The NHL has finally released the 2020-21 season plan and schedule. Due to border closures, the league has realigned the divisions, featuring a new all-Canadian division. Each team will play a 56-game season, playing only the teams in their new division. After much speculation surrounding bubble or hybrid formats, the league has decided to allow each team to play in their home arena. To minimize travel, teams will play back-to-back games against one another to allow for multiple games in the same location.
There is no perfect solution for the NHL, and the new format certainly benefits some teams more than others. The Los Angeles Kings, a team that is not expected to do much in the 2020-21 season is one of the clubs that will benefit from the new format. They will play in the West Division along with the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and Vegas Golden Knights.
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While there are some big names in the new division, there looks to be a significant divide between the top three teams and the rest. The NHL playoffs will feature the top four teams from each division, and the Kings will look to leverage the new format to push for the last playoff spot.
The Kings Will Play at Home
The 2020-21 season will be like other seasons in that teams will play half of their games at home, half on the road. There was talk about the NHL doing a bubble style format, but it did not seem feasible for an entire season. This is crucial for the Kings’ success in the coming season.
Overall, the team finished 28th in the league last season, a record of 29-35-6, totaling 64 points, a .457 winning percentage. Los Angeles saw the majority of their success at the Staples Center, posting a solid record of 19-13-2. However, the team was almost last in the league when it came to playing on the road. The Kings had a disappointing away record of 10-22-4.
Due to the discrepancy between home and away play, it is crucial that the Kings will play games at home in the coming season, and they will. Things could go downhill if the NHL ends up moving to a neutral site. This has been suggested as a possibility for a number of reasons, but the league is planning to play all games in the 31 arenas.
It is also looking like these arenas won’t have fans present. This could be valuable to the Kings, as if they are going to have success in their 2020-21 campaign, they will have to see points from the young guys on the team. Taking away the element of fans could benefit these players, as the guys who are new to the league have not yet experienced playing in a full NHL arena.
A Shortened Season Allows for Unexpected Outcomes
The shortened 56-game schedule that the NHL will play this season allows for surprising outcomes, as just one significant winning streak can push a team into the playoffs. This benefits the Kings, as a shortened season doesn’t necessarily mean the best overall teams will make the playoffs. The team finished last season on a seven-game win streak, despite being one of the worst in the league. If the Kings can put together a few wins, which they’ve shown they can do, they could see themselves in the final West Division playoff spot.
One question mark for the Kings this season is goaltending. Jonathan Quick is coming to the close of his career, and while Calvin Petersen looks to be ready to take over, he has only played 19 games over the two seasons he has spent with the team. This season, it is looking like Quick and Petersen will split the games, Petersen possibly getting a few more. The shortened season will help him transition from a backup to a starter role, as he won’t have to take on a 40-50 game season right away.
The Kings Had Success Against Their New Division in the 2019-20 Season
Relative to the rest of their 2019-20 season, the Kings showed some decent results against the teams that will be in the new West Division. Overall, the team finished the season with a 10-9-2 record against their new division rivals. In fact, LA posted solid records against two of the top teams in the new division, 2-0-1 versus the Avalanche, and 3-1-0 versus the Golden Knights. They also had a winning record against the Wild, finishing their season series 2-1-0.
The Kings couldn’t find success against the Blues, going 0-2-0. They also had subpar records when it came to the teams that aren’t looking to be as competitive in the coming season. They finished 1-2-0 against the Ducks, 1-2-0 against the Coyotes, and 1-1-1 against the Sharks.
If the Kings can continue to find a way to get points out of games against good teams, additionally figuring out their intrastate rivals, their record could impress.
Does the New Format Push the Kings Into the Playoffs?
Considering the teams that will play in the new West Division, the number of games the Kings will play, and the ability to play at home, it is possible that the team will find themselves fighting for a playoff spot this season.
Even in a season as odd as this one, we can assume that the Avalanche, Golden Knights, and Blues will take control of the top three spots in the division. The Ducks look the least likely to improve this season, the Sharks will likely be better than last season, but they still have some work to do, and with the Coyotes’ poor offseason, they are not looking like a playoff team either.
This leaves the Kings and the Wild to fight for the final playoff spot. Both teams have exciting rookies that will play this season, and it should be an exciting competition to watch. If Petersen can step up, the rookies come to play, and the veterans are able to last for one more season, the Kings could take the last spot.
The Kings Will Play the Wild All 8 Times Before the End of February
The Kings will kick off the season on January 14th and 16th against the Wild, and they will go on to play Minnesota two more times in January, playing the remaining four games of the season series in February. These games will be crucial for the Kings’ success in the 2020-21 season.
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If they can take the majority of the games against the Wild, playoffs will become much more of a reality. This will mean the Kings will have to get off to a hot start. Hopefully, all the time off the team has had will show just that, rather than the slow start some are expecting after 10 months off.
The Kings Are Ready to Win This Season
The Kings are now nearing the end of the rebuilding phase, and it’s time to start winning again. They have a great set of prospects that will start making a real impact in the coming season, and with the nontraditional season ahead of us, fans should expect the unexpected. If Los Angeles can figure out just a few teams in their new division, the unexpected could become a reality.
I heard [General Manager] Rob Blake talk to each of the individuals saying, ‘Listen, we are basically done with the initial phase of the rebuilding.’ We’ve moved players around and out and brought different players in. It’s time to turn the ship and let’s start growing all of this.Todd McLellan on the upcoming season
Whether playoffs are in their future or not, the 2020-21 season must show some improvement for the Kings. It has been quite a long time since the team has been a serious Stanley Cup contender, and it is finally time to get back in the race.