With 20 games played, the Los Angeles Kings are a quarter of the way done with their season. With that in mind, now seemed like a good time to check in on how the season is going. Are the team meeting expectations, who’s impressing, and who’s disappointing?
How the Team is Doing
The expectations around this Kings team league-wide was, once again, to be near the bottom of the league. However, expectations within the organization and fanbase were much different, and the plan heading into this season was to make a return to the postseason. General Manager Rob Blake was aggressive last summer with acquisitions, grabbing Viktor Arvidsson, Phillip Danault, and Alex Edler. Their playoff hopes hit an early speed bump after they lost Drew Doughty for around six weeks and Sean Walker for the season.
The organization held firm that it wasn’t changing its plans despite these injuries. Blake was asked about a possible change of plans because of these injuries, and he stated, “We’re six games in and we need to pick (up) our pace of play and be better — in a lot of aspects of our game.” (From “Drew Doughty and Sean Walker are out, but the Kings aren’t ready to pivot from their season plan,” Oct. 27, 2021, Lisa Dillman, The Athletic).
After 20 games, the Kings are 9-8-3, good for sixth in the Pacific Division, but they have at least one game on everyone but the Edmonton Oilers. They currently have a 49.1% chance of making the playoffs, according to Moneypuck.com, and could increase those chances with a big win over the Anaheim Ducks in the season’s first Freeway Face-Off. The team has been very inconsistent, with a big seven-game win streak sandwich between two losing streaks. Because playoffs are still well within reach, and considering their injuries, I’d say the team is just about meeting expectations. The two lengthy losing streaks have made the season seem bleak at times, but with Doughty coming back soon, this team still has a decent shot of making the playoffs.
Finishing has been a real issue for this team, as the Kings have severely underperformed on expected goals numbers, currently at 11.07 goals below expected. Considering the number of one-goal games this team has been involved in, improved finishing would see them much higher in the standings. Fortunately, goaltending has been a strength, especially Jonathan Quick, and has kept them in the playoff hunt to this point. This team is lacking elite talent in its top six, outside of Anze Kopitar, and I think that’s showing in their lack of finishing. Their power play has also struggled since Doughty’s injury, but Sean Durzi has improved it significantly over the last two games. If the team can improve their finishing, and sustain this level of goaltending, playoffs are a real possibility come May.
Most Impressive Players
Anze Kopitar: It should be no surprise that Kopitar features as one of the team’s most impressive players through the first quarter of the season. He’s been the team’s most impressive player since joining the league in 2006, and has continued his stellar play this season. With eight goals and 21 points through 20 games, he leads the team in goals, assists, and points. While also leading all forwards in average time on ice, playing 21:20 a night.
He’s on pace for his second career point-per-game season, scoring at an 86-point pace right now. He’s carried the team’s offense at times, and the massive drop-off in production after him has been a huge problem for the Kings. Whether or not he continues scoring at this pace is yet to be seen, but he will almost certainly lead the team in points and will be their best player once again.
Jonathan Quick: I briefly touched on Quick’s play earlier and had to mention it again. His bounce-back season has played a huge role in the team still being in and around the playoff hunt to this point. Most people expected him to lose his starting position this season to Cal Petersen, but Quick has made the net his own, playing some great hockey. With 7.1 goals saved above expected, a 2.25 goals-against average, a .928 save percentage, and 0.6 goals saved above expected per 60 minutes. He’s arguably been a top-10 goalie in the league so far, especially when looking at goals saved above-expected numbers. Watching Quick turn back the clock this season has been a joy, and with some improved offense in front of him, he can lead the Kings to another postseason appearance.
Alex Edler: Possibly a surprise to some people, Edler rounds out my most impressive players list. Signed to be a veteran presence who can alleviate some pressure of the team’s young left-shot defensemen in a reduced role, everything changed after the Doughty injury. He has taken on a much bigger role than anticipated and is playing solid hockey in that role. He’s the team leader in points and blocked shots for defensemen while having the third-highest average time on ice amongst blueliners.
With Doughty returning soon, he’ll return to a more reduced role, but he has been a key player during the 16 games Doughty has missed. Signing him over the summer turned out to be a pivotal decision, as having a player with his experience to step up after losing a key player is huge.
Cal Petersen: While Quick has been extremely impressive, Petersen has been a disappointment so far this season. This was supposed to be the season he took over the starting job for the Kings, but he has clearly lost the job to Quick. With 2.2 goals allowed above expected, a 3.00 goals-against average, and a .895 save percentage, he has seriously struggled. He doesn’t look confident in the net right now and has let in several weak goals. He looked better against the Ottawa Senators in his last start, but he needs to find that level of play more consistently if he wants to threaten Quick for the starting job. There’s plenty of season left for him to find his game, but he’s the clear backup right now.
Dustin Brown: To the surprise of some people, Brown started the season on the first line. Many people thought the addition of Arvidsson would push him down the lineup, instead, coach Todd McLellan played the two together on Kopitar’s wing. He started off the season strong, with five points in five games, but has completely fallen off a cliff since then, posting just two points in his next 15 games. Father time has apparently caught up to Brown, as he’s looked nowhere near a top-six player this season.
Hopefully, a reduced role in the bottom six helps him rediscover his game a little bit because right now he is struggling. Had he been on the third line all season, his lack of production wouldn’t be an issue, but considering he’s spent most of the season on the first line, just seven points in 20 games is disappointing. His leadership and physicality are still a benefit to this team, he should just be kept off the top six from here on out.
Trevor Moore: I hate having to put Trevor Moore down as a big disappointment, but he has been. He’s a local kid, who gives maximum effort and never takes a shift off. But two points in 20 games is simply not good enough. He has the fewest points amongst Kings’ forwards who have played more than seven games and has generated very little offense. He shouldn’t be expected to post huge offensive numbers, but his current lack of production can’t be ignored either. He’s currently on pace for eight points this season, meaning he would have fewer points this season than goals scored last season in 56 games.
A lack of scoring depth has been one of the team’s biggest issues, and Moore isn’t helping that right now. Like Petersen, there’s plenty of time for Moore to turn this season around and get back to his best hockey. But with players like Quinton Byfield returning from injury, and players in Ontario finding success, he needs to do this quickly.
A Difficult December Ahead
The Kings’ season will likely be determined during the month of December when they play just two teams who are currently below .500. A strong month would put them in a great spot to make the playoffs, while another losing streak could see their playoff hopes end early. They need Quick to continue his stellar play, and the offense to pick it up, but this team has the tools to succeed, even throughout this tough month. The return of Doughty will be huge, and I think their Freeway Face-Off game on Tuesday will play a huge role in their success moving forward. A win against their biggest rivals should give them a much-needed confidence boost, while a loss could kickstart another tough run of games.