Those numbers, in order, 21, 6 and 4. That is what the Kings (21-18-12 with 54 points) have to go (21-6-4) to get to 100 points, the key mark in order to make the playoffs in the Western Conference, or at least get to 100 percent probability to make the postseason according to the website. Right now, the kings are at a 26.3 percent shot to make the postseason on sportsclubstats.com. D’oh.
This is certainly doable for the uber-talented defending champions, who are on pace for 86 points at the moment and are mired in a 2-5-3 stretch right now, a point that will likely end and push the Kings in an upward direction.
But we’ve been saying that for a while – that they’re going to go on one of these epic tears and make the playoffs. It seemed so likely when they came from behind to beat Chicago in their first game out of the All-Star break. But since then the Kings have not won a game, or even lost in OT or a shootout.
Los Angeles has been off this year. Defensively, they were a rock last season at 2.05 goals per-game allowed, a hallmark of a Darryl Sutter coached team. This year? They’re allowing 2.59 goals per-game, ranking 15th and worse than New Jersey.
The Kings’ penalty kill is 77.8 percent – ranking 26th in the NHL. Last year they ranked 11th at 83.1 percent.
It’s always a great day when Kings general manager Dean Lombardi spouts off to lakingsinsider.com. And we have one of those golden moments below:
“I hear you people say it all the time,” General Manager Dean Lombardi said. “You don’t even have to be the general manager or coach to get a feel for a room, right? And you guys have been around long enough, and you can sense it. It’s weird. But you know what? It’s not weird, because 50 years from now with these brain scans and understanding of neutrinos, we’re going to find out that there is a scientific basis for that innate feeling we get that we can’t explain.”
If you had Lombardi talking about neutrinos for 50, then you won!
Of course, there's also a chance this could happen, and make Lombardi look like a genius:
This would be the NHL's version of the Knicks drafting Patrick Ewing or the Spurs landing Tim Duncan.
But in all sincerity we list three reasons why the Kings won’t make the playoffs and three reasons why they will.
Reasons for dread
1. A slumbering Anze Kopitar
The Kings center was an All-Star. He’s still considered one of the best players in the NHL. But he’s having a down year. He’s on pace for 18 goals which would be a career full-season low. He’s on pace for 64 points, which would be the second-lowest of his career. His puck possession stats have also dropped. His 5-on-5 on-ice Corsi last season was plus-25.24 this year he is plus-15.14 per behindthenet.ca. Granted, these are still good numbers, but the Kings are used to a higher level of production from the big Slovenian. He has been good enough this year, but not consistently elite, and that’s a major problem. Why? It could be one of many issues. If the Kings want to push forward, they need Kopitar to become Kopitar again.
2. Slava Voynov uncertainty lingers
The NHL enabled the Kings to have Voynov’s $4.167 million salary cap hit off the books so they could make further moves. Huzzah! But this is phantom cap space. What if Voynov is cleared in court for charges of domestic violence and gets unsuspended by the NHL? If the Kings used that space for an acquisition, they’d have to move around several pieces to get back under the cap – per NHLNumbers, their cap situation is not great right around the league’s $69 million salary cap. But using Voynov’s absence as an excuse on-ice is misguided. This is a team with Drew Doughty, Robyn Regehr, Matt Greene, Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin on D. They have good players back there. But Voynov’s spot makes it tough for Lombardi to make any of his trademark deals at the trade deadline.
3. Jonathan Quick has not been Jonathan Quick
And honestly, he hasn’t been Quick in the regular season for some time. Go to the playoffs, he’s the world’s greatest goaltender. Since 2011-12, he’s been an OK regular season netminder. This year he has a 2.52 goals against average and .909 save percentage. Does not having the veteran likes of Willie Mitchell (or Voynov for that matter) in front of him and a loafing Kopitar this year make Quick more ordinary? Perhaps. A goaltender often merits a lot of unnecessary blame. But he hasn’t had a lights out regular season since the Kings first Cup when he had a 1.95 GAA and .929 save percentage.
Reasons for hope
1. The teams in front of the Kings are due to regress to their preseason predicted norm
The Kings are seven points behind Calgary, eight behind Winnipeg and five behind Vancouver. All these squads (all in playoff spots right now) were not exactly supposed to be as good as they’ve been all year. And they’re still surprising us all, in spite of how many of us feel that the switch will eventually turn off. The Canucks have been a meandering .500 team in their last 10. The Jets have a mess on their hands with Evander Kane, which could fracture the locker room and create a distraction. The Flames have somehow stayed hot. We’re waiting for the grind of the NHL season to catch up with Johnny Gaudreau. But it hasn’t and it may not. Still, one of these teams is due to start losing at some point. All it takes is just one.
2. They always do this
In 2011-12 from March 11 through April 7, the Kings picked up points in 12 of their final 14 games to grind their way into the playoffs as an eighth seed and win the Stanley Cup. Last season they had the sixth-best point total in the Western Conference at 100. This could happen again with them. This team has a formula … and it seems to work. This involves (meh) regular seasons and turning it up at the right time.
3. Lombardi does his thing
Lombardi tends makes a big move to push the Kings forward and closer to the playoffs. While the Voynov situation harms this somewhat, you know he’s trying to search for every angle humanly possible to make Los Angeles better. In 2011-12 he made the deal for Jeff Carter. Last season he got Marian Gaborik from Columbus. When talking to The Insider for a separate blog, Lombardi tried to lower expectations:
“Well, that’s the problem right there. Everybody thinks, ‘Well, we’re going to pull another rabbit out of a hat,’”
“When you look at the names a year later and take the emotion out of it – I told you that before, go back three or four years – there have only been three deals that have really been game-changers,” he said. “But you run across the ticker and fourth-line guys become Gordie Howe.”
This year, he will do something. But could you imagine this team misses the playoffs and gets the No. 1 pick and lands Connor McDavid? Sorry Buffalo. It would be a King dynasty for eternity.
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