To say that the Los Angeles Kings aren’t playing well would be an understatement. They have just two wins on the road this season (though they’ve probably played a league low number of games away from home this season) and their underlying numbers are grim, rather than a bright spot among the losses.
On Saturday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, the first period was pretty atrocious with the Kings giving up two goals in the first 20 minutes. That is not at all to knock the Blackhawks who are an elite team and are playing very well — after all, they’re leading the league in corsi for percentage at 5v5, a statistic that measures shot attempts and generally correlates to possession time. Things started to look up in the second when they halved the deficit, only to give up a 4-on-2 two minutes later, restoring the Hawks’ two-goal lead. Nothing of note happened in the third. The Blackhawks shut it down and the empty netter was a mere formality.
What should’ve been an exciting battle between the top two possession teams turned into a dull evening with the tired road team looking like they were the more rested home team.
The Kings are not tops in CF% anymore. In fact, they’re a very mediocre 13th although they’ve shown steady, albeit painfully slow, improvement recently. After being at or near the top over the past three seasons (including leading the league through most of last season), it’s disappointing, frustrating and a little scary for fans to see the Kings acting very unlike what they’ve become accustomed to recently.
Here’s the thing, though: the Kings are a good team; they have several good players; and most importantly, they know how to play well. Right now, intentionally or not, they’re coasting. After a record setting playoff run which saw them clinch their second Stanley Cup title in three years, they (understandably) got off to a bit of a slow start. It’s hard to maintain a playoff-type atmosphere over a full 82 game season and as it stands, the Kings are, technically, currently in a playoff spot.
There seems to be a realization among the players that all they have to do is get in and there’s another gear they can mentally shift into when the prize is just 20 wins away. Right winger Justin Williams all but admitted it when asked about their recent playoff successes (having lost only one playoff series, falling to eventual champs Blackhawks in the Western Conference Finals). Most fans would prefer to see the Kings at least perform well (even if they lose), clinch a playoff spot early and then coast for the last 2-3 weeks of the regular season, similar to the way they ended the 2013-2014 season.
While the team has been hampered by injuries to key players Anze Kopitar and Marian Gaborik early on and a defense that can’t seem to stay healthy, the rest of the team just feels like they’re having trouble getting into a rhythm. Occasionally, they have had good games where they control the majority of play, but those have been rare this season.
For those wondering if Slava Voynov‘s absence on the blue line is affecting the team, the answer is not really. In the six games prior to his arrest and suspension, Voynov had negative corsi rel numbers. In other words, he was hindering the team instead of helping it. Even a year ago, while playing all 82 games, Voynov had negative corsi rel numbers.
One of the problems they were (and still are) having is the presence of Robyn Regehr. In 21 games played, the team has allowed more shot attempts with him on the ice than they do with him off the ice. His negative corsi rel of 8.46 means that the teams is giving up an average of ~8 shots a game with him on the ice at 5v5. It was similar last season when the best possession team in the NHL gave up ~5 shots per game with him on the ice. If you compare that to someone like say, Matt Greene, the team is only giving up 3 shots a game while he’s on the ice. To put it bluntly, Regehr is slow and not very good.
Without proper context, these numbers don’t mean a lot, especially on an elite possession team that features corsi demi-gods Jake Muzzin, Kopitar and Williams. But they are one piece to help explain why Kings seem to be struggling.
For what it’s worth, Kopitar and Williams are both doing well in corsi rel. However, their offense is lagging. Part of that is due to poor shooting luck. So far, it’s mostly been on the second line (the so-called “’70s line” which has cooled off significantly since their hot start in October). Part of their shooting luck could be attributed to their linemates. Jarret Stoll is (probably) a great person but he’s not a very good hockey player anymore. He’s been declining over the last few years and is now completely dragging his team down. His possession numbers stink this year (they’re terrible in a relatively small sample), have gotten worse over the past couple seasons and don’t seem to be rebounding. According to Andrew Lifland from the blog Jewels from the Crown, Stoll “has gotten absolutely crushed” when he’s not playing with Williams.
All in all, the Kings have a lot of talent. But with aging centers hurting them, their chances at making the playoffs are getting slimmer and their chances of repeating are becoming nearly improbable (nothing is impossible with this team). They’ve only played 24 games so far this season, so there’s a lot of time to turn things around. However, it’d be better if they didn’t have to rely on their goalies to widen the margin of error and if they could start looking like the champions they are.
The Blackhawks are in a similar position as the Kings, yet they’re still leading the league in corsi and fenwick for % (same thing as corsi, minus blocked shots). While it’s human nature to coast and procrastinate, you still have to get in before you can totally relax.