January can be a month in the NHL where the teams really define their place in the league. The best teams will start to separate from the rest of the pack. The teams that were not in the playoff hunt are sinking towards the bottom and start to think more about the upcoming draft lottery. The Los Angeles Kings don’t fit into either of these categories, but January was still a key month for them as they push towards the playoff hunt. They played 13 games in the month, so let’s take a deeper look about how they played and what it means going forward.
Kings Post a Winning Record For the Month
The Kings were able to finish the month with a 7-5-1 record, which is a .571 points percentage. They had some tough opponents, including during the road trip they had to finish off the month. They played six games against teams currently in the top six places in the league standings. They went 1-4-1 against these serious contenders, which could be a bit of a worrying sign going forward when it comes playoff time. The Kings’ true battle right now is to make the playoffs as one of the three teams coming out of the Pacific Division, and they were able to win all three games against divisional opponents in the month.
Some individual players had really nice months for themselves. Kevin Fiala showed why he was the Kings’ representative in the All-Star Game, leading the team with 16 points in 13 games. What’s even more impressive is that there weren’t any secondary assists in those 16 points — all were either goals or primary assists. Adrian Kempe tied for the team lead in goals for the month with eight. Kempe had gotten off to a slow start to this season, but has really turned things around. He now leads the team with 22 goals in 53 games, which has him on pace to nearly get to 35 goals like he did last season.
Kings’ Defense Proves to be Strong
In this era of Kings’ hockey that has been defined by the likes of Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, defensive play has usually been a strength of the team. Since Kopitar’s rookie season, the Kings have allowed the fewest shots on goal per game, according to NHL.com. They haven’t been quite as stingy this season, but are still in a respectable sixth place in this metric.
The image above shows us that the Kings are not only good at limiting shots against, but also strong at keeping the shots away from dangerous areas. In January, they were fifth in shots on goal against per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 play, according to Natural Stat Trick. Their style of defending has worked very well this season, but the theme of this season definitely continued into this month. The substandard goaltending continued to rear its ugly head.
Kings’ Poor Goaltending Carries into January
It was obvious early on in this season that the Kings were going to have an issue in goal. Jonathan Quick got off to a bad start, and made last season’s renaissance look like an aberration. Calvin Petersen carried over his poor form from last year. They had to turn to Pheonix Copley after Petersen was placed on waivers. While Copley has been respectable and probably better than most Kings fans would have hoped, he still has allowed more goals than expected, based on the quality of shots he has faced.
In the first month of 2023, the issue is not any closer to being solved. The Kings had the worst 5-on-5 save percentage for any team in January, and the second-worst overall. Quick only played four times in the month, and posted the second-lowest save percentage for a goalie with at least 200 minutes played. Copley’s save percentage wasn’t spectacular either at .889. They were able to post a winning record in the month despite this, as has been the case all season.
Where the Kings Stand Now
After the dust cleared from January, the Kings sit in second place in their division by points. However, by points percentage, they are actually fourth behind the Edmonton Oilers and Vegas Golden Knights. At different points during the month, LA occupied first place in the Pacific, and also slipped to a wild card spot at another time. They likely will be in a dogfight for the rest of the season, both to make the playoffs and for potential seeding concerns if they do get in.
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Overall, this was a pretty good month for the Kings. They played good hockey and were able to stay afloat in the playoff race. The goalie issue remains the big question mark for the team, and how they will address it before the March 3 trade deadline with their current salary cap constraints.