Checkmate?

By Matt Hankin

What is wrong with the LA Kings?

Since the beginning of the season, the Los Angeles Kings have been an anomaly in the hockey world. How often do you see a team win two Stanley Cups in three years (with a loss in the Western Conference Final in the middle) and the next year, be out of a playoff spot at the All-star break? To make matters worse, since the break, the Kings have gone downhill.

So what is to blame? Well, we can start with the obvious. The Kings don’t have the same blue line that they have had in years past. With Slava Voynov’s indefinite suspension, the release of Willie Mitchell, the injuries to Robyn Regehr and Alec Martinez, and call-ups like Jeff Schultz not playing to the best of their ability, the King’s defense is lacking. The other issue is that players are playing wildly inconsistently. Center Mike Richards is currently playing in the AHL, there was a long streak earlier in the year where the Kings’ goaltenders were letting in three goals in under six minutes almost every game, and top forwards like Center Anze Kopitar hasn’t had more than two shots on goal since January 17 (January 17 was also the last time that he scored a goal).

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That is the broad overview of what’s happening on the team. However, to take a closer look at what is happening, let’s look at the fancy stats. The Kings still have the highest Corsi percentage as well as the third highest Fenwick percentage in the NHL (Corsi and Fenwick are both indicators of puck possession). Based off of these numbers, it is obvious that the Kings are still playing the puck possession game that won them two Stanley Cups. So where else could the problem come from? Well, after February 9 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, That 70s Line (Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, Tanner Pearson, and Dwight King now that Pearson is out with a broken ankle) has 50 goals. The LA Kings as a whole have 96 goals. That means that four players, who aren’t on the first line, scored over 50% of the goals. The lack of scoring distribution is what is hurting this team. Combine that with the inconsistent goaltending as well as the new-look and injury ridden defense and one can see where the problem starts to form.

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The good news for the Kings is that they are not as bad off as it seems. Everybody knows that General Manager Dean Lombardi can pull a rabbit out of his hat at the trade deadline. Although he was unable to make a deal for center Mike Richards and clear up that cap space, according to nhlnumbers.com, the Kings still have close to $3 million in cap space. Lombardi will most likely look to trade for a defenseman come the trade deadline on March 2. Another good sign is that the Kings have been playing much better as of late. They beat elite teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning as well as solid teams like Columbus as of late. In those three games the Kings played a high intensity, playoff-style hockey. They also managed to put up four goals in all three games. Later in February, the Kings play the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, San Jose Sharks (outdoors), Detroit Red Wings, and Anaheim Ducks. These five games will test the tenacity and will of the Kings. Look to these games as an indicator of where the Kings might finish come mid-April.

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