Kings’ Strong Play Being Cancelled Out by Lackluster Goaltending

The calling card of this era of Los Angeles Kings hockey has been stellar defensive play. In their Stanley Cup years of 2012 and 2014, they were second and first in goals against, respectively. In last season’s resurgence, they finished 10th in this metric. Through 12 games this season, they are allowing the fifth-most goals per game, worse than the likes of the Montreal Canadiens and the Chicago Blackhawks. Let’s take a look at some numbers and see if there are reasons to be concerned about this.

How the Kings’ Defensemen Have Played

If you don’t watch much of the Kings, it’s not unreasonable to look at the pairs on defense and call it Drew Doughty and a bunch of guys. Most fans will probably be familiar with Alex Edler, a longtime Canuck who is spending his second season with the team. Other than that, there are guys like Matt Roy, Sean Walker, Sean Durzi, and Mikey Anderson, who are in their mid-20s and have been reasonable but unspectacular in their careers so far. They had to step up down the stretch and in the playoffs last season when Doughty got injured, with the exception of Walker who was also hurt.

The results during this time were mixed, on both an individual and team level, as they allowed the 11th-fewest expected goals per 60 minutes, according to Natural Stat Trick. Edler was the leader in relative expected goals percentage, while Durzi was the team leader in average ice time. By the time the playoffs came around, they could not hold it together with their inexperienced defense group, allowing 3.65 expected goals per 60 at five-on-five against the Edmonton Oilers.

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Doughty’s now back in the lineup and eating up the most ice time on the blue line. His on-ice results haven’t been great to start the season, with a negative expected goals percentage relative to his teammates. However, the overall defense has been decent, allowing the 12th-fewest expected goals on a per-60-minute basis. The group could maybe use another experienced player, especially on the left side, but overall isn’t the problem.

What About Quick & Petersen?

Heading into last season, it was assumed that Cal Petersen had taken the starting goaltender job from Jonathan Quick. Petersen had more starts in the shortened 2021 season and had much better results. Things then flipped, and Quick had his best season by goals saved above expected since 2017-18, while Petersen struggled and posted a negative number in this metric.

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This season Quick and Petersen have had rough starts, as they both have save percentages that aren’t even close to .900. Quick is a 36-year-old goalie who relies on athleticism and hadn’t had a positive goals-saved above expected in four seasons until last season. There should be some concern, but he demonstrated in 2021-22 that he still has something left in the tank. As for Petersen, he is already 28 years old with under 100 games played in the NHL. He still has a chance to be a decent NHL goalie, but last season and his play early on this season are not good signs moving forward.

Jonathan Quick Los Angeles Kings
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Kings really need one of their goalies to step up, because trading for one during the season is never easy. The poor results are still over a small sample, so there definitely is some hope that Quick can find some of the form he showed last season.

Patience Is Key

With the Kings’ defense allowing the eighth-fewest shot attempts in the league, Quick and Petersen should be able to play well enough to give the team a chance to win. At the very least, this is a pair that should not be allowing over four goals per game. With a defense group that can get the job done, two of the best defensive centers in Anze Kopitar and Phillip Danault, and a solid defensive structure, there shouldn’t be a real long-term concern with the goals against average. That is provided both goaltenders improve on their early-season performances. There is no reason to panic over this just yet, but if the team starts to fall out of the playoff hunt, a move for a third option in net needs to be considered.

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