By Jay Zawaski-
(CBS) For the fourth time in six seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks are headed to the Western Conference Final. They await the winner of the Ducks-Kings series, which is tied 3-3 entering Friday’s Game 7.
Let’s take a look at both teams and how they would potentially match up with Chicago.
Los Angeles: The Kings are a much better and much healthier team than the version the Blackhawks beat in last year’s Western Finals. Anze Kopitar, most importantly, is as close to 100 percent as anyone can be this time of year. The Selke Trophy finalist (and in my opinion, favorite) is one of the top defensive players in the league, but he can also put the puck in the back of the net. His 70 points led the Kings in the regular season, and his 17 playoff points also lead the team.
Forwards Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik have also been good in the playoffs for Los Angeles. Gaborik was essential in the Kings’ dispatching of the San Jose Sharks and has already scored eight goals in the playoffs. Carter offers a nice balance of scoring and physicality. He’s played in two Stanley Cup Finals in his career and is always tough to defend. His partner in crime, Mike Richards, hasn’t exactly been tearing up the league this year, but he’s another guy with experience who can score and hit. Justin Williams always seems to find another level in the playoffs, and this season has been no different. He has nine points in 13 games.
On the blue line, Drew Doughty makes the Kings go. He’s as skilled as they come and plays reliable defense. When he’s on the ice, the Kings are a different team. When he’s not, they’re a team that struggles to put the puck in the net.
In goal, the Kings lean on Jonathan Quick, one of the best goaltenders in the game. While his numbers haven’t been spectacular (2.78 GAA, .914 save percentage), he’s been solid and consistent. He was pulled after the first period of Game 4, but that was seen as more of a motivational tactic by Kings coach Darryl Sutter.
Anaheim: Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf — get used to hearing those two names if the Ducks advance to the conference finals. They led the team in scoring in the regular season and are doing the same in the playoffs. Those two are elite forwards. You could argue both are top 10 players in the game. After the big two, the forward depth really drops off. Nick Bonino and Andrew Cogliano provide a bit of scoring, and there’s always the ghost of Teemu Selanne (#TeemeForever).
The Ducks’ defense is really solid. Francois Beauchemin, Cam Fowler and Bryan Allen can hold it down as well as any defensemen in the game. The problem is their lack of offense. None of Anaheim’s top defensemen can be counted on to provide offense. Fowler was the best in the regular season but only notched 36 points. Duncan Keith had 55 assists.
In goal, it’s been a real adventure for Anaheim. When the playoffs started against Dallas, Frederik Andersen was the man. He got hurt, and Jonas Hiller became the man. He didn’t blow the world away, so Bruce Boudreau turned to 20-year-old John Gibson, who has responded with a two wins (one of which was a shutout). It’s safe to assume they’ll ride the hot hand, and it will be Gibson’s job until he blows up.
Los Angeles: The Kings have the ability to shut the game down, just like the Wild did for six games, but the Kings are a much better and deeper team. That doesn’t bode well for Chicago, considering how mightily it struggled to get past Minnesota.
Plus, Quick can always hit one of his hot streaks and slam the door on an opponent.
Anaheim: If the Blackhawks can’t stop Perry and Getzlaf, it could be a long series. Also, while Gibson probably won’t prove to be a big threat, he could be the next Ken Dryden.
Ducks-Kings numbers breakdown
The stats between Anaheim and Los Angeles through five games …
Shots (all situations)
Los Angeles: 172
Shots (even strength)
Los Angeles: 141
Corsi* (all situations)
Los Angeles: 391 (54.8 percent)
Anaheim: 322 (45.2 percent)
Corsi in close situations (within one for first and second periods, tied in third)
Los Angeles: 186 (54.8 percent)
Anaheim: 153 (45.2 percent)
As you can see, the Kings have had the statistical advantage in every advanced category. They’ve held the edge in play, but trail in the series. Their PDO (sum of shooting % and save %) is pretty low, at 99.1, but it’s not absurdly low. The Kings just haven’t had the “puck luck” in this series. It’s pretty even when the games are close, which is the best measure. When games are that closely contested, the game, or series, could go either way.
Numbers breakdown vs. Blackhawks
Now, let’s take a look at the two teams’ performances against the Blackhawks this season. Chicago had a winning record against each.
Chicago’s stats vs. LA
Goals for: 9
Goals against: 4
Corsi for: 157 (51.4%)
Corsi against: 149 (48.6%)
Shots for: 100
Shots against: 82
Chicago’s stats vs. Anaheim
Goals for: 8
Goals against: 5
Corsi for: 179 (53%)
Corsi against: 159 (47%)
Shots for: 85
Shots against: 76
The Blackhawks have had pretty good success against both teams. Again, when we get to this point of the season, it becomes a bit of a coin toss. If I had the luxury of choosing the Blackhawks’ opponent in the Western Conference Final, I would choose Ducks, who lack the overall depth of the Kings. Plus, their goaltending roller coaster will bite them before it’s all said and done.
Jay Zawaski covers the Blackhawks for CBSChicago.com and 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @JayZawaski670.
*Corsi is a statistic used to measure possession. It is the sum of shots on goal, missed shots and blocked shots. So, for instance, if the Blackhawks have 25 shots on goal, 10 missed shots and 10 blocked shots, their “Corsi for” would be 45. If Chicago allowed 20 shots, blocked 10 shots and the opponent missed 15 times, its “Corsi against” would be 45. It’s actually pretty simple. For more information on hockey’s advanced metrics movement, click here or here.