The Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks are two of the NHL’s top possession teams.
The Kings, led by Corsi dynamos in Jake Muzzin, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, are better in the NHL at possessing the puck than any other team in the league, according to the team’s Fenwick-for percentage. Fenwick differs from Corsi in that it does not take into account blocked shots, and is seen as a more accurate gauge of the percentage of scoring opportunities owned by a team over a longer period of time. Possession metrics are important, of course, because if you don’t have the puck on your stick, you are very unlikely to score. A primer on these topics can be found here and here.
The Kings lead the league with a 56.7% Fenwick-for percentage, while San Jose ranks third at 54.6%.
So what happens when two teams that thrive off of puck possession face off against each other? How will one team gain an advantage?
“We’re a good faceoff team, and so are they,” Jarret Stoll said. “I think we’re going to have a great battle in that aspect of the game. After that, it’s managing the puck. Not turning over the puck. Not playing the game in the neutral zone. We don’t want to be hacking the puck around in the neutral zone. We want to get through that and get in on the forecheck. Like I just said, spend time in the offensive zone. I’m sure that’s similar to what they’re saying. That’s what wins games. That’s what makes it hard on teams over a seven-game series, is making them play in the defensive zone and making them play heavy, hard minutes.”
Though the numbers indicate that both teams are comfortable with the puck on their sticks, they’re also dangerous without the puck. As Stoll indicated, the Kings will be looking to get in on the forecheck and create disruptions in the Sharks’ abilities to get out of their own zone. Likewise, San Jose’s forecheck is another staple of their own game and creates challenges for road teams at the SAP Center.
“It’s hard to really compare a team to team, but they obviously get in on the forecheck really well and create a lot of rush chances,” Dustin Brown said. “I think a lot of their opportunities come off of the forecheck – the bang-bang plays off of turnovers, that sort of thing. We have to be aware of that. Again, coming into our zone, it’s about getting back quickly and helping each other out.”
As for possessing the puck, the Kings attempted 54.3% of the 608 total attempts at net in the five-game season series between the two teams. In four of the five games this season – Los Angeles was 3-1-1 in the regular season series and outscored San Jose 12-8, shootout goals excluded – the Kings out-attempted the Sharks.
It’s through their puck recovery and ability to retain possession through pressure in the offensive zone that has allowed Los Angeles to find success against other teams that also benefit from a heavy possession game.
“I think that’s part of what makes our team successful over the last few years is our possession of the puck, protection of the puck,” Brown said. “A big part of that is…getting in on the forecheck. When we’re on our game, we can get the puck deep and get the puck back. That goes a long way when you talk about possession. If we’re quick in our zone getting out and quick in their zone getting in, that goes a long way and that’s when you can tell this team is playing well.”