In the NHL’s Pacific Division – land of the mediocre team – the Los Angeles Kings look, once again, to be a playoff-bound group.
Their offense is what drives them – at an average of 3.27 goals-for per game, they’re 11th in the league – but, despite their current 9-2-1 run, there’s a reason for concern in Los Angeles.
Yes, the Kings’ offense is formidable – in their past nine wins, they’ve outscored the opposition 37-20 – but they’re giving up a ton of goals as well, averaging 3.36 goals against (12th-worst in the league). Of any team currently in a playoff position, the Kings have the worst goal differential (minus-1).
And although they’re getting a career-best run out of goaltender Pheonix Copley, they’re putting their chips behind a 30-year-old journeyman goalie who had never played more than 27 games in a season when he played for Washington in 2018-19. That seems like it could prove to be an issue.
And it’s not as if L.A. has confidence inspirers ready to step in should Copley falter. One-time cornerstone netminder Cal Petersen is buried in the AHL. And veteran Jonathan Quick has been dreadful – the 26-year-old is winless in five straight games and posted a gnarly 2-5-4 record since Nov. 14.
This is why we still believe L.A. GM Rob Blake should trade for a goalie before the March 3 trade deadline.
Someone like Arizona Coyotes starter Karel Vejmelka makes a lot of sense as a trade acquisition. The Czechia native has posted decent numbers (.902 save percentage, 3.03 goals-against average) on an abysmal Coyotes squad, and he’d probably put up better stats behind a Kings defense that is vastly more skilled than Arizona’s.
Vejmelka makes a reasonable salary ($2.75 million), and Coyotes GM Bill Armstrong will likely be enamored with one or two Kings prospects as Arizona builds for the future. That’s important for the Kings, who won’t have the salary cap space until closer to the deadline.
The Kings’ offense has balance to it – all of their top nine forwards (including injured wingers Trevor Moore and Arthur Kaliyev) have at least 16 points. They don’t have a generational star forward like Auston Matthews or Connor McDavid, but L.A. does have skilled players, including on defense, where their top four blueliners have generated 57 assists and 71 points.
But in 16 of their 20 losses, the Kings have allowed four goals or more, and in 10 of those 16 losses, they’ve surrendered five goals or more.
History has taught us that offense comes harder in post-season NHL competition, and Los Angeles’ offensive output will likely be smothered somewhat once the games really matter. They might be able to get out of the first round of the playoffs due primarily to their scorers, but once they get out of the weak Pacific and take on teams that won’t play run-and-gun with them, the Kings will need to be far better defensively than they are at present.
Blake’s job between now and the trade deadline is clear: find players who are more responsible in their own zone. A huge lineup overhaul isn’t needed, but the status quo isn’t the answer, either. The Kings play an entertaining brand of hockey, but entertaining hockey doesn’t often win Cups. Kings coach Todd McLellan has to make the most of the talent Blake gives him, but he can’t turn this group into a defensive powerhouse. He needs more to work with.
So don’t be surprised if Blake spends a prospect or a high draft pick to bring in help on ‘D’. The Kings are deep enough up front, but as long as their defense is average at best, their playoff hopes should be tempered.