4 Takeaways From Kings’ Up & Down December Road Trip

The Los Angeles Kings are five games into a six-game road trip, with a 2-2-1 record in those games, but that definitely doesn’t tell the whole story. They’ve been all over the map, having good, bad, and ugly moments. There are some things we’ve seen over these five games that could have a lasting impact on how the rest of the season plays out. Here’s a look at four main takeaways.

Arthur Kaliyev’s Promotion

Arthur Kaliyev has only been in the NHL for a season and 31 games in 2022-23, but he has shown promise. He has a lethal shot, one of the best on the team, and isn’t afraid to use it, as his individual shot attempt rate was second-highest on the team last season. This prompted the Kings to put him on the power play last season, despite mostly playing on the fourth line. His six power-play goals were tied for the most on the team. He also led the team in relative Corsi for percentage among forwards.

Arthur Kaliyev Los Angeles Kings
Arthur Kaliyev, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

This season, Kaliyev has been contributing again. He’s still driving play with a positive relative Corsi, but now ranks fourth among Kings’ forwards. His scoring has improved though, with his points-per-60-minutes jumping from 1.22 to 1.8 this season. With Adrian Kempe not being able to replicate last season’s form on the top line at right wing, the Kings needed to try something different. Kaliyev got the bump up to the first line with Anze Kopitar and Kevin Fiala.

Kaliyev’s first game on the first line was at the beginning of this road trip, a 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators. The results have yet to be spectacular, as he only has one assist in the last five games. However, his shot rate has increased, and he should be able to bag a few goals if he keeps firing the puck at the net at the same rate. The Kings have outscored their opponents 4-1 at five-on-five with this line on the ice in the last few games, so it will be interesting to see how things play out if they stick with it.

Kings Continue to Be a High-Event Team

The Kings had a reputation for being boring for a long time, even when they were successful. During the heyday of solid defense and great goaltending in 2011-12, they averaged just 4.36 goals per game. The next time they won the Stanley Cup, that went up to 4.46. Scoring is up across the board, but it’s shot up to the point that the average Kings game sees 6.97 goals.

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In four games this season, the Kings have scored double-digit goals. The famous one was the 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken on Nov. 29. The latest one was a 6-5 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Dec. 1. Only three teams’ games average more goals. However, it’s unlikely they want to continue playing like this, with only one win in these four high-scoring affairs.

The Kings don’t have the firepower to play back-and-forth games against the best teams in the league and need to play in a different style when they come up against those teams. The frustrating part is they have needed to play like this because they can’t keep the puck out of their net and have had to go into comeback mode often. They’ve allowed 21 goals in five games on this road trip, and the same problems that have been popping up all season long continue to be a huge issue.

No Answer to Goaltending Problem

The Kings have the worst team save percentage in the NHL. They were left in a bad spot after placing Cal Petersen on waivers and sending him to the American Hockey League with no good alternative to turn to in net. They were left with just a struggling Jonathan Quick and recent call-up Pheonix Copley. Copley opened the road trip with his first start for the club and picked up a win while only allowing two goals on 33 shots. This was a pleasant surprise, and he certainly deserved another look after that game.

Related: Kings in Dilemma After Placing Petersen on Waivers

The next test for Copley was on Dec. 10 against the Montreal Canadiens. Again he got a win, this time saving 20 of 22 shots. Things were going well until he faced the Buffalo Sabres on Dec 13. Copley played fine until the third period, and then it all went downhill. The Sabres put six goals past him in the final frame, and he took a 6-0 loss on the night. This leaves the Kings without any real sense of whether they can use him against weaker teams or if they will have to make a move to try to find another goalie they can rely on.

Jonathan Quick Los Angeles Kings
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Quick continues to struggle, allowing the sixth-most goals above expected in the league this season, which is a metric that measures goalie performance and with shots weighted towards ones that come from better scoring areas. Other goalies that are near him are mostly backups or starters who have already been replaced, but the Kings don’t have much choice but to keep playing Quick.

On this trip, things aren’t getting any better. Quick has started two games and allowed 12 goals. To be fair, he was put in two tough situations. The Kings played the red-hot Toronto Maple Leafs and allowed 41 shots on goal, five of which beat Quick in an embarrassing 5-0 loss.

The opposition was weaker in his next start, as the Kings faced the Columbus Blue Jackets. They were without Drew Doughty in this game and playing on the second night of a back-to-back, but still held Columbus to 26 shots on goal. Unfortunately, the Blue Jackets turned six of those into goals. Even with some difficult circumstances, they need their starting goaltender to be better if they want to win.

Kings’ Forward Group Shows Its Depth

The Kings have obvious deficiencies, but not everything is going poorly. They’ve been able to win enough games to remain in third place in the Pacific Division, and a lot of it has to do with their forwards. They’ve increased their goals per game average from 2.87 last season to 3.28 this season. As we saw with the Kaliyev promotion, they have a lot of players who can move up and down the lineup.

The first game of the trip saw the team welcome back Alex Iafallo for the first time since Oct. 17. He has spent time on the first line with Kopitar in years past and done a decent job there. Since coming back, he’s been playing on the newly-formed third line with Adrian Kempe at center and Gabe Vilardi on the right wing. In theory, this is a third line that can add secondary scoring.

Alex Iafallo Los Angeles Kings
Alex Iafallo, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

This line has been playing decently so far but has lost the possession battle. They’ve played teams to a 1-1 draw, but we should expect them to be able to outscore most third lines in the NHL. They are still trying to find chemistry playing together, and Kempe still needs to get used to playing center.

The Kings likely don’t have a forward who will challenge for the most points in the league this season, but Fiala has scored at a point-per-game pace so far. He has four points in five games on the road trip, which is second behind Kopitar’s six. These two are finally starting to click after being put back on the same line,  giving them a legitimate top line that the team can rely on for goals. This top line, combined with a second line that is good at matching up against the other team’s top lines but also can chip in on the score sheet, gives the Kings a solid top-six forward group.

Kings Are Headed Home

The Kings play one more game on the road against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 15 before playing seven of the next nine games at home. It will be tough for them to get anything out of the Bruins, who have been the best team in the league and are 15-0-1 at home. They have some easier games at home against the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks. Despite sitting in third place in the division, the Edmonton Oilers have a higher points percentageThey need to win games against teams like the Ducks and Sharks because the Oilers and possibly the Calgary Flames will be able to catch them in the standings if they aren’t picking up points against weaker teams.

The trip showed that goaltending remains the biggest question mark, but there are a few things that are still heading in a positive direction that could lead to a playoff berth this season.

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