Though puck possession has been the key to the Kings game over the last few seasons, it appears Los Angeles has taken a step backwards. If they can't get their game back, it could spell an early exit come playoff time.
There’s something unusually wrong with the Los Angeles Kings this season. That they’ve won only 13 of their first 25 games (three less than last season) should tip you off and watching them play only confirms it. Since swapping
Jeff Carter for
Jack Johnson in 2012, no team has had the puck on their collective sticks more than the Kings. Puck possession has been their calling card and they’ve played more games than any other team as a result, collecting two Stanley Cups in the process. This season, that’s all changed. The Kings have been downright average generating only 50.9 percent of the shot attempts during 5-on-5 play. It gets worse when the game is close as the Kings drop to 47.5 percent of shot attempts, good for 23rd in the league. That’s a far cry from last year’s league leading mark of 57.2 and it’s the biggest drop for any team this season.
The problem with the Kings starts with what’s changed. They may have only lost
Willie Mitchell in the off-season, but that’s forced them to play
Robyn Regehr, by far their worst defender last season. Couple that with an injury to
Alec Martinez and a long (and deserved) suspension to
Slava Voynov and the defensive depth that was their strength last season is gone. Looking at individual changes from year-to-year shows how the lack of depth has affected the team. Here’s a Corsi comparison between the lineup the Kings iced yesterday against the Bruins, and the one they had in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final.
Last season’s lowest possession player was
Trevor Lewis at 53.2. Just seven of 18 Kings this year are above that and almost everyone has experienced a drop. It seems that the lack of defensive depth is dragging everyone down. Last season featured three very capable pairings, this year there’s only one. But that doesn’t explain everything. Many players have taken giant steps back and are dragging teammates down when they’re on the ice together. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact problems, but it seems to be a collective issue of depth. What’s plain to see is that the bottom of the roster has not been championship caliber. Separating Corsi into its component parts shows just how far every player has fallen this season on both sides of the puck. Every single player is seeing more shot attempts against this season, and everyone besides
Marian Gaborik and Lewis is generating less shot attempts for.
The biggest drop-offs seem to be coming from the guys who play a hard-nosed game as well as some of the older players. Perhaps this is the price the Kings have to pay for their heavy style of play. It’s possible that what we’re seeing with the Kings are fatigue effects with bodies wearing down after playing so many hard-fought games. It’s the kind of high-intensity style of play that wins championships. Looking at past Cup winners shows just that. Of the last six Cup winners, five were playing at a very high level just before the playoffs and aside from the Blackhawks who won in a lockout-shortened season, they all had a significant drop-off the next season.
Call it a Stanley Cup hangover if you want, but it’s just too difficult to maintain that kind of play for long stretches. And after winning it all, teams like the Kings might be saving some of it for the next playoff run. Then again, no team has fallen harder than they have, so there’s cause for concern. If they don’t get their game back into shape, they could be getting more rest than they’re used to this spring.