In short: No; they’ve mostly had a run of bad luck while poor discipline has been killing any and all momentum they seem to get but we’ll get to that in a minute. Before I start, let me plug Robert P.’s excellent analysis from Jewels from the Crown about why it’s not time to hit the panic button yet.
After Jonathan Quick went down in OT against Buffalo on November 12, things immediately changed on the team. The Kings’ defense tightened up while their second and third string goalies put up an unsustainably high .962 save percentage and allowed 2 goals or less in 19 straight games (all prior to the current 5 game losing streak). But the law of regression reared its head and the two netminders came back to earth. While the Blackhawks ruined the Kings’ win and stingy defense streaks back on December 15, there was little cause for concern at the time as they went on to win three of their next four games.
Following the break, the Kings went on a four game road swing through
Conference III the Central Division and came home with 0 points to show for their efforts. One thing that has become increasingly apparent during this losing streak is the inability to stay out of the penalty box. Currently, the Kings are the most penalized team in the league. And while there are arguments for iffy calls every game, that’s no excuse for taking more penalties than 29 other teams in the league. In fact, due to their puck possession prowess (#1 in both Corsi and Fenwick close), you’d think they’d be drawing more penalties rather than taking them. No one expects any team to realistically play a perfect game every night, but limiting the amount of PK time to about four minutes a night seems pretty reasonable, especially for a team as dominant in possession as they are.
After the game in St. Louis, Drew Doughty told reporters, “Usually if you’re taking penalties, you’re out of position or someone made a mistake before that person had to take that penalty. It’s all on us. It’s not the refs. It’s not the way we’re coached, the way we’re taught. It’s us. We’re not being fast enough. We’re not ready for the situation that is coming towards us and if you’re out of position you’re taking that penalty. And all of us have done it, so we need to take that out of our game.”
I don’t want to either agree or disagree with Doughty’s assessment since I’m not coaching this team (nor am I an NHL coach), but the numbers seem to corroborate his statement. In a recent game against the Dallas Stars, the Kings took five minor penalties. The only penalty that was actually “worth” it was the final one, in which Doughty got called for holding Valeri Nichushkin. It was in the defensive zone and prevented a likely goal. But the four other penalties (tripping x2, slashing, delay of game) were unnecessary. The game is fast and things will happen; no one is denying that. However, limiting them as much as possible is going to be the first step for the Kings to getting back on track.
But penalties aren’t the only cause of this current losing streak. Hockey is kind of a dumb game sometimes. Pure, dumb luck can affect a team that’s outplaying, out chancing and outworking another team. One small mistake by the better team can cause the puck to wind up in the back of their net. And sometimes, as hard as you try, things will not go your way. One good example was when the Kings went to visit the Canucks in November where the Kings were greatly outplayed. However, a little dumb luck and a couple mistakes allowed the Kings to leave with the two points.
Right now, the Kings are a tad unlucky. Robert from Jewels from the Crown calculated their PDO to be around .922 (the mean is .1000) at even strength while their save percentage over the last five games has dipped to an awful .903 (league average is around .923). Neither their shooting percentage nor their save percentage are sustainable so they should bounce back relatively soon. Even if they don’t score say, 6 goals, in their next game, there’s no reason to think they won’t return to their average of 2 goals per game.
The good news is that the Kings are still a dominant possession team. At 5v5 close, their Corsi For rate is 57.0%, a little better than the defending champs the Blackhawks, who are second with 56.3%. (The reason for using 5v5 close instead of “all situations” is because the numbers may get artificially inflated due to score effects.) Their Fenwick close is just as impressive at 55.8%, again beating out the champs by the slightest of margins (the Hawks are at 55.5%). Conversely, the Anaheim Ducks who currently sit #1 in points and total games won have a mediocre 51.7% Fenwick close score. The reason why this is good news is because puck possession strongly correlates to winning more often than not. These correlations are the best predictors of future success.
So no, the Kings don’t really suck and there’s nothing really wrong with them. Yes, they need to stop taking dumb penalties but they don’t need to make any serious roster/personnel moves. The best part is, the Kings were right in all of the games that they lost, they just lacked finish. So as long as they keep doing what they’re doing and find a way to minimize the amount of penalties taken, they will more often than they lose. As Sutter once said, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s whether you’re winning or losing. And in the grand scheme of things, they’re still winning (third in the division, top 10 in the NHL; things could be worse).
For another perspective on this, Gann Matsuda from Frozen Royalty also has a great reason why we shouldn’t be too worried.