Thanks to the NHL's liberal rules that allow a majority of the team's leagues into the playoffs, the Los Angeles Kings are almost certainly going to the post-season barring a catastrophic collapse in the next two weeks.
But how good are the Kings?
Throughout the season I've been trying to keep an eye on the transparent standings published occasionally by the New York Times. The transparent standings are a bit old-school, as they separate how a team performs in regulation from how it does in overtime.
The NHL standings, on the other hand, only show wins-losses-overtime losses. The standings do not show how many wins were the result of winning the skills competition at the end of overtime -- i.e. the shootout.
In the transparent standings, as of Friday morning, the Kings have a record of 30-25-18 in regulation, meaning they win 41% of their games in regulation. But they've excelled in overtime, going 12-6, including a 9-5 record in the shootout.
One team the Kings should be scared of is the Vancouver Canucks. They are 40-25-10 in regulation time for a win percentage of 53% in regulation. The Canucks are 6-4 in overtime as of Tuesday and 3-3 in the shootout. But who cares about the pedestrian OT stats? More often than not, the Canucks only need 60 minutes to put teams away.
By the way, if the playoffs started today the Kings would play the Canucks in the first round.
Not surprisingly, it would probably be best to avoid the Sharks, who have won about half their games in regulation time, although the Kings went 3-3 against them this season. Nashville is another obvious team to avoid because the Kings are 0-3 against them this season, a record that I think is attributable to the Predators having a lot more speed than the Kings.
The other division leader, the Chicago Blackhawks, aren't as strong as the Canucks or Sharks -- the 'Hawks have won in regulation about 44% of the time this season. The Kings went 1-3 against Chicago this season.
And what about Phoenix? Through Tuesday they were only winning 39% of their games in regulation. But they have been heroic in overtime, going 17-5 through 74 games. As of this morning, they're 12-5 in the shootout. The Kings are 3-2 against them this season.
Of course, anything can happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But I think the Kings are best off playing Phoenix or San Jose. The Sharks are very good, but they also have a recent history of tanking in the playoffs. The Coyotes, the standings suggest, are a team that hangs around games and finds a way to win them in OT.
Just like the Kings.