After the second season in a row where the Los Angeles Kings did not make the playoffs, many fans are wondering where the team is in their rebuild and when we can expect to see them back in the playoffs. This season, LA finished seventh in the Pacific Division with a record of 29-35-6, totaling 64 points. Even with the expanded 24-team playoff format that the NHL introduced due to COVID-19, the team still fell short by a somewhat significant margin.
Although this season was not nearly ideal for Kings fans in terms of the result, there was a lot to like. Multiple prospects showed they are almost NHL ready, and issues are clear, so it shouldn’t be difficult for management to start to tackle these problems in the offseason. When digging deeper into the season, it becomes clear that the playoffs might not be that far off, and certainly closer than many are giving the Kings credit for.
Brief Losing Streaks Killed the Kings
Unlike many of the teams that LA shared the bottom of the standings with this season, they never went on a lengthy losing streak, rather many short ones. All of these losses added up, posing as a main contributor to LA’s big number in the loss column. The team went on eight separate three to five-game losing streaks this season. This added up to 29 losses, accounting for 71 percent of their defeats this season, both in regulation and overtime.
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What does this mean for the Kings next season? They need to treat games after a loss with just as much, if not more, importance than a game after a win. The players proved that they have the ability to win games this season, but now they need to prove they can win games even after a rough night. As a young team, multiple losses in a row can be expected, but they have to learn not to get down after a bad game.
Staples Center Was the Site for Most of the Kings’ Success
The Kings’ home and away record this season was incredibly lopsided. Los Angeles finished the shortened season with a home record of 19-13-2 while they had a record of 10-22-4 when on the road, amongst the worst in the NHL. They finished in 18th place in terms of home record alone, but ended the season with the third-worst away record. If LA was able to match their home and away play this season, they likely would have made the qualifying round this summer.
The issue of losing on the road is similar to the issue of losing the game after a loss. It comes down to the age and maturity of the Kings. Playing in other buildings packed with fans can be intimidating for younger players who are new to the league. Because these problems disappear quickly as players mature, this likely won’t be as prominent of an issue next season.
Kings Ended the Season on a Great Note
The Kings ended the 2019-20 season on a seven-game winning streak. Although they were too far from the 24-team qualifying round cutoff to have a realistic chance to earn a spot, no one can know how many more games this could have gone on for had the season continued. The team outshot their opponent in four of the final seven games, with stellar goaltending playing a huge role in the win streak. In the final seven games, Calvin Petersen and Jonathan Quick averaged a .956 save percentage. Peterson started four of these games with Quick starting the remaining three.
Although it didn’t put the Kings into the playoff picture or change the result of their season, the final win streak for LA was significant. Showing their fans that they can string some wins together is important. They showed that some progress was made throughout the season and it is only going to get better. It also shows the work ethic of the players. Although they are young and maybe not the most skilled team in the league, they still had the desire to win even though they knew they were out of the playoffs. This is one of the most important things when it comes to a rebuilding team.
If the players don’t have the desire, they won’t be able to win, as the skill is still developing. It will be somewhere between 10 and 11 months from the last Kings game when the 2020-21 season starts. Because of this lengthy gap in time, it is ridiculous to use the term “pick up where they left off.” Although the win streak can’t show any indication of the play we will see from the team at the start of next season, it says something about the players who determine this level of play.
Where the Kings Need to Improve This Offseason
The Kings played a surprisingly solid defensive game this season. They finished 14th in the league in goals allowed per game at 2.99. Where they really needed help, though, was scoring. Los Angeles finished with the second-lowest goals-per-game average this season at 2.53. This is interesting given LA’s shot statistics. They take the fourth-most shots out of any team in the league with an average of 33.3 per game, more than the average of 29.7 that they give up.
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This means that most of the shots the Kings are taking are coming from low-percentage areas. Players are just throwing pucks on net without traffic, which is no way to score in the NHL. This is another element of the game that comes along with a rebuild. Young players who are trying to prove themselves may take shots that aren’t always from the greatest spot on the ice.
In terms of goaltending, there are many questions that the Kings are going to have to answer throughout the offseason and next season. Quick had a pretty average season and is getting up there in age at 34. Petersen put up good numbers in the eight games he played, and he should be expected to play a lot more in the 2020-21 season. With the departure of Jack Campbell, the starting goalie position opens up to Petersen, as Quick will start to play less and less as he gets older.
Eventually, the Kings are going to have to look for another goalie. Even if they won’t need one next season, it’s never too early to start searching. The offseason is also going to be a good time for the front office to look for offense. LA could do this in free agency, but the 2020 draft is going to provide a huge opportunity to select a skilled forward. Los Angeles has the second overall pick this year and are likely to draft either Quinton Byfield, a powerful center, or Tim Stutzle, a quick winger. It doesn’t matter where they come from, but the Kings need to find a couple of guys who can put the puck in the net.
What Can We Expect From the Kings Next Season?
When looking at the issues that the Kings faced this season there seems to be a common theme of what is causing problems. The age and maturity of the team set them back this season for a few different reasons. Luckily for LA, this problem is self-correcting. As their prospects and young players come into their own, these issues will fade away, making them competitive again. Players like Gabriel Vilardi, who put up 7 points in 10 games for LA this season, will continue to develop, and in turn, continue to score.
Another factor working in favor of the Kings next season is that, given the record they put up this season, there is no pressure for them to do anything spectacular. So, what can we realistically expect from LA next season? The playoffs are likely not in the picture, but I could see them being a bubble team. This would leave not just the players with high hopes for the 2021-22 season, but it would give fans the rational idea that the playoffs are not far off.