After a devastating 8 game home-stand that saw the Los Angeles Kings post a record of 2-6, and fall a full 10 points out of the Pacific Division lead, the Kings are heading out on the road again. The Kings have played generally terribly during this stretch of games, and they’ll need to snap out of it quickly if they want to re-enter the playoff picture. During this stretch there have been virtually no bright spots, with the defense, goaltending and offense all struggling mightily in various games. With upcoming games at Dallas and St. Louis, it’s the right time for the Kings to start putting the pieces back together.
The end of January and early February are a critical time in the season, since an extended run like the one we’ve witnessed for the previous 8 games may be fatal to their playoff chances, and missing the playoffs this season can only be classified as an unconditional failure. Certainly the conference is tight, and there are competitive teams from top to bottom, but expectations are high this season, and the young Kings will need to rise and meet them.
With 21 games remaining on the road, the Kings will need to get contributions from all corners if they want to improve their sub-.500 road record, and they’ve got a great opportunity to do just that starting with the game against Dallas this evening, and St. Louis tomorrow. So who do we need to look to for help?
Goaltenders – In 6 of the 8 previous games, the Kings have given up at least 3 goals, and four times they gave up at least 4 goals. Jonathan Quick has lost his early season form, and some analysts believe that his play during this latest stretch almost single-handedly kept him from the All-Star game. Bernier hasn’t been much better, although he put together a decent performance against Edmonton. Both keepers will need to perform better if the Kings want to turn around their fortunes, and although it would be hard to hang the Kings poor play entirely on the necks of the goaltenders, they certainly haven’t been much help.
Defense – This actually goes beyond the players who are listed as defenseman. The entire team needs to start playing better team defense, which means fewer defensive lapses, and stronger overall play. 3 of the 6 games lost during the past 8 have been by one goal. In games like that, defensive collapses (usually immediately following a Kings goal) have sunk them. They’ll need to snap out of it if they want to see some positive results. Drew Doughty will be expected to pick up his play, and if the Edmonton game is a sign of things to come, he may be ready to do just that. His defensive play has been fine if not spectacular, but the Kings have sorely missed his production from the point, something he’ll need to rectify.
Forwards - The Kings haven’t maintained the kind of offensive play that should be expected of a team with the kind of depth that they possess. With strong play from the top two lines and supporting play from the bottom two lines the Kings have a solid amount of firepower. Unfortunately this season that firepower has been a bit sketchy. The forwards don’t seem to show up to play in the same games, and it has only been effective in fits and starts. Keep this in mind, the Kings have the biggest goal differential in the Pacific division, by a substantial margin. When they’re scoring they’re unbeatable (almost), but too often they aren’t. At all. The Kings are 21-6 when scoring at least 3 goals, meaning they’re winning the shootout style games (most of the time), and an impressive 20-3 when allowing fewer than three goals. They need to start putting up some more points, and combined with solid defensive play they’ll start getting some results.
So what’s the next big “break” in the schedule? Let’s look until the end of January. The Kings have 6 games before February, including 4 big games against division rivals. If the Kings want to get back into the serious playoff hunt, they’re going to need to start now. A good beginning would be a 4-2 run through the next six, although certainly a 5-1 would be even better. It’s a reasonable goal, and one that they should make a short term priority. The question is, who will lead them there?