The last team to win a game in 2012 was also the last team to reach the 12 game mark in the NHL this season. Unfortunately for the Los Angeles Kings, the first quarter of their season has been a far cry from their magical Stanley Cup run last spring.
Through 12 games, the Kings have compiled a 5-5-2 record that is good for last in the Pacific Division and 12th in the Western Conference. While many people predicted the Kings to finish first in the Pacific, they have already fallen 9 points behind the surprising division leaders, the Anaheim Ducks.
How exactly did the Kings fall into a hole this early on?
The offseason was not kind to the Kings as Conn Smythe winner Jonathan Quick underwent back surgery and defenseman Willie Mitchell had knee surgery. While Quick was able to return in time for the start of the season, he hasn’t necessarily returned to his true form quite yet. Meanwhile, Mitchell is still having recovery issues and there is no timetable for his return.
The defense took another big hit when Matt Greene injured his back in the season opener. He is currently on the injured reserve and is likely out for the season. As if the defensive core hadn’t been completely shaken already, matters grew temporarily worse as Alec Martinez joined the IR party with an upper body injury. Luckily, Martinez is not expected to be out for more than a week or two.
For a team that relied on defense and goaltending through all of last season, the Kings were doomed to have a slow start this year due to injuries alone.
Moving on from injuries, those who have been in the lineup haven’t exactly played up to par quite yet. Star defenseman Drew Doughty has just 4 assists in 12 games and is a team worst -9 right now. Doughty has admitted that he is not happy with his current performance, especially offensively, but is confident he will snap out of it. Meanwhile, his defensive partner through the playoffs last year, Rob Scuderi, is not faring well either early this year. Scuderi is a -7 and has 9 recorded giveaways with 0 takeaways through the first quarter of the season. The Kings have leaned heavily on Doughty and Scuderi with Mitchell, Greene, and Martinez currently out, but the team will need more to survive these injuries.
In the crease, Quick has had a dismal start, posting a 3-4-2 record with a 2.70 goals against average and .891 save percentage. In light of his slow start, Head Coach Darryl Sutter has recently turned to backup Jonathan Bernier who has recorded two straight wins. Bernier’s numbers currently stand at 2-1, with a 2.08 GAA and .893 save percentage. As Sutter has stated, the Kings simply need hot goaltending to help the team out right now. Save percentages below .900 will certainly not get the job done.
Looking at the team statistics through the first quarter, the Kings have allowed 33 goals, which is 16th in the NHL at 2.67 goals per game. This is a stark difference from last season when the Kings were 2nd in the NHL, allowing 2.07 goals per game. While one may point to the defense and the injuries, it should be noted that the team is only allowing 23.9 shots per game, which is 2nd in the NHL and fewer than last season. The goalies simply need to stop more pucks moving forward.
While defense and goaltending have been issues, the offense has certainly not helped by any means. They have scored 28 goals (2.25 goals per game), which is actually slightly lower than last season’s dismal pace (2.29 goals per game). The powerplay is starting to improve but needs to keep climbing from their current 12.5% success rate (27th in the NHL).
Jeff Carter has paced the scoring with 6 goals in 12 games so far. Anze Kopitar leads the team in points with 8 in 11 games. The Kings’ offense could certainly use more secondary scoring though. Dwight King and Trevor Lewis have yet to record a point and Colin Fraser has just one assist. Meanwhile, Dustin Penner has failed to produce while in the lineup and has become a frequent healthy scratch due to his poor on-ice play. He has only played in 5 games this season and is struggling to give Sutter a reason to put him in the lineup.
The offense may be close to their pace from last season, but isn’t enough production with the way the defense and goaltending are performing right now.
While the first quarter left plenty of room for improvement, the Kings ended it with a 2 game win streak and are looking to turn their season around before they fall too far behind. They have an excellent opportunity today to exact revenge on the Chicago Blackhawks, who embarrassed the Kings in the first game of the season.
The key to the formula is simple on paper for Los Angeles. If Quick and Bernier improve on their numbers, which their career statistics suggest will happen, then the Kings should make up ground on the rest of the conference pretty quickly.
It’s time to put away that slow start, set aside any lingering Stanley Cup hangover, and put the Western Conference on notice that the Kings are coming back. You’re up first, Chicago.