Later this afternoon, the New Jersey Devils will be taking on the Los Angeles Kings for the 14th time since the last time the Devils were a truly competitive team in the playoffs. On one side, it seems like it’s been decades since we have seen those quality New Jersey teams legitimately competing for a Stanley Cup. On the other hand, I also can’t believe that they have played 13 times since then. Only playing twice a year, and not playing at all during that lockout-shortened season in 2013, it seems far fetched that today is game 14 between the two clubs since then.
Given that, a lot of time has passed. How have the two clubs fared in comparison, against one another and just in general? Well, if you want to compare the two teams, the most obvious way is to check their head-to-head records since then. And believe it or not, the Devils have come out on top since then. The Devils are 8-5-0 against Los Angeles since the start of the 2013-14 season, including the 3-0 shutout that occurred a few weeks ago at the Prudential Center. You might not think that, given how bad NJ has been in the league most of the last half decade, but they have had the upper hand in this rivalry since they lost the games that truly mattered.
Of course, given the Devils’ particularly poor play four of the last five seasons, and the fact that the Kings managed to win a second cup in 2014, you would expect the Kings to have better stats overall over the past eight seasons. Natural Stat Trick will only compile stats over a three-year span, so here are the teams’ stats over those eight seasons, but broken down into three different sections: from 2013 through the 2014-15 season, from the 2015-16 season through the 2017-18 season, and then the last two seasons, 2018-19 and 2019-20. For easier viewing, I broke down the years by color. The blue rows compare the teams through the first three seasons, the black rows through the middle three seasons, and the green rows through the last two seasons.
As you can see, despite having the worse head-to-head record here, LA has been the better team over these years, and especially since 2015, it has not really been close. In those first few years, despite not making the playoffs, the Devils were a strong team in terms of analytics, with great possession and good high danger play. No team prevented attempts against and stifled opposing offenses better than the Devils in those few seasons after the Cup run. But of course, the Kings were better then, winning another Cup in 5 games against NY (thankfully).
Once the Devils got rid of Peter DeBoer and their possession game went into the tank along with even a push for mediocrity, the Kings have become the clearly better organization. Other than still maintaining a top 10 Corsi Against for a few years, the Devils have done nothing on that chart that even makes it into the top half of the league. Los Angeles, however, has maintained very strong Corsi For numbers, even having the #1 CF% in the league from 2015-2018. They were also very strong in xGF% and High Danger during that time frame.
This specific year, however, despite the Kings possessing the 4th best CF% in the league, sitting at 53.76%, and the 5th best xGF% at 52.63%, the Devils are actually the team with the better record. LA comes into the game as the 2nd worst team in the NHL with 52 points, while the Devils have 61, sitting 26th. The Kings have been saddled with the 2nd worst PDO in the league this year, and despite their ability to dominate the run of play, only have 105 goals at 5v5 play, which is tied for next to last in the league with Dallas, ahead of only Detroit. They have some strong underlying numbers, but have not been able to put it together to generate wins whatsoever. At the rate things are going, they will have better odds of winning the lottery than NJ will.
So, despite the Kings having stronger numbers this year and over the last several years, it is the rebuilding Devils that come into this game today with the better record this year. Will that lead to a sweep against LA this season? We can only hope.