LA Kings Monthly: Special Teams Soar While Offense Regresses

LA Kings Monthly is a series that analyzes the Los Angeles Kings and how they performed throughout the previous month. Each article discusses what went right for the team, what didn’t, as well as the best highlights, player, and game from the month.

LA Kings Monthly Anze Kopitar Drew Doughty

Each edition also takes a peek at what the next month looks like for the Kings, with the top player and game to watch in the coming weeks. The team kicked off the month with four losses in a row, taking their first defeat of the month versus the Anaheim Ducks, followed by two versus the Vegas Golden Knights, and one versus the San Jose Sharks.

The Kings then completely flipped the script by going on a six-game winning streak, starting things off with a win against the Sharks, followed by one versus the Minnesota Wild. The team then hit the road for two games in Arizona, two in St. Louis, and two in Minnesota. LA swept the series versus the Coyotes and the series versus the Blues. Heading back over to the losing side of things, the team has now lost two in a row, as they lost both games versus the Wild to end the month.

The Kings’ final February record came to 6-4-2, totaling 14 points, a .583 points percentage (P%). The month filled with streaks brought the team’s season record to 9-7-4, totaling 22 points, a .550 P%. As of the writing of this article, LA sits at fifth in the Honda West Division, and they have put themselves in the mix for the final playoff spot.

What Went Right in February: Special Teams Went From Good to Great

One of the things that the Kings needed to work on coming into this season was their special teams. The team came out strong and impressed in January, posting a 15th-best power play at 22.2%, which isn’t phenomenal, but they showed a fourth-best penalty kill in the early weeks of the season, killing off 87.5 percent of penalties. In the first month of the season, LA posted a scoring chances for per 60 rate (SCF/60) of 51.52 on the power play, 10th in the league, and a 15th-best high danger chances for per 60 rate (HDCF/60) of 18.74 with a man advantage. On the penalty kill, the team had the best scoring chances against per 60 rate (SCA/60) in the league, allowing just 30.04. They also finished third in January in their high danger chances against per 60 rate (HDCA/60) of 11.12.

Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty Anze Kopitar Dustin Brown
Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

In February, the penalty kill has leveled off, though it is still in the top third of the league. The power play, on the other hand, has become one of the most dangerous systems right now. The Kings’ power play in February was a sixth-best 27.8% and the penalty kill came in at number 10, with a success rate of 84.4%. The team’s scoring chances for stats last month were a bit misleading, as they posted a 49.16 SCF/60 on the power play, 15th in the league, and a 25.7 HDCF/60, seventh in the league. Their scoring chances against stats were even less representative of their solid penalty-killing percentage. They showed a 49.63 SCA/60, 21st in the league, and a 21.12 HDCA/60, 14th in the league.

Overall, the Kings had great special teams for the second month in a row. Despite their deceiving scoring chances for and against stats, the team’s power play and penalty kill played a crucial role in their successes throughout the middle of the month. Even though they didn’t generate a ton of chances on the power play, and they allowed more chances than average on the penalty kill, they got the job done. After all, they don’t ask how, they ask how many.

What Went Wrong in February: Even Strength Offense Returned to Its Old Ways

In addition to better special teams, one of the keys for the Kings this season was to score more. Every team wants to score more, but LA’s scoring last season was miserable. In 2019-20, they posted a goals for per 60 rate (GF/60) of 2.13, 29th in the league.

Todd McLellan Los Angeles Kings
Todd McLellan, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As I predicted in the last issue of LA Kings Monthly, the team’s 5v5 offense was due to pull back, as they posted a GF/60 of 2.3, 11th in the league, but an expected goals for per 60 rate (xGF/60) of 1.88, 25th in the league. The team continued to play the same way, and as expected, their offensive numbers slid. They posted a similarly poor xGF/60 of 1.9, last in the league, and their GF/60 followed. LA ended the month with a GF/60 of 1.98, 25th in the league.

The Kings were able to come out of the month with a decent record, though, as their defense made up for their poor goal scoring. They finished February with the seventh-best goals against per 60 rate (GA/60) of 1.98. Instead of a poor xGF/60 and a solid GF/60, as they showed in January, the team went through last month with a decent GA/60, but a poor expected goals against per 60 rate (xGA/60) of 2.49, 25th in the league. The player of the month for February might give us a clue as to why this was.

The Best of February

Goal of the Month: Dustin Brown – Feb 22 vs. St. Louis Blues

The Kings held a 1-0 lead on the Blues nearing the end of the second period at the time of the goal. LA was playing a good game and they had the advantage in shots 22-15 at the time. Zach Sanford blocked an Olli Maatta shot, but instead of clearing the zone, he dumped it further into his own end. Brown picked up the puck and pulled off a nice toe drag around the stick of Brayden Schenn. He then pushed the puck around the attempted poke check by Jordan Binnington before tucking it in the back post.

This was a huge goal for the Kings in that game, as they were rewarded for their hard work through the first 40 minutes, taking the life out of the Blues heading into the third. Brown went on to add an empty-net goal, and LA won 3-0, for what was their fifth win in a row at the time.

Save of the Month: Jonathan Quick – Feb 18 at Arizona Coyotes

The Kings played two of their most thrilling games of the month in Arizona. The first game of the pair was sent to overtime, tied 2-2. With about one minute gone in the extra frame, Quick made a fabulous stop on Phil Kessel. Christian Dvorak made a great cross-ice pass to Kessel who was driving back door. Quick lunged across the crease to make the stop. The save can be found at 4:33 of the game recap.

The game proceeded to a shootout, where Gabriel Vilardi buried the winning goal. This pushed the winning streak to what was then three games.

Player of the Month: Calvin Petersen

Earlier I alluded to Petersen when looking at the discrepancies between the Kings’ GA/60 compared to their xGA/60 in February. Last month, he was not only the better goalie for LA, but he was one of the best in the entire league. He posted a .930 save percentage (SV%), 10th in the league, 8th for goalies playing more than two games.

Los Angeles Kings goalie Calvin Petersen
Los Angeles Kings goalie Calvin Petersen (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal)

Petersen not only made the saves he was expected to, but he made a lot of difficult saves as well. He posted a goals saved above average (GSAA) of 5.83, fourth in the league. Even more impressive, he posted a fifth-best goals saved above expected (GSAx) of 4.28, fourth-best for goalies playing more than two games.

Petersen’s great month is even more apparent when you look at the names he sat at the top of the league with. The goalies that led the league last month with him include Andrei Vasilevskiy, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Connor Hellebuyck. This further proves that Petersen is a legitimate starting goaltender, and Kings fans should feel very comfortable about the net being his once the rebuild is over.

Game of the Month: Feb 11 vs. San Jose Sharks

While they didn’t know it at the time, this game kicked off the winning streak that put the Kings in competition for a playoff spot. The team did many things right in this game, creating the winning formula that would lead them through their streak. The team piled on the goals in the first period, as Anze Kopitar, Carl Grundstrom, and Austin Wagner each put one in. Thomas Hertl would get the Sharks on the board at the end of the period, and he would add one more at the end of the second.

When it looked like momentum had shifted in the favor of the Sharks, the Kings took it right back in the third, putting up three goals. Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Alex Iafallo, and Jeff Carter each tallied a goal for a final score of 6-2. The Kings added important aspects to their game which allowed them to pull out their first win in a while. They got off to a good start, added secondary scoring, and they overcame adversity when it presented itself. They also continued to do things well that they already had been doing, such as solid special teams play, plenty of veteran scoring, and Petersen was great in the game as well.

The Month Ahead

The Kings kick off the month tonight against the Coyotes, their first home game since their six-game road trip last month. They will also play a set of games at home versus the Blues before heading out again to face the Ducks and Avalanche. They won’t have much time to rest, though, as they will have to get back to LA for a game against the Blues the night after their second game in Colorado. The team will continue on to play one more game versus St. Louis followed by two versus the Golden Knights. They will finish the month with a four-game road trip, with two in San Jose and two in Vegas.

Player to Watch in the Month Ahead: Jaret Anderson-Dolan

Anderson-Dolan played his first games of the season last month, and he truly impressed. He posted three goals and two assists, totaling five points in six games. This converts to 0.83 points per game (P/GP) which was fifth on the team last month. He also posted a team-best points per 60 rate (PTS/60) of 3.65. Additionally, he recorded an expected goals for percentage of 56.17% (xGF%), second on the team.

Jaret Anderson-Dolan Los Angeles Kings
Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Unfortunately, Anderson-Dolan sustained an upper-body injury after taking a hit in the Kings’ first game versus Arizona. Assuming that he will be back this month, it will be interesting to see if he can pick up where he left off, cementing himself into the lineup, or if things will slow down for him due to his injury.

Game to Watch in the Month Ahead: Mar 3 vs Arizona Coyotes

As I mentioned, the two games the Kings played against the Coyotes last month were exciting matchups, so hopefully, we can get another great competition out of this one. The Kings have returned home and they have had some time off, allowing them to reset after their two losses in Minnesota.

In looking at the standings and where each team in the division is at, the Kings and the Coyotes look to be two of the main contestants who will fight for the last playoff position. Though every game this season is a “four-point game,” this one is even more important considering the opponent. By the time the end of the season comes around, we might look back on this game and its importance, hopefully, in pushing the Kings back to the playoffs.

Advanced stats per Evolving-Hockey