Kings Have the Pieces to Be a Playoff Team This Season

In a recent article, I discussed the idea of the Los Angeles Kings making the playoffs this coming season. I concluded that with the uncertainty surrounding many of the teams in the new Pacific Division, it is certainly possible for LA to grab a spot in the postseason.

That said, it’s not going to be easy. For the Kings to make the playoffs in 2022, a lot is going to have to go right for the team. Nevertheless, if LA can achieve these three things, they can drastically improve their chances at playing hockey in May.

Kings’ Young Forwards Need To Provide More Offense at Even Strength

One of the Kings’ biggest issues last season was that they couldn’t produce offense when playing at even strength. LA recorded an expected goals for per 60 rate (xGF/60) of just 2.12 last season — 26th in the league — and an even worse goals for per 60 rate (GF/60) of 2.11, which was 28th in the NHL. Despite nearing the end of their careers, the veterans for the Kings were the ones providing the majority of the offense. Now it is time for the team’s many young guns, who underperformed last season, to step up; Adrian Kempe, Blake Lizotte, Carl Grundstrom, and Austin Wagner to name a few.

Austin Wagner Los Angeles Kings
Austin Wagner with the Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Kempe put up just 13 points last season at even strength through 56 games, Lizotte and Grundstrom each recorded a measly nine even-strength points in 41 and 47 games, respectively, and Wagner put only eight points on the scoresheet in 44 games when playing at even strength.

While we can’t expect any of these players to be significant contributors, they will need to be more of an offensive presence to help the Kings’ scoring woes. Additionally, it would go a long way if the team can get some help from their arguably league-best forward pipeline, and though nothing is guaranteed when it comes to such young players, a prospect proving he is NHL-ready would give LA’s offense an important bump.

Petersen Needs To Be Consistent

Calvin Petersen and Jonathan Quick took on 1A and 1B roles for the first time last season, which marked the beginning of the transition from the aging Quick to the up-and-coming Petersen. Overall, Petersen proved that he should be the Kings’ next starting goaltender, but he was not able to stay consistent throughout the whole season.

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

Petersen concluded the season having played 35 games, posting a .911 save percentage (SV%), a 2.86 goals against average (GAA), and 3.51 goals saved above expected (GSAx). Looking at January through March, he saw some stellar numbers: A .925 SV%, a 2.51 GAA, and 8.69 GSAx—sixth in the league. At this point, the Kings were just five points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand. On the other hand, he recorded a .894 SV%, a 3.36 GAA, and -3.81 GSAx in April and May. The team finished the season sixth in the division, 14 points short of the last playoff spot.

Even though his play fell off towards the end of the season, the lack of playoff hockey last season for the Kings cannot be blamed on Petersen. He stood on his head for the first half of the season, and he was not able to keep up such a high level of hockey for 35 games.

The Kings’ defense needs to help Petersen out a bit by tightening things up, as LA gave up 525 high-danger chances last season, which was 29th in the NHL. That’s a difficult task, considering how many young defensemen are on the roster, but the experience gained by the team’s D-core and the bounceback season Matt Roy is set to have should make things slightly easier for Petersen.

If the Kings are going to have any chance at making the playoffs in the coming season, Petersen will have to be the guy in net because there isn’t much behind him. Quick cannot be counted on moving forward, as he continued his downtrend last season, putting up a .898 SV%, a 2.86 GAA, and -3.05 GSAx.

New Kings Need to Gel

At the conclusion of last season, general manager Rob Blake and the Kings’ management committed to putting a stronger roster on the ice for the 2021-22 season by adding players to the organization. LA made a number of moves to strengthen the team; they signed Vladimir Tkachev, traded their 2021 second-round pick and 2022 third-round pick for Viktor Arvidsson, and signed Phillip Danault and Alexander Edler.

Viktor Arvidsson Predators
Former Predator Viktor Arvidsson (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While there is no doubt that these transactions made the Kings a better team on paper, the new players need to gel with not only the existing roster but with the other new arrivals as well. The quicker this happens, the quicker the team can start to perform, and specifically score, at a higher level.

Kings Have a Difficult but Not Impossible Road Ahead

Considering that these three factors are crucial for the Kings to make the playoffs, it will certainly be a challenging journey, but in no way is it unfeasible. The team was able to add pieces this offseason without putting the rebuild in jeopardy, so why not take a shot at it?

There is one thing the Kings need to be cautious of, though. By the time the trade deadline rolls around, I would imagine LA would at least be in the playoff race, if not holding a playoff spot. When that time comes, the team should refrain from trading away prospects and valuable future assets to make the playoffs now, something they have done a great job of this offseason. The focus must be kept on the future, and if playoffs are in store for this season, it’s a plus.

Advanced Stats per Evolving-Hockey and Natural Stat Trick

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