As of Friday, the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings are a mere one point ahead of the Calgary Flames for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. But Kings fans shouldn’t worry for a second.
It’s not that they have the experience to sneak in, or the heart, or drive, or determination, it’s that, simply put, the Kings are still one of the best teams in the league. They’re going to be playing an 83rd game this season, and it wouldn’t even be the slightest bit surprising if they were right there when the Stanley Cup gets handed out this season.
Anyone looking at the Kings' 3-3-3 record since returning from the holiday break would probably first ask themselves what is wrong with Los Angeles. Where’s that team that downed the Chicago Blackhawks in one of the most exciting series of the entire 2014 playoffs? Where is the team that won two Cups in three seasons? The answer is they’re right there, just below the surface, waiting for their goaltending to catch up to the rest of their play.
Together, over the past three weeks, the pair of goaltenders has posted the worst 5-on-5 save percentage in the entire NHL. That’s thanks in large part to a seven-goal night for the Nashville Predators, a game in which the Kings scored six of their own and failed to come away with the victory. Even the Minnesota Wild, whose goaltending situation went from bad to desperate before they made a trade with the Arizona Coyotes for Devan Dubnyk, have been getting better goaltending over the past three weeks.
But even with bad goaltending, there shouldn’t be much cause for concern in Los Angeles. The most telling metric for the future success of a team in many cases is PDO, and with a combined shooting percentage and save percentage of 94.9 – which is lower than that of the Buffalo Sabres, Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes, and Arizona Coyotes over the last three weeks – you can be certain things are bound for a turnaround in Los Angeles.
A big part of the reason a stretch of inspiring play is coming, and not just expected, is because the Kings remain the class of the league, not just the West, when it comes to the key possession metrics. Since Dec. 27, no team has possessed the puck on a more consistent basis than the Kings at 5-on-5. Their Corsi For percentage of 59.8 is telling of just how well they’re controlling the run of play, and they’re starting more faceoffs in the opposition end during this stretch than every team in the league aside from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Even with some spotty netminding over the past three weeks, the possession numbers show that the Kings are bound to start getting more breaks, and more saves, as the weeks wear on. When they have control of the play, there’s a lesser chance some bad puck luck could strike and leave them digging a puck out of their own goal.
Yet another thing that should put the Kings and their fans at ease is the sheer amount of scoring chances they’ve had for versus those that have come against. Since Dec. 27, according to War On Ice, no team has as many scoring chances for as Tampa Bay’s 234. But Los Angeles, with 192, has the seventh most. And when it comes to the percentage of 5-on-5 scoring chances, Los Angeles has the fourth best percentage, getting nearly 58 percent of the legitimate scoring opportunities, a number that doesn’t necessarily fall in line with a team that played sub-.500 hockey over the last three weeks.
All this is to say there’s no reason to be worrying about the Kings, from inside the organization or out. Things are going to look up for Los Angeles, and it’s simply a matter of time. Quick and Jones don’t have to be outstanding, they simply have to be serviceable and make some saves from time to time. The possession monster known as the Los Angeles Kings will take care of the rest.