NHL things to know: Kings in trouble
Stanley Cup champs falling out of playoff chase
A pair of Canadian teams are in action on Thursday as Ottawa hosts Washington and Vancouver welcomes San Jose. You can preview those games by clicking on the hyperlinks, but the focus of today’s NHL lookahead is on what the heck is happening with the Stanley Cup champions.
Outside looking in
Entering tonight’s game at Florida, the Kings (21-17-12) find themselves five points behind Vancouver for the final wild-card spot in the West. Only Arizona and Edmonton are below them in the conference standings.
Knowing how difficult it can be to climb back into a playoff position in the NHL, L.A. is in danger of becoming the first defending Stanley Cup champion to miss the post-season since the 2006-07 Carolina Hurricanes.
Regular-season mediocrity is nothing new to the Kings, who seem to save their best for the playoffs. They won the Cup in 2012 as the eighth seed in the West, and even last year they limped in as the No. 3 seed in their division.
But those, you could argue, were great teams just laying in the weeds until the end of the interminable regular season. The 2011-12 Kings ranked second in the league in the Corsi stat measuring a team's rate of possession in five-on-five situations in close games, as per stats.hockeyanalysis.com. In 2013-14 they were No. 1. This season, L.A. has fallen to 12th.
Traditional numbers show a team that has declined on the defensive end, once the Kings’ calling card. The NHL’s stingiest team a year ago, L.A. allowed 2.05 goals per game. Now they’re 15th at 2.58, more than offsetting an improvement in goals scored per game from 2.42 (26th) to 2.66 (20th).
Interesting to note, health doesn’t seem to be the clear issue. L.A. has suffered the third-fewest man-games lost in the league as per the aptly named mangameslost.com, though the site’s Time Missed Impact To Team metric ranks the Kings No. 11 after adjusting for the quality of the players missing.
Indeed, young forwards Tyler Toffoli (6 games) and Tanner Pearson (8), oft-injured sniper Marian Gaborik (13), and defencemen Jake Muzzin (6) and Alec Martinez (7) have all missed notable time due to injury or illness. Defenceman Slava Voynov has played only six games after his arrest for domestic violence.
In net, 2012 Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick has seen his goals-against average inflate from 2.07 last season to 2.51, and his save percentage dip from .915 to .910. At his peak in 2011-12, those numbers were at 1.95 and .929.
If the Kings are to claw back into the light, they’ll need to start winning on the road. They’re an awful 5-11-6 away from Staples Center, where they’ve gone 16-6-6.
That also means L.A. has played six more home games than away, so they’d better figure things out before the end of their current five-game trip, which opened with tough losses to Boston and Washington.
After tonight’s game at Florida, the Kings visit Tampa Bay on Saturday before closing their trip at Columbus on Monday.