What We Learned: Why aren't the LA Kings doing better?

Dec 20, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings center Trevor Lewis (22) celebrates after scoring a goal with an assist by center Tyler Toffoli (73) in the third period of the game at Staples Center. Kings won 4-2. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)
Dec 20, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Kings center Trevor Lewis (22) celebrates after scoring a goal with an assist by center Tyler Toffoli (73) in the third period of the game at Staples Center. Kings won 4-2. (Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)

Right now, the Los Angeles Kings are safely ensconced in a playoff spot, which is something you'd expect from a reigning Stanley Cup champion which returned just about everyone. But the fact is that that their grip on a wild card spot has been tenuous at best for some time now, with the club rarely gaining more than three or four points on the ninth-place team in the West.

And it doesn't make a lot of sense.

On paper, they're just as good as they were last year, more or less, when they were a 100-point club. In fact, some of their young players who are still in a position to be considered up-and-coming have developed nicely this year, and Jonathan Quick to this point has been playing some of the best hockey in his career, posting a .923 save percentage in 27 games.

Yet the Kings are pretty much “just okay.” Having 40 points from 34 games really isn't that impressive; the Maple Leafs are better than that. So one has to wonder what, exactly, gives here? Why isn't this team, which has in fact improved from the majority of last season (in theory) simply by adding Marian Gaborik on his bargain contract, in better shape than a shoddy Vancouver team?

The first thing you have to say, though, is that they were very lucky to start the year overall; the first month and a half of the season saw them hovering right around even (50.8 percent) in terms of possession, which is not where the Kings really ought to be. And during that time, they went 9-5-4. Fair enough, you take a .611 win percentage even when you're playing well. It's a 100.2-point pace for the year, which is right around what they were last season. Goaltending, led by Quick, was basically keeping them afloat with an even-strength save percentage north of .940.

And since that time, they've improved significantly, rising from the middle of the pack to the top of the heap in terms of possession: a league-best corsi-for of 56.3 percent over the last 15 games. And yet, their record in that stretch has been just 8-6-2. Bad luck isn't at issue here, though. Nor is the understandably impactful (also: deserved) loss of Slava Voynov, who might never play a game for them again. The Kings have been dominant but not winning as much as they should, and you can't say the goalies' dropoff (to .922 at 5-on-5) is solely to blame. The Kings have been stumbling along at a 92-point pace or so since mid-November, when they've been otherwise killing their opponents. They're not not-getting bounces, and they weren't getting a ton of them before this downturn.

The real issue for the Kings seems to be that they are piping hot garbage away from home. At least, that's what the numbers would have you believe. Their home record is 13-4-1, and away from Staples Center they've gone just 4-7-5. That's a dropoff in points-per-game of almost half (1.5 to 0.825). But here's the thing: It really shouldn't be going this badly on the road. Overall their goal differential at home (50-32) versus on the road (43-49) tells a bit of a story, but at even-strength not so much: plus-8 in LA, plus-3 not-in LA.

Which says a lot about special teams. The Kings' net special teams — power play and shorthanded scored, minus power play and shorthanded goals allowed — just haven't been good enough overall, at only plus-3 and 12th in the NHL, and their combined percentage (48.95) is just 20th, though the latter discounts their shorthanded scoring proficiency.

It gets worse away from home. Their goal differential on special teams is tied for fourth-worst in the league (behind only Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Boston) at minus-7, and their overall conversion rate on special teams is at just 43.1 percent, 28th in the league. That is to say, they've been positively dreadful on both ends of the ice in penalty situations away from home. Their road penalty kill is 73.2 percent, a huge dropoff from 86.9 percent at home. That's seven extra goals allowed, and when you consider that they've scored 10 more power play goals for themselves at home versus on the road, the difference becomes even starker.

We spend a lot of time worried about why teams are or aren't good at even strength, because that's the situation in which the vast majority of even the most penalty-filled hockey game is played. But when the difference in quality for your special teams is that dramatic and dependent upon venue, it's going to have a major impact on your ability to win. The Kings are minus-6 in all situations for goal differential on the road, and plus-17 at home.

But because we have these advanced stats sites like War on Ice, we can find out that, hey, the Kings have been really unlucky shooting on the power play away from home (7.1 percent, 26th in the league, and behind notables Boston and Minnesota teams that have been “inexplicably” bad this year). At home their power play shoots 15.9 percent. Meanwhile, the Kings' goaltenders are stopping just .786 on the PK on the road (29th), and .901 at home (13th).

For these reasons, I think it's safe to say that if the Kings were to quote-unquote Figure It Out in terms of getting some bounces in the extremely small-sample minutes of something as relatively minor as “road special teams play” — as they're a little better than league average in terms of both drawing and committing penalties away from home — then they're going to be dominant overall once again.

After all, they're the Kings. And the Kings are one of the best teams in the league. Except in away 5-on-4 or 4-on-5 situations, apparently.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: I'm so glad Ilya Bryzgalov is back in the league. So glad everyone can blame him when the team stinks.

Arizona Coyotes: Dave Tippet has now coached 900 games in the NHL, making him 30th to hit that number. His next regulation loss will only be his 300th. That's nuts.

Boston Bruins: The Bruins are bad. They have been bad all season. No one is going to fix this team with any great amount of ease. No trades can be made to sort this out. Sorry.

Buffalo Sabres: Mikhail Grigorenko is back up once again for another run-out with Buffalo. He'll be back in Rochester soon, regardless of performance quality.

Calgary Flames: The Flames are 0-7-1 since some handsome genius wrote that they were bad and would start losing any minute. Bob Hartley's prescription? Hard work, baby!

Carolina Hurricanes: Well as long as we're talking about trading everyone on the Hurricanes, might as well take a run at a few options.

Chicago Blackhawks: Do you think there's anything that's less of a concern for the Blackhawks than their 18 percent power play right now? They're the best team in the league by a mile. Everything will work itself out.

Colorado Avalanche: Gabe Landeskog is a beautiful boy who has been coached to be an NHL captain since the age of 12.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets are 8-0-1 in their last nine. They're getting outshot by almost 11 a night over that stretch but, uh, “Bring it, Hockey Gods.” Shout out to Sergei Bobrovsky, though: .940 save percentage in December.

Dallas Stars: The Stars have no plans to move their AHL team, but they might want to move their AHL defense out of Dallas.

Detroit Red Wings: Hahahaha. Hoo boy. What a headline. What a premise.

Edmonton Oilers: Now they're healthy-scratching young Leon Draisaitl. Good thing you didn't send him back to junior this year, or loan him to the German team, or something.

Florida Panthers: You think Willie Mitchell is gonna get suspended for hitting an opponent with his own helmet in a fight? Naaaaah.

Los Angeles Kings: Another thing that's going to help the Kings turn things around is that they're in a division with Arizona, Calgary, and Edmonton.

Minnesota Wild: Absolutely crazy game in Minnesota on Saturday, which the Wild ended up losing to Nashville. Started out 2-1 Wild in the first 6:37. Ended the first period 3-2 Nashville. It was 3-3 after 40, then 5-3 after 50. Then 5-5 after 60. Mattias Ekholm scored at 1:45 of OT. You know things are weird when even Thomas Vanek scores.

Montreal Canadiens: It's amazing that in 2014 people continue to put on blackface like, “Yeah what could possibly be bad about this?”

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: Pekka Rinne is up to 21 wins for the season. Wins are of course the most meaningless of goaltender stats, but considering he only won 25 games in the previous two seasons, I'd say he's off to a decent start.

New Jersey Devils: I honestly can't believe Peter DeBoer hasn't been fired yet.

New York Islanders: The Isles scored three goals in the final 3:09 to beat an excellent Tampa team 3-1. In my opinion the Islanders are also good.

New York Rangers: A one-year extension for Cam Talbot. Kid has a .936 save percentage over 28 career games. Not bad for a former Alabama-Huntsville Charger. And he didn't even put up numbers like that in college.

Ottawa Senators: Hit of the year nominee in the Ducks/Senators game Friday, thrown by … linesman Michel Cormier.

Philadelphia Flyers: Rob Zepp, huh? I saw Rob Zepp play for Lowell in the AHL about 100000 years ago and assumed he had retired from the sport. Turns out he's on the Flyers now? And getting his first-ever NHL start? Hockey, I guess.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Not one but two embellishment penalties for Evgeni Malkin on Saturday. I wonder what the league record for a single game is. Gotta be two.

San Jose Sharks: Sharks are on eight straight wins. Clearly a team that needed a rebuild this summer. Glad they went through it.

St. Louis Blues: Trying to strangle a 2-1 win out of the Sharks is always going to be ill-advised, by the way.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Yeah, the Bolts lost 3-1 to the Islanders on that late collapse, but super-prospect Andrei Vasilevskiy made 45 saves so it's not all bad. Just mostly bad.

Toronto Maple Leafs: If Dallas Eakins goes back to Toronto can we safely say that the last two years were all some sort of inside job by Brian Burke-affiliated people to humiliate Kevin Lowe? I believe the answer is yes.

Vancouver Canucks: Maybe if a guy collapses on the bench you don't put him right into the next stupid game the team plays.

Washington Capitals: The Caps are another team on a big run here: They're 6-0-2 in their last eight. And are now talking about “trap games” against Ottawa without a hint of irony.

Winnipeg Jets: More bad leadership from Evander Kane, who wants his team to win but only before Christmas and presumably not after!!!!

Play of the Weekend

Yeah this kid needs to play more defense to get his team going in the right direction.

Gold Star Award

Dec 20, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux (28) celebrates his goal in the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)
Dec 20, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux (28) celebrates his goal in the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. (Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek both had four points on Saturday against the Leafs. They're running 1-2 in league scoring right now.

Minus of the Weekend

Calgary's regression is right on track here.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “backhandsauce” is getting bold.

Taylor Hall for Claude Giroux

Straight up.

Would you?

“Yes,” says Craig MacTavish, a man without a center.

Signoff
Guess I'm not all smart like you.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here