Photo by Mark J. Terrill
The Los Angeles Kings still have a lot to figure out if they hope to hang onto a playoff spot in the Western Conference.
LA has all the pieces to make it to the postseason to try to repeat. Darryl Sutter’s team is fast, they’re big, they’re skilled, but they’re also still fighting their way out of a hole the dug back in December and January and that battle has been taxing.
There are 14 games left in the season. LA needs upward of 90-points if they want to still be on the ice come late-April. The Kings currently have 79-points after suffering a late loss to the Nashville Predators yesterday. Their loss combined with a Winnipeg Jets victory on Saturday was all it took for the two teams to trade places in the Western Conference Wild Card race.
The Kings will also be playing nine of their last 14 matchups on the road. Their road record currently stands at 12-14-6, which could be better, but it’s also not the worst. They’re going to need to figure out how to win on the road. Los Angeles will have a five-game road trip starting on March 23rd, at which point they will only have 11-games left in the regular season. There isn’t any room for the Kings to drop the ball on the road, not with the competition so close and how evenly matched every team from the Calgary Flames to the Minnesota Wild are.
As the season winds down, the role of the goaltender becomes increasingly important. After all, tired teams tend to make more mistakes, give up chances they wouldn’t have given up earlier in the season. With a save percentage of .914 on the season (just 0.001 less than his career average), Quick has been solid in net for the Kings, but the degree to which the remainder of the team depends on him could make it harder for LA endure through the remainder of the season.
The trend of relying on goalies is becoming increasingly common, especially for teams with who need to stay on top of each and every game if they hope to find themselves on the ice come late April. It’s like a goaltender bubble that will cause all sorts of trouble if it bursts.
The Boston Bruins are a good example. The Bruins are hot right now and are fighting for a play-off spot in the Eastern Conference. According to ESPN, as of March 12th, Bruins’ starting netminder, Tuukka Rask had played “23 of the last 25 games” and helped boost the Bruins into a Wild Card spot in the East. The pressure is there for starting netminders who have proven their abilities and that includes Jonathan Quick.
The Los Angeles Kings have a solid back-up. Martin Jones has started in net 13-times, the last time being February 27th in a game where the Kings lost the Anaheim Ducks. He also made a brief, seven-save appearance without allowing any goals against Winnipeg on March 1st. Jones has a .909 save percentage with 2.22 GAA for the season and has can be used to give Quick a break, which, might be good for the Kings in the long-run.
In addition to giving Jones a game or two, the Kings defense needs pace themselves to be on top of their game for all 60 minutes of play. That means Drew Doughty and Brayden McNabb, for example, have an even bigger role to play. There’s a lot of pucks getting through to Quick that shouldn’t be, especially late into the game. One of the things that makes the Calgary Flames so successful this season is their endurance. It gives them a better chance to come from behind, and takes some of the workload off of the goaltender.
It will also be imperative for the LA Kings to stay healthy. Forward Jarret Stoll was not on the roster for the Kings matchup against the Preds Saturday night. The Los Angeles Times reported that he was sidelined with an upper-body injury, but the coaching staff of the Kings did not disclose much more. Tanner Pearson has been on the IR since January 11th with a fractured tibia. Alec Martinez has also been on the IR, but LA Kings Insider reports that he joined the team for on-ice conditioning with associate coach John Stevens on March 13th at the Toyota Sports Center. Injuries are tough on any team, but LA needs each and every one of their players now more than ever.
Everything comes back to the Kings’ endurance. Los Angeles head coach Darryl Sutter told Los Angeles Daily News: “When’s the schedule over? April 11? There’s a big difference between being done April 11th and June 20th in terms of the athlete being able to recover for the following season.”
Sutter is right, it has been a very long season for the reigning Stanley Cup Champions full of ups and downs. I doubt the Kings would be upset if they’re still in it when June rolls around, but if they want to get there, they’re going to need to milk their stamina. LA can’t let the road tire them out, and they need to make sure Quick isn’t trying to carry this team all the way to the finish line, at least the finish line of the regular season.