Competition at a Glance
A week has now passed since the trade deadline, and teams have their final rosters (barring injuries) heading down the playoff stretch. The Kings decided to start and stop their moves with the Jeff Carter deal and now they are in a very tight race to get one of the final spots in the West, though a strong run could help them capture the 3rd spot in the Conference through a division title. The Kings currently have 72 points with 17 games left to play, so it is probably safe to say they won’t catch the likes of the top teams that are over 80 points (Vancouver, St. Louis, Detroit, Nashville). So that boils down to a fight amongst LA, Phoenix, Chicago, Dallas, San Jose, Colorado, and Calgary for the final 4 spots, with a very slim chance of Anaheim or Minnesota sneaking into the race.
Though the Jeff Carter experiment is only 4 games old, it will clearly have a major impact on the Kings’ hunt for the playoffs. In those 4 games, the Kings have averaged 3.5 goals for and .67 goals against. Obviously these are not sustainable numbers, but no matter how you look at it, the Kings have received a boost in overall play from the addition of Carter. Adding another scorer has forced opposing teams to spread out their defensive focus and allowed all 4 lines to contribute to the offense. As long as goalies Quick and Bernier can keep their usual solid play up, this is a team on the rise.
What Will it Take for the Playoffs?
Right now, 8th place in the West, San Jose, has 73 points in 64 games. Projecting that through 82 games would provide a reasonable assumption that 8th place may require at least 94 points. Add an extra point for the increase in 3 point games (OT games) as the playoffs get closer, and one may think that the Kings need approximately 95 points to make it to the playoffs. That breaks down to 23 more points in 17 games, which would require a record of at least 11-5-1. It certainly looks like a steep road ahead, so let’s take a look at the rest of the schedule.
End of the Season Schedule
Here’s a look at LA’s opponents for the rest of the season (full schedule can be found on ESPN):
Nashville (2), Columbus (1), Detroit (2), Chicago (1), Anaheim (1), San Jose (3), St. Louis (1), Boston (1), Vancouver (1), Calgary (1), Edmonton (2), Minnesota (1).
The Kings SHOULD be able to get wins against Columbus, Calgary, Edmonton (2), and Minnesota based solely on skill. That would provide them with 5 of their necessary wins, and require them to go 6-5-1 against the rest. On the other hand, it is reasonable to expect them to lose one game to Detroit, and the games against Vancouver and Chicago since they are all road games against strong home teams (6-2-1 left). The Kings should also be able to push for a split against Nashville, along with wins over the cold Bruins and road-challenged St. Louis and Detroit teams (2-1-1 left). It is unreasonable to expect LA to win in Anaheim with how hot the Ducks have been, but the matchup will be very close, so perhaps that can be the overtime loss (2-1 left).
That leaves 3 games, against division rival San Jose, as the main factor in the Kings’ playoff push. Can the Kings go 2-1 against their division rivals? They have 2 of those games at home and have gone 1-1-1 against them so far this season. The drama will be thick, as the Kings and Sharks finish the season with a home and home series that has a strong chance of determining if either team makes the playoffs. Goaltending (usually) wins championships, so I lean towards the belief that the Kings can pull off 2-1 against the Sharks in the last month and make the playoffs.
Sports Club Stats estimates that the Kings have a 44% chance of making the playoffs given the current standings and the teams in the race. Based on my thoughts and analysis, I will go a little more on the optimistic side than a computer would – give them 55%. It is important to remember though, all it takes is a 3 game streak, win or loss, to send that number skyrocketing or plummeting. GM Dean Lombardi should be tentatively happy though, because all numbers have pointed towards skyrocketing since the addition of Jeff Carter.
Thank you to Sports Club Stats for the playoff chances estimate.
Meesh is an attorney and one of the Pittsburgh Penguins Contributing Writers for The Hockey Writers. He also writes for ThePensNation.com. You can contact him on twitter @HockeyMeesh or e-mail HockeyMeesh@gmail.com