Counting tonight’s 3-1 victory over the Calgary Flames, the Kings have now played fifteen games during this truncated, lockout-shortened season. Fifteen games, fifteen reasons to worry that this year’s edition didn’t deserve its preseason hype and in fact may even miss the playoffs. After all, this is the Kings — for a variety of reasons known only to the hockey gods, Los Angeles is home to a hockey franchise that has never really been able to achieve sustained success over the years.
Last year, they finally claimed hockey’s ultimate prize. But that was then, this is now, and with a 7-6-2 record as of this writing, they sit in 10th place in the wild, wild west. At fifteen games played, Los Angeles has 33 still remaining, more than enough time to right the ship if they can get the leaks plugged. But time marches inexorably on, and in a short season, each game means just that much more. Depending upon the results of the next several games, they could rise to the thick of the playoff face, or plummet nearly to the bottom. Nobody who has followed the Kings for decades would be comfortable placing a bet on the former.
With that said, the following are fifteen key factors impacting the club this season:
Injuries to the blue line: Matt Greene is a horse. Granted, even horses can appear to get a sudden case of the trots while on camera, as seen at the end of this clip:
But a horse, nevertheless. He’s also temporarily in the glue factory, likely out for the entire season with a back injury. After the injury, head coach Darryl Sutter said cryptically, “During the game. He’s one of the guys that played hard for us, so there was a chance that he was going to get banged up.” Banged up he is, and without him, the team lost both leadership and physicality. Furthermore, Willie Mitchell has missed the entire season so far, and now Alec Martinez is on IR with the dreaded “upper body injury”.
The Kings’ leading scorers are tied for 92nd overall in the league: Yes, you heard correctly — you have to go through ninety-one names before finding one bearing the home plate logo on his sweater. The Kings leading scorers are Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, and Anze Kopitar, each with just ten points.
Drew Doughty has yet to score a goal and is a team-worst -10: Doughty is an elite defenseman, and 15 games is a relatively small sample size. After all, he was one of the playoff heroes that helped lead the team to the promised land. However, it’s tough to ignore the fact that he’s not producing on the ice, and although +/- is overrated, his huge negative number is still tough to swallow.
Jonathan Quick has shown himself to be mortal: After a fantastic campaign that resulted in runner-up status for the Vezina trophy, Quick has posted a rather pedestrian 2.58/.900 stat line so far this year. Conversely, backup Jonathan Bernier has been very effective so far, with a 3-1 record along with a 1.80 G.A.A. and .916 save percentage.
Dustin Brown isn’t hitting: Remember the huge controversy Brown caused after leveling Coyotes defenseman Michal Rozsival? All those claims of a “dirty” hit (since debunked when it was revealed that Rozsival didn’t even suffer a knee injury, just a deep thigh bruise) seemed to have affected his willingness to throw the body around. Perennially a top-ten hitter, Brown is 60th in the league in hits to start the season. Not to add insult to lack of injurious hitting, but he’s also a -6.
Justin Williams has just one goal: It’s been a few years, but Williams twice scored more than thirty goals in back-to-back seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes. He’s dropped off a bit, but still had 22 in each of the last two years for Los Angeles. Needless to say, just one goal so far this season isn’t getting it done.
Anze Kopitar won’t shoot the puck: He’s a terrific scorer, with fantastic hands and a laser wrist shot. So how is it that Kopitar has just 22 shots, or slightly less than 1.5/game? His career average is nearly twice that number.
Simon Gagne appears all but done: We loved watching him score in his heyday, but with no goals and just five assists, it’s hard to imagine him returning to any semblance of his previous electric form. He was a healthy scratch tonight.
The Kings are 24th in the league in scoring: Ironically, at 2.33 goals/game, this ranking is a slight uptick from where they finished last year. However, with all the guns on both sides of the ice, this is a club that should be far better than that.
The Kings are 24th in the league on the power play: After Jamie Kompon was unceremoniously drummed out of Los Angeles due to an ineffective power play, the Kings have somehow managed to get even worse this season, sinking to 24th in the league at just 14.3% effectiveness.
Shots don’t necessarily equal goals: Remember the old adage “if you don’t shoot, you can’t score?” It really doesn’t matter either way in Los Angeles. The Kings are 11th in shots at 30.6 per game. As previously mentioned, they are in the bottom third in the league in scoring goals.
The penalty kill is killing the Kings: That may be a tad overstated, but consider this: in 2010-11, L.A. was 4th in the league at 85.5%. In 2011-12, they were fourth yet again at 87%. This season? Try 16th at 81.8%.
The Chicago Blackhawks appear to be juggernauts. They can’t lose, at least not in regulation. That bodes poorly for every team in the West. They’ve already beaten Los Angeles twice, including in the last few seconds of their second encounter.
Recent history doesn’t favor repeat championships. The last back-to-back Cup champions were the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and again in 1998. That’s a long time ago.
The Stanley Cup hangover is a real concern: Since 1994, it’s practically been the norm, with the Rangers, Ducks, Hurricanes, Bruins and numerous others falling victim. This time, it appears to have struck Los Angeles, and with so few games, that makes it even tougher to overcome.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.