regular-season numbers (2.07 GAA, .915 save percentage) are stellar. On the other, it never seemed as though he would regain his 2012 form, when he was essentially impenetrable.
This shakiness reared its ugly head in the postseason, as his stats took a hit (2.58 GAA, .911 save percentage), and he conceded goals that would have never slipped by him in the past. At five-on-five, his save percentage dropped from .928 to .918.
With that said, when he was on, he was brilliant.
His impact on games took on an unfamiliar form: Rather than outright stealing wins for his team, he would keep the Kings in contests with timely saves—and he made a ton of them in the playoffs.
L.A. enjoyed more consistent showings from its backups in Ben Scrivens (now with Edmonton) and Martin Jones.
Jones’ style differs from Quick’s, as he simply makes the saves he should make and isn’t overly aggressive when challenging shooters. Tall (6’4”) and positionally sound, he is very much a new-school netminder who relies more on mechanics than sheer reflexes.
He did a tremendous job in the No. 2 spot, posting a 1.81 GAA and .934 save percentage in 19 appearances. Quick should be afforded a fair deal of rest next year with such a capable backup on the roster.
In the end, when assessing the Kings’ goaltending, we’re mostly assessing Quick. He wasn’t perfect, but he stood tall at moments and seldom lost games for his team in the playoffs.
Of particular note were his performances against the Sharks after the team fell behind 3-0 in the first round. He shut the door and showed that his peak still can’t be touched by any other goaltender in the world.
Now, if only he could be persuaded not to stray from his crease.
Much like L.A.’s offense, the team’s power play woke from its slumber with the addition of Gaborik.
In the regular season, the Kings appeared almost reluctant to shoot the puck on the man advantage, often moving it around fruitlessly before a poor attempt was launched toward the net. They were fifth in shots per 60 five-on-five minutes but 13th in shots per 60 five-on-four minutes.
In a nutshell, they moved the puck slowly and lacked a killer instinct.
The result? A 27th-ranked power play that scored on only 15.1 percent of its opportunities.
In the playoffs, the new personnel allowed the Kings to try a few different setups to keep penalty-killers honest—one-timers in the high slot, defensemen cutting in the back door, screened point shots, etc.
With a pair of sharpshooters in Carter and Gaborik on the top unit, the opposition couldn’t focus strictly on one threat.
The result? L.A. converted on 23.5 percent of its power-play chances in the postseason.
However, the Kings’ penalty kill was decidedly average, ranking 11th with an efficiency rate of 83.1 percent in the regular season.
That figure improved only slightly to 83.3 percent in the spring, as L.A. wasn’t nearly vigilant enough in denying zone entries and catching on to opponents’ power-play tendencies.
Though Richards and Stoll were tremendous at disrupting lanes and preventing the opposition from getting its desired looks, Kopitar was too conservative while blueliners Greene, Mitchell and Robyn Regehr weren’t as sound as they could have been in front of the net.
Out of 16 playoff teams, the Kings allowed the seventh-most power-play goals per 60 four-on-five minutes.
Not horrible, but certainly nothing to write home about.
The penalty kill was fairly consistent in its mediocrity. The real story here was an energized power play that produced crucial goals in crunch time.
Can you argue with the results?
In his time as L.A.’s bench boss, Sutter has won two Stanley Cups in three seasons, with his one Western Conference Final loss facilitated by a mess of key injuries (Doughty, Richards, Brown, Williams, Stoll, Mitchell, Greene).
Sutter’s team plays a tough, heavy, possession-oriented style that isn’t always pretty and can prove woefully inconsistent in the regular season. It won’t bring home a Presidents’ Trophy or rev up the hype machine the way the Chicago Blackhawks or Pittsburgh Penguins can.
With that said, it sure is successful.
One could cite regular-season records (46-28-8 in 2013-14), but they don’t actually matter to this team. When the playoffs roll around, no one wants to face the Kings because they abide by Sutter’s game plan and just wear opponents down.
Sure, some of his lineup decisions can be head-scratching—Jordan Nolan in the top six was...interesting—and he should sometimes make his in-game adjustments stick in between contests, but this is the most impressive stretch in the organization’s history.
Surely, coaching has played no small part in the team reaching its current purple patch.
Gaborik bought into the team’s system when he was brought on board, Richards accepted a role lower on the depth chart and youngsters Muzzin, Pearson and Toffoli are progressing nicely.
Spreading out the offense may well have been the defining choice in this year’s playoff run, as it simultaneously lightened the burden on the forwards and caused matchup nightmares for opponents.
With Kopitar drawing attention from the other team’s top guns, who can then stack up against lines anchored by Carter, Williams and Richards? As it turns out, no one.
Beyond the personnel, though, Sutter’s impact manifests itself in his steady-as-she-goes attitude.
You’ll never see the Kings whine during postgame interviews or lose their marbles over an entire series. They’re committed to the process and, much like their coach, are never too high or too low.
This much was obvious in one of the toughest postseason runs of all time: Three Game 7s against Western Conference heavyweights, three overtime games in the Stanley Cup Final, wild momentum swings in either direction.
Most teams would have crumbled before this kind of adversity.
Understanding that there will be lost battles in the overarching war, the Kings picked up on Sutter’s calm demeanor and kept their eyes fixed squarely on the prize.
Don’t let L.A.’s storybook postseason run fool you. In terms of execution on the ice, the Kings were very, very sloppy in the playoffs.
Their puck management left much to be desired, they consistently started poorly and it almost seemed as though they needed a gun to their head to get their game sorted out. It was exciting hockey, but by Kings standards, it was ugly hockey.
Nevertheless, all that matters is the Cup.
In spite of their many shortcomings, the 2014 Kings retained one vital trait from the 2012 squad that bulldozed through the league: They know how to win.
And they know when to win.
This will never be a top regular-season squad, but when the chips are down, they can dig deep and pull out a gear that no other club in the world can match.
This year, they also boasted astounding versatility. Whether it was in uptempo games, contests decided by special teams or the usual playoff tussles in the trenches, the Kings possessed the personnel to compete in any scenario.
In their forward ranks, they can find a three-zone monster in Kopitar, blazing-fast finishers in Carter and Gaborik, a wrecking ball in Brown, an unfathomably decorated leader in Richards and one of the greatest clutch performers of all time in Williams.
On the blue line, what more can one say about Doughty? He’s the best defenseman in the world and arguably the finest big-game player in the NHL as well.
In net, Quick isn’t 2012 Quick anymore, but he battles just as hard and can deliver more game- or series-altering stops than any netminder around.
Most importantly, the Kings lay it all on the line for each other. No one individual is bigger than the team because the players know that their strength lies in numbers.
Collectively, their blend of guts, desire and skill is unparalleled.
This is a special group—the kind of tight-knit, well-constructed squad that can overcome 3-0 series deficits and three Game 7s in one postseason. This is a club that can slump through the regular season because it's built for the playoffs.
This is the kind of team that can defy odds and soar higher than the sum of its parts. As such, so does its final overall grade.