In any team sport, the best teams have consistency and chemistry — Roger Staubach
Captain Comeback’s observation carries a patently simple message. It isn’t usually the most talented club that wins the championship, it’s the best team — one with great chemistry, defined roles, and overall consistency — that takes home the trophy. Last year’s champions in Major League Baseball (San Francisco Giants), the NBA (San Antonio Spurs), the NFL (Seattle Seahawks) and of course the NHL (Los Angeles Kings) are all great examples of that truism.We’re only at the end of the first half of the season, so all we know for sure is things won’t stay the same. The Kings are indeed a high-chemistry club, one that plays together as well as any in the league, especially during the playoffs. It hasn’t mattered that L.A. finished as an eighth seed in 2012 and was a sixth seed in 2014. Mixed with a solid amount of skill, the Kings’ strong identity, philosophy and chemistry add up to a Cup-winning formula.
— Christopher Pieper (@CP_Berlin) January 7, 2015
Summarizing the first half
Los Angeles is 19-12-9 going into tonight’s game against the New York Rangers, seventh in the crowded Western Conference playoff mix. Although much has gone right, elements of their game need significant work.
The offense in the first half has been surprisingly good; the defense (given the situation), not-so-surprisingly suspect. Special teams have been either cool as a cucumber or a hot mess. The good news is that it’s still early, and the various problems you’ll read about below are correctable.
How do they grade out for the first half of the season? Read on.
Given the defense-first philosophy of the Lombardi/Sutter era, you’d be waiting a mighty long time if you expected to see a Kings team near the top of the league in goals scored. The reverse has actually been the case, as L.A. has often struggled to score in previous years, at least during the regular season. That said, L.A. is a respectable 14th overall in goals per game. Relatively speaking, their Cup practically runneth over with goals in the first half.
‘That 70s Line’ was the talk of the NHL early in the first half, and after the Kings began to struggle offensively a few weeks ago, reassembled itself just in time to lead a resurgence (note who called the shot). Overall, Tyler Toffoli (12), Marian Gaborik (12), Jeff Carter (11), Tanner Pearson (11) and Justin Williams (9) have a legitimate chance as 20 goals this year, with Kopitar (8) also in the mix. That’s great balance for a team that dreams of a 2-1 win every night.
L.A. is in the league’s top ten in faceoffs (51.1%, 10th), power play efficiency (20.3%, 10th), shots (31.8, 4th), 5-5 F/A (1.11, 10th), +/- (+9, 10th), Corsi For % (54.6%, 2nd) and Fenwick For % (53.7%, 4th).
They’ve been a bit up-and-down on the scoreboard, but that’s pretty much the case for most NHL teams. Overall, their first half offense has been surprisingly effective.
First half grade: B
You know it’s a different year in Hollywood when the defense needs more work than the offense.Oh, there are reasons. The dead cap space situation the Kings faced for a month after defenseman Slava Voynov’s suspension caused all sorts of problems, including a bizarre inability to dress a full complement of defensemen. The indefinite loss of Voynov, in and of itself, has caused ripple effects up and down the lineup.
From a goals against perspective, L.A. still ranks 9th in the league at 2.45 per game. Same with shots allowed (28.1). Mind you, they finished 2013-14 first and second in those categories, so there has been regression. However, not only has the Voynov suspension set the team back, but it could be argued the loss of Willie Mitchell in free agency hasn’t been fully mitigated.
Drew Doughty (4G, +1, 29:11 ATOI), Jake Muzzin (5G, -6, 23:44) and Alec Martinez (4G, +13, 23:11) headline a still-strong overall corps.
First half grade: B-
After two successful runs to the Stanley Cup, what more is there to say about Jonathan Quick? Despite often pedestrian regular season stats, he’s already one of the greatest playoff goaltenders of his generation, having also secured a Conn Smythe Trophy in 2012.
His numbers have been trending downward for weeks, however, in concert with the defensive difficulties L.A. has been having. 2.40/.915 isn’t bad, but as the defense goes, so (typically) does the goaltending. Quick is the first one who’d tell you he needs to play better.
First half grade: B-
Despite the solid power play conversion rate, two things need to be factored into the grade: 1) power play consistency and 2) the penalty kill.
The Kings went through a recent stretch where they were one of the hottest teams in the league on the man advantage. All goals count the same amount, but that had the effect of skewing the number upward, which means four words: regression to the mean. As for the kill, it’s been somewhere between mediocre and awful most of the season.
Special teams may be L.A.’s true Achilles’ heel in the first half of this season.
First half grade: D+
As to be expected, head coach Darryl Sutter has a ton of equity in Los Angeles. He gets additional spendable credits for the mess caused by the Voynov situation, which could not be anticipated.
Despite the recent struggles and with plenty of room for improvement, L.A. still is in position to nab the first wild card. As we all know by now, that’s all they really need.
First half grade: B+
So what do you think, Kings fans? Do you agree or disagree with anything you’ve read here? Fee free to comment below, or send me a tweet @McLaughlinWalt.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.