The Kings, after a great start, have reached a very critical point in their season. As recently as December 15th, the Kings were atop the Western Conference standings. Now, after losing 4 in a row between December 17th and December 30th, and 5 of their last 8 overall, the Kings sit in 8th place with a tenuous hold on the final playoff spot in the West.
With 53 points overall, LA is just 3 points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings after a heart-breaking loss to the Wings on Thursday. In that contest, the Kings outshoot the Wings 52 – 24 but could only beat Detroit rookie netminder Jimmy Howard once in the 2 – 1 loss. To make matters worse, the Kings were just seconds away from earning a valuable point when Darren Helm broke the tie with 18 seconds remaining in regulation. It may only be the loss of a single point (possibly 2 and a 3 point swing in the standings) but as any coach will tell you, every point is important no matter when they are earned.
The loss on Thursday snapped a 3 game winning streak which included impressive wins over the Pacific Division leading Sharks and Eastern Conference powerhouse Washington. As dire as the Kings situation might appear, they are only 3 points out of 4th place in what is a hotly contested Western Conference race.
The Kings precarious spot in the standings and the pressure on Kings’ GM Dean Lombardi and head coach Terry Murray to finally get the team into the playoffs after a lengthy absence, may force Lombardi to make a move to improve his club. As teams drop out of their respective playoff races, more and more veteran players will come available.
The Kings could use another top 6 forward after losing Justin Williams to a broken leg a couple of weeks back. Some candidates could be the eminently available Ray Whitney of Carolina, Paul Kariya in St. Louis, and Doug Weight of the Islanders. For those looking for the big splash, Ilya Kovalchuk could be trade bait if he isn’t signed to an extension by Atlanta.
The Kings could also use an upgrade in net and Martin Biron will be available now that franchise goaltender Rick DiPietro is back in the fold on Long Island. Jonathan Quick has been pretty good but some advanced metrics utilized by the Puck Prospectus website has shown that Quick has performed poorly relative to other NHL #1 goalies. According to more traditional standards, Quick hasn’t performed quite as well as his won-loss record indicates. His .908 save percentage is tied for 24th in the NHL among goalies with at least 16 appearances. His GAA (2.55) ranks 17th among eligible goalies.
The Kings host St. Louis tonight in what will be a key game. Do the Kings further cement their position with a win or begin to descend in the standings with a loss? LA needs its top performers to step up and lead this team. Look for Ryan Smyth and Drew Doughty to have a big game tonight.
As the team moves forward, I think that it is imperative for Dean Lombardi to add reinforcements for the playoff push. It doesn’t have to be a big move necessarily but even the addition of a veteran role player might have as much positive impact psychologically to the young team as any on-ice effect. If management does something that the roster views as a commitment to winning it could help propel the squad into the playoffs.
To borrow from a popular cliché, today is the first game of the rest of the regular season for the Kings. Hopefully, the Kings’ year doesn’t end with the conclusion of the regular season.