Kings Are a Dark Horse Contender in the West

The Los Angeles Kings have been quietly excellent in the last month and a half. They have an .813 points percentage since Feb. 1, which is the best in the league. The Kings appear likely to make the playoffs, but there are still a lot of possibilities for seeding and potential opponents. There are a few teams on their heels as well, and a slump could see them slide down the standings. With less than a month left in the regular season and the trade deadline behind us, it’s an appropriate time to look ahead toward the playoffs.

Kings’ Chances of Winning the Pacific

The Kings are currently tied with the Vegas Golden Knights for the division lead. Vegas has a big advantage in regulation and overtime wins (ROW) over LA, sitting with a 38-34 advantage, and that is the first tiebreaker if they end up with the same amount of points. Even the Edmonton Oilers are ahead of the Kings in that category, with 38 ROW, but they are still behind them by five points. The only other Pacific Division team in contention for a spot in the top three would be the Seattle Kraken, who are one point behind the Oilers.

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Looking ahead at the remaining schedule, the Kings will play Edmonton twice, and Seattle and Vegas once each. These will obviously be critical games to determine the seeding in the Pacific. Last season, LA finished third in the division, and had to play Game 7 on the road in Edmonton. This year, they appear much more likely to get home ice at least for the first round. According to Dom Luszczyszyn’s projections, the Kings have a 33 percent chance of winning the Pacific Division, and also a 33 percent chance of finishing in second (from ‘2022-23 Stanley Cup playoff chances and projected standings’, The Athletic, March 17, 2023).

Alex Edler Los Angeles Kings Connor McDavid Edmonton Oilers
Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers is watched by Alexander Edler of the Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

According to those projections, the Kings are most likely to face the Oilers again in the first round. This would be an exciting matchup, as both of these teams have scored the most goals per 60 minutes since Feb. 1. They have two of the best power plays in the league, and they will face penalty-killing units that have struggled for most of the season. This is a series that could come down to goaltending, with the consistency of both teams’ netminders very much in question, which could result in some high-scoring games.

Sizing Up the Kings Against the Rest of the West

Many of the major contenders for the Stanley Cup appear to be in the Eastern Conference this season. The Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils are all ahead of any Western Conference team. The top teams in the West like Vegas, Edmonton, the Dallas Stars and the Minnesota Wild have flaws. The team that is the most feared in the West would probably be the Colorado Avalanche, but even they are not quite the same juggernaut that we saw last season. The conference is wide open for the taking for the team who gets hot at the right time, and that could easily be the Kings.

The Kings rank ninth in the league in expected goals percentage at five-on-five. They have experience with Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar leading the way. They have injected new scoring wingers in their prime in Kevin Fiala and Adrian Kempe. Finally, they have a solid defensive structure, allowing the fourth-fewest shots per 60 minutes in the league. These are all elements going in their favor, and it will be difficult for any team in the West to match up with them.

Pheonix Copley Los Angeles Kings
Pheonix Copley, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The big question mark for the Kings comes down to goaltending, as it has all season. Pheonix Copley has really found his game now that he’s been getting the majority of the starts. He has a .919 save percentage in 11 games since Feb. 1. However, Copley has started more games in the NHL this season than he had in his entire career before this year, so mixing in Joonas Korpisalo down the stretch will be key to give him some rest. If Copley’s lack of playoff experience is a problem, keeping Korpisalo fresh will be nice, as he has played in the postseason previously.

Those projections above have the Kings’ odds to win the West at five percent. The predictions from are more optimistic, putting their chances at 17.7 percent. They also give them a 9.1 percent shot at winning the Cup, which is the second-best odds in the Western Conference. This team is a legitimate dark horse contender to win their conference, and possibly even lift the Cup. The 2012 and 2014 teams were not dominant in the regular season in terms of wins, but had great underlying numbers. This team definitely shares some similarities, and is a team the rest of the league should watch out for when the postseason begins.

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