The Los Angeles Kings have not gotten off to a good start in February. They lost four games in a row, totaling a five-game losing streak, including their loss at the end of January. Through the first games of the month, the team did not play well on either side of the puck, falling to the bottom of the league in terms of both offensive and defensive statistics. These losses also pushed LA to the bottom of the competitive Honda West Division.
The Kings went into their game versus the San Jose Sharks Thursday night coming off of a devastating shootout loss. As the Kings have done a number of times this season, they blew their third-period lead, as Evander Kane tied the game with 45 seconds to play. The Kings’ rematch with the Sharks, though, was a completely different story.
LA would light the lamp three times in the first period, with goals coming from Anze Kopitar, Carl Grundstrom, and Austin Wagner. The Sharks would slow the momentum a little bit, as Tomas Hertl tallied two goals, one at the end of the first period and adding one more at the end of the second period. The Kings came back with three goals of their own in the final 20 minutes, though. Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Alex Iafallo, and Jeff Carter each put one in to end the game with a final score of 6-2.
The Kings did several things right in their win over the Sharks, proving that they have the ability to win games, even with key players out of the lineup. If LA can play every night as they did on Thursday, they are going to win a lot more games than they are going to lose.
The Kings’ veteran scoring has been quite prominent through the early stages of the season. Kopitar leads the team with 17 points, Dustin Brown is second on the team with 12 points, Drew Doughty is close behind with 11 points, Alex Iafallo has nine, and Carter has put up seven points thus far. Though this is a good thing, the team’s secondary scoring has not been enough to help them win on a regular basis. This includes the plethora of younger players and prospects that the team has in their system.
Part of the Kings’ big win over the Sharks was the contributions that came from the bottom of the lineup. Wagner put up a goal and was arguably the Kings’ best player in terms of overall play. He posted the team’s best individual expected goals (ixG), 0.46 on the night, had the best offensive zone start percentage (oZS%) at 60%, and had the best 5v5 Corsi for percentage (CF%) at 56.2%. He also threw two hits, tied for first on the team. Both Grundstrom and Anderson-Dolan also put up a goal, each adding an assist, and Austin Strand, Tobias Bjornfot, and Trevor Moore all put up an assist.
If Wagner and the rest of the bottom half of the lineup can continue to contribute, it could go a long way in making the Kings more successful. Kopitar and the other veterans on the team may not be able to maintain the scoring pace they currently sit at, so LA’s secondary scoring may have to make more of an impact at some point this season, which they’ve shown is possible.
Getting Off to a Good Start
So far this season, the Kings have been one of the worst first period teams in the league. Going into their second game versus the Sharks, the team ranked 27th in the league for first period goals, tallying just six on the season. LA has been even worse defensively in the first period. Prior to Thursday’s game, they had given up 19 goals in the first period, 30th in the league.
Finishing the first period up 3-1 certainly helped the team mix in a win to the many losses they have recently taken. Getting off to a good start is one of the most obvious ways to come out of any game with a win. The first period decides who will be chasing the game and who won’t. Those who fit the latter typically win the game, and the Kings need to focus on finding themselves in that situation more often.
One of the issues for the Kings early in the season was dropping games where they had a lead in the third period. In a couple of games, the opposition would start to mount a comeback, and all of LA’s energy would disappear. For example, in the first two games of the season versus the Minnesota Wild, the Kings went into the third period with a 3-1 lead but ended up losing both contests 4-3 in overtime. The home team win probability charts show that once the Wild started to get back into these games, things went very downhill in terms of LA’s play.
In the Kings’ win on Feb. 11, though, they stopped the Sharks when it looked like they were turning things around. The Kings played a full game of solid hockey, so when some bad luck put the Sharks within reach, they stuck to their game plan. Rather than sitting back trying to defend the lead, LA went back on the attack to try to extend the lead, which they were successful in doing.
The Kings must continue this mentality in all of their games moving forward. I’m not saying that the leading team should always take risks to try to score, but there is a time to sit back, and there’s a time to stay on the offensive. Earlier in the season, LA was trying to do too much risk management, but their game versus the Sharks was a model effort in terms of overcoming adversity and not letting up when they knew they were controlling the game.
There have been a few constants that have given the Kings a chance to win every night, in addition to the three areas of focus I have discussed above.
So far this season, the Kings’ special teams have been quite good. They currently rank 11th in the league on the power play, converting on 24.5% of their chances. They rank sixth in the league on the penalty kill, killing off 83.7% of penalties. In their first win of the month, LA continued this trend. They went 50% on the power play, scoring on three out of their six opportunities. They only went 50% on their penalty kill, but they only took two penalties. Continued excellence in their special teams was an important factor in winning the game, as it contributed to half of their goals. Hopefully, the team can keep this up.
There was some doubt heading into this season as far as the Kings’ veterans and how much they could contribute. As previously mentioned, Kopitar has continued his quest to 1,000 points with great pace, and Brown, Doughty, Iafallo, and Carter are also still managing to put up some points, as they all sit near the top of the team. In the team’s biggest win of the season, Doughty put up three points, Kopitar had two on the night, and Brown, Carter, and Iafallo each had one point. If LA’s younger players don’t start to get on the scoresheet more often, veteran scoring will have to continue to impress for the Kings to stay afloat.
Petersen has been simply outstanding to start the season. He has made both the saves he is expected to, as well as some highlight-reel stops. He ranks 14th in the league for save percentage (SV%), putting up a .926% thus far. He also ranks 6th in the league in SV% for goaltenders playing more than five games.
His advanced stats are even more impressive. Petersen ranks fourth in the league in terms of goals saved above average (GSAA), at 5.92 on the season so far. He also ranks second in the league in terms of goals saved above expected (GSAx), at 5.37 on the season. He also helped the Kings to their recent 6-2 win by posting a .935 Sv% and a 1.36 GSAx in just one game. The only goaltender to put up a better GSAx this season has been Andrei Vasilevskiy. This is very telling of Petersen’s abilities, and if he continues to play as he has been, the net will officially be his in no time.
Kings Must Continue to Implement This Winning Formula
Though the Kings won’t win 6-2 every night, if they continue to focus on the key areas listed, they will get right back in the playoff race in the Honda West Division. Due to the postponed game, LA will have a total of four days off in between matchups. This will give them ample time to consider what they did well in their game versus the Sharks and how to apply their solid play to their coming matchups. The Kings will face off against the Wild on Tuesday, and a win against them will keep the team on the right track heading into their six-game road trip to end the month.
Advanced Stats Per Evolving-Hockey