For the first time since 2018, the Los Angeles Kings are expected to make the playoffs. With 13 games left, the team is second in the Pacific Division, with four points separating them from the final playoff spot. Unlike in recent seasons when these final games were meaningless, the Kings have several areas that need work and decisions that must be made before the postseason.
Kings Need to Get Healthy
The Kings’ roster is decimated by injury, to say the least. Missing half their lineup, the team’s plethora of young players have had to step in earlier than expected. While players like Quinton Byfield, Arthur Kaliyev, Rasmus Kupari, Gabriel Vilardi, and Jordan Spence have impressed, keeping LA in a playoff position, they are still a better team with their regulars in the lineup.
The Kings can’t control the time it takes for injuries to heal, but they can do their best to help players return and stay in the lineup. This means making sure that as players get healthy, they receive playing time without overplaying them to the point where their injuries linger.
Kings’ Special Teams Must Improve
LA’s special teams are at the bottom of the league: their 16.8% conversion rate on the power play ranks 28th in the league, and their 75.7% penalty kill is 23rd in the league. The team’s lack of power-play success has also meant less point production from top their top forwards. Since the beginning of March, Anze Kopitar has put up seven points in 14 games, Alex Iafallo has recorded just three points in 14 games, and Adrian Kempe has hit the scoresheet six times in 14 games.
Fortunately, the Kings have been able to get scoring from up and down their lineup at even strength, but to have playoff success, they will need to get their top guys going. Jump-starting the power play would kill two birds with one stone with Kopitar, Iafallo, and Kempe on the first unit. The last five winners of the Stanley Cup have all had top-10 power plays during the regular season, so LA knows they need to improve, and soon.
Petersen or Quick in Net?
At first glance, it’s clear who the Kings should start in net come playoff time; Jonathan Quick has put up a .909 save percentage (SV%), a 2.65 goals-against average (GAA), and 9.75 goals saved above expected (GSAx), while Calvin Petersen has recorded a .900 SV%, a 2.74 GAA, and -3.27 GSAx.
However, since the start of 2022, Petersen has put up 1.31 GSAx compared to Quick’s -2.67 GSAx. Though Quick has 85 games of playoff experience and Petersen has none, is it still reasonable to start Quick given his recent play? Who will start in the playoffs will ultimately come down to the remaining games. If Quick gets hot again, he should start, but if Petersen keeps pace, it might make sense to start the young up-and-coming goaltender.
Kings Must Stay Ahead of Wild Card Spots
While the Kings will want to figure out the areas mentioned above before the playoffs begin, their number one priority has to be winning games and staying out of the wild-card spots. The team has not won a game against the top two teams in the Western Conference this season, so LA will want to avoid playing one of them in the first round.
Furthermore, for a young team like the Kings, home-ice advantage could mean more than it would for a more experienced team. Many of their players have not had any playoff experience, and playing away games, specifically, might pose a challenge for them. For what it’s worth, LA has been better away from home this season, with a record of 18-14-4 and 18-9-6 on the road, ranked ninth in the league.
Regardless of where the Kings finish and who they play, this postseason will be worth watching. The organization’s rebuild has ended ahead of schedule, and the playoffs will give us a preview of the many Cup runs to look forward to.
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Zackary Weiner is a high school student from New York City who covers the Los Angeles Kings here at The Hockey Writers. He is a lifelong hockey fan and player, and his previous experience includes writing articles about the NHL for various online publications. His articles cover a wide variety of topics that concern the Kings and he takes into account a range of viewpoints, making his articles a perfect read for anyone who wants to stay up to date on the team. Zackary is more than happy to get into a conversation with fellow Kings fans, so feel free to leave a comment below any of his articles like this one to let him know your opinion and what you want to see next. You can also listen to him talk about the team on Fantasy Hockey Life, The Hockey Writers Live, and Blackhawks Banter.