The Calgary Flames have kind of been the bane of the Los Angeles Kings' existence this season, being the clearly inferior team and yet finding a way to just about take the season series between the teams. And now, the Flames are the only team standing in the way of the Kings playoff berth (there is a chance the Winnipeg Jets could fall out but let's just focus on the division for now).
For the Find-a-Way Flames, this season has been a roller coaster, with the steepest of descents coming as an eight-game losing streak in December. Most of the hockey world predicted they would end up below the Edmonton Oilers in the standings this year, most of the hockey world can now pick their jaws up off the floor. With two games left in the season, the Flames need just one win (or two OT/SO losses) to clinch a playoff spot. The looming force in their way? The LA Kings. (We'll see how this all pans out tonight.)
If the Flames are able to clinch a playoff spot, they would go into the first round against my favourite rival (having lived there for university), the Vancouver Canucks.
Let's take a quick look at how the Western Conference teams stack up (data via War-on-Ice - teams currently in contention in blue):
If playoff standings were based on CF%, the Minnesota Wild, as well as the Canucks and Flames would be getting ready to golf. Also, Vancouver and Calgary are the only teams currently in playoff spots that are negative possession teams. Then there's LA, way up at the top, tied for first. They should be kicking our butts.
This is where the hockey gods come into play. Thanks to some lucky bounces and possibly some players who just shoot over the league average shooting percentage (looking at you Jiri Hudler, Sean Monahan, and Johnny Gaudreau), the Flames are playing at a PDO of 101.3 and have been above average all season. The Kings are pretty much average at 100.2, and the Canucks are playing with below average "luck" at 99.3.
Comparing the most heavily used goalies for each team (Hiller, Ramo, Quick, Lack, and Miller), the SV% is comparable, ranging from 0.912 to 0.919. Really no front runner in this comparison, though Quick and Miller have an impressive six shutouts each.
Here are the goalies sorted by SV%:
There is a clear frontrunner for PIM though! Our beloved tantrum-thrower Jonathan Quick, who hasn't yet gone for anger management classes, with 18 penalty minutes on the season.
GIF via gifgoldmine
To simplify the comparison, we'll just compare the top pairing (or top defencemen, since Mark Giordano won't be playing the final games, and TJ Brodie is the man) for each team.
Graph via War-on-Ice. Placement based on ZSO% and TOI of competition, the higher and further to the left, the more difficult the conditions. Colour based on relative CF% based on the respective team, and sized based on TOI.
As if it's not said enough, Brodie is amazing, and the shining light on the Calgary blue line since Gio went down. Kris Russell and Dennis Wideman have their ups and downs, but relative to the rest of the team, possession just isn't that great, and that is the top pairing for the time being.
Christopher Tanev and Alexander Edler face slightly easier circumstances (more offensive zone starts and easier competition) than Brodie, but make more of a positive difference for the Canucks in terms of possession.
Then there's Drew Doughty and Jake Muzzin for the Kings, with the easiest zone starts of the bunch. This could be tied to the fact that LA just spends more time in the offensive zone than Vancouver and (especially) Calgary, but they are also slightly more sheltered, with the likes of Robyn Regehr being the grinder he is.
Again, for simplicity, we'll look at the top three scorers for each team.
Guys, Gaudreau's just a rookie.
The Canucks didn't really lose any significant scorers to injury, but the Kings lost Tanner Pearson and Marian Gaborik missed some games, and the Flames lost Giordano (it hurts to even type it).
Look at Monahan all the way over there by himself. This can probably be attributed to the early season when he became the only 'experienced' centre Calgary had, and so he faced some more difficult conditions in terms of zone starts. He's the only skater on there with a below 50 ZSO%.
The difference along the y-axis isn't all that big, but it's worth noting that Vancouver's scorers seem to face slightly tougher competition. The Sedins really are twins, eh?
In terms of affect on their teams, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, and Anze Kopitar make the most positive difference when on the ice.
A big story for the Flames this season has been their ability to score by committee and not rely on one or two elite players. So, to look at only the Flames' top three would be a mistake, as they've got four skaters above 50 points (the top three plus Wideman), and would have five if Gio was healthy (he's sitting at 48 points).
The Canucks' top three scorers are the only skaters above 50, and then there is a huge drop off to fourth (Nick Bonino at 37).
Then the Kings. They've only got two skaters above 50, Tyler Toffoli is at 47.
While the team possession numbers may not point to success, when we break down the teams a bit further, we see just how close they really are.
The Flames just need to get past the Kings, and they'll face the Canucks in the first round.
Two points is all it takes.