Will The Los Angeles Kings Miss The Playoffs?

There are thirty games left in the NHL regular season and the Los Angeles Kings are in serious danger of missing the playoffs. After two Stanley Cups in three years with a trip to the Western Conference Finals sandwiched in between, the Kings have a long row to hoe if they are going to earn another opportunity this spring. What’s the problem and will they survive?

The Kings problems can be summed up simply–they aren’t finishing scoring opportunities and they’re allowing opponents to do so. That’s a pretty good formula for losing hockey games. Here’s the numbers that bear that out…
*Los Angeles ranks 9th in the NHL at getting shots, but are only 20th in goals scored
*Los Angeles ranks 6th in preventing shots, but are only 15th in goals allowed.
Stanley Cup Champions
The latter stat points directly to Jonathan Quick, the Olympic goaltender who won the Conn Smythe Award in the 2012 Cup run and delivered several clutch performances last spring. Quick’s save rate is 91 percent, a woeful 27th among NHL goalies who have faced enough shots to qualify. Any hope for a Kings’ renaissance has to begin with improved play from Quick.
But the offense has its own set of problems. The top points producers are centers Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, but neither is in the top 30 of the NHL (that benchmark chosen because it’s a 30-team league). In of itself, that’s no big deal, but Kopitar, Carter and Tyler Toffoli are the only players in the top 100. It’s not like Los Angeles is making up for a lack of star power with depth.
Furthermore, Kopitar and Carter’s production is driven primarily by assists. The Kings need someone who can light the lamp on a consistent basis. Marian Gaborik is just such a player, and is the leading goal scorer on the team with 15. But that only ranks 52nd in the NHL, tied with 15 other players.
Gaborik has what it takes to be a big-time scorer and fellow forwards Justin Williams and Dustin Brown can certainly produce more than what they have. It’s this trio that has to produce. Brown is the team captain and he just called out the entire team for a lack of emotion. But the captain’s lack of production is a big part of the problem and head coach Darryl Sutter noted in response to Brown’s call-out that the captain needs to improve his own game. It makes you wonder if there’s not some clubhouse problems on top of everything else.
The Kings certainly have the talent to make the playoffs and to again do damage when they get there. Quick has an established track record of elevating his game at the most critical moments and all of the players we’ve discussed as needing to improve offensive production–Gaborik, Brown and maybe Carter–have their own good track records. The team’s strong rankings on shots and shots allowed suggest a basic ability to control the flow of play, even if they aren’t finishing.
But time is much shorter than even the thirty remaining games suggest. Los Angeles is tied with the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild and Dallas Stars as the teams who are five points back of the Vancouver Canucks for the last playoff spot. It’s not like LA can just try and chase down one average team. They have to play at a high level consistently.

It’s also possible that a team like the Winnipeg Jets could come back to the back. The Jets have 61 points, but have played three more games than the Kings. The Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks are also on 61 points and have played two more games.
There’s enough opportunity out there that I still believe Los Angeles is going to make it. Three of the teams in front of them–Vancouver, Winnipeg and Calgary–are not particularly accomplished teams and the stress level and intensity of the games are going to increase dramatically. San Jose is a steady playoff team, but also one with a noted problem for closing out big games and series, never more dramatically than when they blew a 3-0 series lead last spring to these same Los Angeles Kings.
I think we’ll be watching Los Angeles in the playoffs. But in a league where the regular season has a hard time drawing interest from a lot of sports fans, the Kings late-season push is something worth following.