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How the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup

Puck possession, a trade deadline pickup, and Anze Kopitar

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The Los Angeles Kings are Stanley Cup Champions for the second time in three years.

Getty Images Sport

The NHL may not have dynasties like it used to have in the 1970s and 1980s, but it's become clear over the past four years that there are a couple of teams that are clearly head and shoulders above the reset. 

The Los Angeles Kings made sure they joined that group on Friday night with their 3-2 double overtime win over the New York Rangers to win their second Stanley Cup in three years, meaning that four of the last five Stanley Cups have been won by either the Kings or Chicago Blackhawks. 

Los Angeles' run also featured a Western Conference Final appearance sandwiched between the two championship runs, becoming only the second team in the salary cap era to make it to the Conference Final three years in a row (the 2006-09 Detroit Red Wings were the other).

Here's how they did it.  

They always had the puck

According to their regular season record, the Los Angeles Kings have been a good but not great team over the past three years winning 113 games. That places them ninth in the NHL over that stretch. But sometimes records can be a little deceiving, and teams may be a little better (the Kings) or worse (the Toronto Maple Leafs) than what their place in the standings is telling you.

What the Kings have done better than any team in the NHL over the past three years is control the puck. Their 55.6 FenClose rating (percentage of unblocked shot attempts when the score is close) is tops in the NHL over that stretch (Chicago, St. Louis and Boston are the second, third and fourth teams on that list) while they finished in first place for the second season in a row.

This is important. This means that they controlled the puck more than their opponents and teams that control the puck are more successful than teams that don't. Since the start of the 2007-08 season, the six teams that have won the Stanley Cup finished first, 13th, first, 14th, fourth, second and first in FenClose in that season. Of the seven best FenClose seasons teams have posted over that stretch, six of them reached at least the Conference Final, five of them played in the Stanley Cup Final, while four of them ended up winning the whole thing. 

Team Year FenClose Result
Detroit Red Wings 2007-08 59.6 Won Stanley Cup
Chicago Blackhawks 2009-10 58.1 Won Stanley Cup
Detroit Red Wings 2008-09 57.6 Lost Stanley Cup Final
Los Angeles Kings 2012-13 57.3 Lost Western Conference Final
Los Angeles Kings 2013-14 56.7 Won Stanley Cup
San Jose Sharks 2007-08 56.4 Lost Second Round
Chicago Blackhawks 2012-13 56.1 Won Stanley Cup

 

Look at it another way: Of the past seven Stanley Cup winners, four of them finished in eighth place or lower in the standings. Five of them finished in the top-five -- including three No. 1 teams -- in possession. If you want to make some money on next year's playoffs, don't bet on the team with the most points in the standings, bet on the team with the best possession numbers. 

But it's not just about firing shots from every possible angle in an attempt to pump up your Fenwick or Corsi number.

The numbers are supposed to be a reflection of the way your team is playing and that it's doing the right things. Teams that are good through the neutral zone, win puck battles and do all of the little things along the walls to create possession and chances are going to have better numbers. And the Kings do all of those things extremely well. It's not just about their ability to control the puck and keep it on their sticks, it's about their ability to get the puck back when they don't have it. 

Most teams that dominate possession (Detroit, Chicago) do so by playing as little dump-and-chase hockey as possible. The Kings are a bit different in that they have no issue "getting the puck deep" and then going to work for it. And nobody in the league is better at it than them. They are relentless on the forecheck and come at opposing defenders in waves to not only overwhelm on the puck, but to also create turnovers that can lead to their own chances. 

And while the Kings are a sensational defensive team with one of the best blueliners in the league (Drew Doughty) and a collection of wonderful defensive forwards (Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams leading the way), their best defense was still their ability to play with the puck.

Best offense in the playoffs

All of that possession didn't necessarily turn into goals for the Kings during the regular season as they finished just 26th in the NHL in goals per game. They were 29th two years ago when they won their first cup.

But thanks to the trade deadline pickup of Marian Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets, and another stellar postseason run from Anze Kopitar, Justin Williams and Jeff Carter, the Kings' offense erupted in the playoffs and scored 3.38 goals per game. They were not only the highest scoring team in the playoffs, they scored nearly one full goal per game more than they did during the season. Anze Kopitar led the playoffs in scoring for the second time in three years and did so while going up against some of the best players in the league every night. Gaborik's 14 goals were four more than any other player in the playoffs, and with Doughty, Carter and Williams, the Conn Smythe winner, the Kings had four of the top-five individual scorers in the playoffs.   

An impossible journey

Just to reach the Stanley Cup Final the Kings needed to get through the San Jose Sharks, the Anaheim Ducks and the Chicago Blackhawks. That is two 50-win teams (San Jose and Anaheim) and the defending Stanley Cup champions. Between them, those three teams combined for a .678 points percentage during the regular season, which is a 111-point pace over 82 games in the standings. And to beat them, Los Angeles needed to become just the fourth team in NHL history to erase a 3-0 series deficit to beat San Jose in the first round, they needed to win Games 6 and 7 against Anaheim, and then get through yet another Game 7 in the Western Conference final in overtime. And then for the Stanley Cup they had to beat the best goalie in the world. 

They definitely earned the right to lift the Cup and call themselves the best team in hockey after a run like that. 

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