After yet another loss, the Kings’ playoff chances are looking dire. With 31 games to go, the Kings sit five points out of a playoff spot chasing three other teams, which is something nobody would’ve expected before the season started. It’s hard to even fathom how low the Los Angeles Kings have sunk. They’ve won just 21 of 51 games this season – which is somehow less than the Leafs – and just five games on the road, tied for last in the league with Edmonton and Buffalo. That’s not great company and it’s left the defending Stanley Cup champions in a precarious position, but it’s made the Western Conference’s playoff race extremely interesting.
Outside of Anaheim, Nashville, Chicago and St. Louis, no playoff spot is all that safe. Although Los Angeles seems far out of it, there’s reason to believe the Kings can make a late season push back into the playoffs considering the crop of teams currently ahead of them. Of the eight teams vying for a playoff spot, the Kings have controlled the puck far more than any of them, something that usually translates to wins. Although they started off curiously average, the advanced stat darlings have been among the league’s best in Score-Adjusted Corsi over the last 30 games, while some of the teams ahead of them have been subpar.
In direct contrast to the Kings’ exceptional play is the Calgary Flames who sit third in the Pacific division and seven points up on Los Angeles despite just controlling 45 percent of 5-on-5 play. Historically, teams as poor as Calgary at puck possession don’t make the playoffs very often and teams as good as Los Angeles don’t miss them either. There’s obviously exceptions to the rule, but it’s a rarity on both ends of the spectrum. Since 2007-08, more than 90 percent of teams with a Score-Adjusted Corsi above 54 percent have made the playoffs, while under 20 percent of teams below 46 percent have made it. The chart below shows where each of the eight teams in the hunt roughly lies and how often teams with similar underlying numbers have made the playoffs.
At this point in the season though, Calgary’s chances are much higher than that thanks to the points they’ve already accumulated while the opposite is true for Los Angeles. The question is whether the gap Calgary has created is enough to stifle off much better teams. For that, it’s better to look at teams that didn't make the playoffs despite being in a playoff spot at the 50 game mark and compare possession numbers with the team that took their spot. Unsurprisingly 11 of 16 cases featured a better possession team taking over an inferior team. In all but two cases, the team that made the playoffs had better possession in the final 32 games as well.
It’s not a certainty, but the numbers paint a pretty bleak picture for the Flames’ chances of an unexpected playoff berth despite their current position. Unless they drastically improve, Calgary is likely due for a late season collapse, while Los Angeles is very capable of going on a late season surge to claim their spot. Since 2007-08 five teams have been out of the playoff picture at the 50 game mark with a Score-Adjusted Corsi above 53 percent. Four of those teams made the playoffs. The Kings are at 53.7 percent. Don’t count out the defending champions just yet.
All data from puck-on.net.