Prior to the start of this NHL regular season, I wrote that I liked the Los Angeles Kings to make a competitive jump and qualify for the playoffs. For most of the year, the Kings looked exactly like an up-and-coming, playoff-bound team, even getting as high as second spot in the Pacific Division for a stretch of the schedule.
But since early March – March 10, to be exact – the Kings have not been consistently solid. In their past 19 games, they’ve gone 8-8-3, and they’ve managed to win more than one game in a row just once – a two game win “streak” over Calgary and Winnipeg at the end of March. Consequently, their hold on a playoff spot has softened, and L.A. now is only three points ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights for third place in the Pacific. The two Western Conference Wild Card berths are currently occupied by the Central Division’s Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators, both of who have one more point than the Kings, and both of who have one game in hand on L.A..
All of which is to say, the Kings now could wind up on the outside of the playoffs looking in by the end of the regular season. If Vegas passes them in the Pacific standings, and the Preds and Stars outplay them in the next two weeks,L.A. could miss the post-season for the fourth straight season and the fifth time in the past six years. It would be a true disaster for Kings GM Rob Blake and his team, but it’s a realistic possibility now.
What would make things even worse for the Kings if they miss the playoffs is the knowledge they had a very favorable end to the regular season and controlled their own destiny: in L.A.’s final five games, they’ve got two games against the Anaheim Ducks, and one game each against the Chicago Blackhawks, Seattle Kraken, and the hard-charging Vancouver Canucks, who are presently only four points behind L.A. with a game in hand on the Kings. At the least, the Kings should win four of those five games. Losing even one of them could be the difference between making and missing the post-season. There are no good excuses for them now.
That said, some may point to the loss of injured veteran defenseman Drew Doughty for the rest of the year as the reason for their slide. With due respect to Doughty, though, he isn’t the straw that stirs the drink for the Kings. This is a team still transitioning from its Stanley Cup-winning glory years, and they need youngsters like forward Adrian Kempe and rookie D-man Sean Durzi to step up and lead the way to genuine Cup contention.
Certainly, the Kings’ playoff aspirations could use some improvement from their goaltenders. Veteran Jonathan Quick has had a save percentage of .909 or lower in five of his past six appearances, while tandem partner Cal Petersen has posted a gnarly save percentage of ..842 or lower in three of his past six appearances. That’s just not good enough, even in the relatively weak Pacific.
In addition, L.A.’s special teams need to be notably better, and in a hurry. They’ve got the league’s sixth-worst power play (16.2 percent), and their penalty kill is 11th-worst at 76.7 percent. They’re also the only team currently in a playoff position that has a negative goal differential (minus-4). And they’ve got the worst offense (averaging 2.83 goals-for per game) of any current playoff team.
We knew the Kings were going to be a work-in-progress this year. We’ve seen the progress. Now we need to see the work. Otherwise, it’s going to be an especially painful spring for hockey fans in Hollywood.