As the NHL season passes the midway point, the Los Angeles Kings face a tough situation in the powerful Western Conference.
As of Super Bowl Sunday, the Kings find themselves all the way down in fifth place in the Pacific Division (arguably the NHL’s weakest division), three points behind Calgary for the last wild card spot. After winning two of the last three Stanley Cups, the Kings may be in danger of missing the playoffs altogether. This is more than a Stanley Cup hangover.
Their lack of success raises two important, contradicting questions: What’s wrong with the Kings, and perhaps more importantly, is anything wrong at all?
During the 2011-12 season, the Kings barely slipped into the playoffs, nabbing the eighth spot in the conference.
Nobody expected them to make it very far, yet they managed to overthrow the top-seeded Vancouver Canucks and march towards their first Stanley Cup title. They were only the second eight seed to ever make the Stanley Cup Final (along with the 2005-06 Edmonton Oilers) and the first one to win it all.
Last season, the Kings once again entered the playoffs as a low seed. As the sixth seed, they played the San Jose Sharks in the first round and actually fell behind 3-0 in the series. However, they managed to defeat the Sharks the next four games to pull off the highly improbable upset. They were also down 3-2 in their next series against Anaheim before winning another improbable series on a path that culminated in their second Stanley Cup title in three years. Clearly, these two title seasons demonstrate that the Kings are no strangers to adversity and slow starts.
So is their slow start this year nothing to worry about, or is it cause for concern? One area in which they have struggled mightily is their special teams. Currently, their penalty kill percentage is ranked 25th in the league at a paltry 77.8 percent. Their power play is admittedly better, but it is still stagnating around the middle of the league, currently 10th in the NHL at 19.5 percent.
Although it undoubtedly would be beneficial to improve this aspect of their game, the team could have worse weaknesses. In the playoffs, the refs often swallow their whistles, allowing the players more leeway for physical play. Calling a lot fewer penalties in the playoffs than in the regular season is more advantageous for a team that excels in even strength play as the Kings do.
Another reason for the Kings’ struggles this season is their defense. For a team that has relied primarily on their defense in the past, they are putting up pretty mediocre numbers; they allow 2.6 goals per game, putting them at 14th in the league. It does not help that Slava Voynov, one of their top defensemen, is suspended indefinitely because of domestic assault charges. The Kings’ offense has not helped to pick up the slack, as they sit in the bottom half of the league with 2.7 goals scored per game.
Last week, the Kings waived veteran center Mike Richards, most likely in an attempt to jolt the team into better performance. Perhaps it is as simple as making a controversial roster move to flip the Kings’ switch. But, the switch better be flipped quickly, because it seems that the rest of the Western Conference might have caught up to the Los Angeles Kings.