Six reasons Los Angeles Kings went from champs to chumps

Six reasons Los Angeles Kings went from champs to chumps

The Los Angeles Kings have become just the fifth team in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup and then miss the playoffs the following year.

This means nothing to most of their fans.

I get it. As a Devils fan, I’ve experienced the humbling humiliation of seeing my team win the Cup and then miss out of the playoffs, back in 1996. This royally sucked because the Devils’ 1995 Cup was in the lockout season, a.k.a. a season that allowed every Rangers fans in a ’94 Champions shirt to spout off about how that was actually New Jersey’s “Half-a-Cup.”

NO!” I’d protest, “there was nothing fluky or fraudulent about this championship and the start of our dynasty!”

And then the Devils missed the playoffs by two points, and all of those Rangers had their smoking gun of hockey fraudulence.

Had the Devils won two Cups in three seasons before that miss, like the Kings have … yeah, it would have mattered a hell of a lot less. After they won Cup No. 3 in 2003, I experienced a several-years run of “[expletive] you money” that made me Teflon to any playoff disappointment.

So I get the prevailing emotion I’ve experienced from many Kings fans that missing the playoffs in 2015 is like Meryl Streep failing to get an Oscar nomination. Two Cups, three years, both secured into their own historic fashion … yeah, this one smarts like a stubbed toe when otherwise it would feel like a MORTAL KOMBAT fatality.

That said: These are the Los Angeles Kings. These are the champs. This is the team we all figured just had to be in it to win it again, and they’re not in it.

So what happened to the 2014-15 Los Angeles Kings? Six factors behind their demise:

1. Everything After Regulation.

A team well-established as one of the most clutch groups in NHL history – all those Game 7s! – was the worst team in the League when it came to overtime and the shootout.

It’s been well-documented that the Kings were 2-8 in the shootout, as much as factor in their drop in the standings as anything else. But they were also 1-7 in overtime, a combined 3-15 record that was the worst in the NHL. That’s 36 points up for grabs, and the Kings collected 21 of them. They were also 0-8 in overtime and the shootout on the road, the only team in the NHL not to win a road OT/SO game.

2. Blowing Leads

Last season, when leading after two periods, the Los Angeles Kings lost three times in 30 games – a .900 winning percentage. That killer instinct was there in 2013 (19-1-2) and 2011-12 (28-0-6) as well.

This season? The Kings lost eight times – three in regulation, five in overtime/shootout – when leading after two periods, for a .771 winning percentage.

While it’s true other playoff teams like the Islanders (.781) and Predators (.771) had the same struggles, they more than made up for it in the overtime and shootout (14-10 for the Preds; 13-6 for the Islanders).

3. One-Goal Games

Much has been made of the Anaheim Ducks’ record in one-goal games: an astounding 32-1-7 (.800).

Not enough has been made of the Los Angeles Kings’ record in one-goal games: 13-9-15; strip away overtime and shootout results, and we’re talking about 10-9 in regulation one-goal games. That’s just not good enough.

4. Scattered Offense

The Kings were 19th in the NHL in goals-per-game at 2.64, which is right around both Pittsburgh and Montreal.  Not great, but not Buffalo, either.

But Drew Doughty had a telling quote about when those goals were scored, after the Kings were eliminated from playoff contention by the Calgary Flames on Thursday night:

I think a lot of the scoring was we’d be up two-nothing in a game and then we’d get three, four, five, six instead of scoring those big goals when you really needed them to either tie up the game or go up one goal. I think that was kind of what happened to us really with the season, but you can’t put it all on the scoring. There’s so many things that went into it. I really don’t know what to say. It’s just disappointing that we’re done.

He’s got a point: As bad as the Kings were in one-goal games, they won 14 two-goals games, tied with three other teams for best in the League. Twenty-six of their 39 wins were by a 2-goal or 3-goal margin.

Speaking of Doughty …

5. The Manpower Losses

There were four impactful personnel losses for the Kings during the season.

The first was Slava Voynov, as stomach-turning as it is to deal with his arrest for domestic violence charges in anything resembling “hockey terms.” But his actions, and subsequent suspension, took a 22-minute-a-night defenseman off the roster, forcing Drew Doughty to play more than 29 minutes per game on average and Brayden McNabb to play 70 games. The blue line depth was tested when Alec Martinez was hurt; the departure of Willie Mitchell as a free agent didn’t help.

Another big blow: The loss of Tanner Pearson to injury on January 10, as Along The Boards laments:

Pearson’s production was missed, but his absence also made an impact on the play of his linemates. With Pearson in the lineup, Carter and Toffoli both flourished, with Carter scoring 10 goals and 19 assists, and Toffoli contributing 12 goals and 15 assists. Once Pearson was injured, both “That 70’s Line” and the Kings hit a lapse in form, as Toffoli only scored 21 more points the remainder of the season, Carter hit a cold streak where his production was sporadic, and the team lost seven out of their first nine games with Pearson on the injured reserve

While Dwight King did fine as Pearson’s replacement on the second line, Pearson’s offense was sorely missed, as he scored only 10 fewer points than King’s 26 (13 goals, 13 assists) this season, while playing in 39 fewer games.

The last personnel headache was, frankly, one of GM Dean Lombardi’s making: Continuing on with the declining production of Mike Richards, rather than buying him out, as the 30-year-old center had 16 points in 53 games after 41 in 82, earning a burial in the American Hockey League for a good chunk of the season.

The Kings expected Richards to be able to do what he had done in previous playoff runs.

Hey, that sounds familiar …

6. They Couldn’t Flip The Switch

When you’re a team that won the Stanley Cup out of the eight seed in 2012 and rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a series last spring, you’re a team that feels like it can do anything when it decides it’s time to get the job done.

On Feb. 10, the Kings were 23-18-12 for 58 points. They were 11th in the Pacific.

The Flames? They were 30-21-3, and went 15-8-4 the rest of the way.

The Jets? They were 28-18-10, and went 14-11-3 the rest of the way.

The Kings? They went 16-9-3 the rest of the way. Good, but not good enough considering the deficit.

They flipped the switch, turned on the machine … but couldn’t produce two must-needed victories over the Oilers and Flames.

And now they’ve vacated the throne.