Darryl Sutter’s Los Angeles teams have remained successful despite low goal totals over the past four years, and despite being shutout in their past three games, the Kings style of play has been as effective as ever.
Following three straight shutout losses, a stretch of goal scoring futility that saw the team match a nearly 50-year-old franchise record, there are starting to be some concerns about the Los Angeles Kings.
It’s not hard to understand where the worries are coming from, either, as they’re not solely based on the three-straight scoreless outings.
Through 10 games, the Kings have only mustered 19 goals, they rank second to last in goals per game and only one player, Tanner Pearson, has more than a pair of markers. The scoring potential that could have been there for the Kings hasn’t shown up. An injury has sidelined one of the more dynamic offensive players in Marian Gaborik. And, to make matters worse, the inability to find the back of the net has been exacerbated by the dire injury situation in goal that has seen Peter Budaj as the Kings’ starting goaltender for the better part of the past month.
It was clear after Tuesday night’s loss the team is troubled by the fact that the offense has flatlined and nothing is going in right now. According to LA Kings Insider’s Jon Rosen, Anze Kopitar blamed the lack of offense on preparation, desperation and emotion. Matt Greene said the transition game hasn’t been up to the task. And Sutter succinctly said that the only way for the Kings to turn around the losing streak was to “score a goal.”
Asked what needs to happen for the Kings to be better, though, Sutter said there’s no secret recipe. Instead of talking about blending the lines, shaking up the lineup with a call-up from the AHL or making a trade to bring in some more offensive punch, Sutter simply said that sticking to the program was the only way to right the ship.
“Our game plan, it’s not going to change,” Sutter said following Tuesday's game, according to Rosen. “There’s nobody coming in on a white horse to play goal for us or score goals or to come up from Ontario. This is our team. I’ve said it early, meaning two or three games ago, and I’ll say it again. Our responsibility is not to use the injuries as an excuse. The responsibility is to try and stay in the race. That’s really clear, so we’ll do some work tomorrow and we’re going to get ready for the next game.”
Despite the fact that Kings fans might want to hear a solution, a plan or some sort of fix for what currently ails the team, Sutter’s right in both his sentiment and approach. There’s not an instant cure or a budding star in the AHL who would be able to make an impact. And in goal, where the Kings have their third- and fourth-string options as the only netminders in the NHL, no brilliant puck stopper is about to come along and help Los Angeles shake this funk.
And, really, that’s quite all right. Because despite their lack of scoring right now, the Kings are going to be just fine.
The thing about Los Angeles during Sutter’s tenure is that offensive hockey has never been their strong suit. Possession hockey? Definitely. But scoring goals in big numbers and beating teams in skill-over-substance fashion hasn’t been the foundation upon which Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi have built this club — not in years past and not this season, either.
While the goal scoring numbers are troubling, to be sure, underlying numbers indicate this Kings team is actually much the same as they have been for the past several seasons.
Between 2012-13 and 2015-16, the previous four full seasons in which Sutter has been coach, the Kings’ Corsi For percentage has been anywhere from 55.4 percent to 56.8 percent. Through 10 games in 2016-17, the Kings are at nearly 57 percent.
When it comes to shot attempts per game, Sutter’s teams have mustered between 58 and 63 per 60 minutes over the past four campaigns. So far this season, Los Angeles is moving along at 64.5 attempts per game.
And in terms of pucks that actually get on net, the Kings have had 55.5 percent of the 5-on-5 shots on goal, which is right in the 54.5-55.6 range Los Angeles has boasted over the course of the past four years.
So, why the struggle?
Well, it’s the underlying numbers that are more volatile — less based in play-style and more likely to balance out over the course of a campaign — where the Kings haven’t been so successful. Over the past four years, the Kings have averaged a 5-on-5 shooting percentage of 7.1 percent. This season’s shooting percentage is a mere 4.5 percent. And Los Angeles’ PDO, or combined shooting and save percentage, is a meager 95.8, a far cry from the 99.8 average over the past four years.
Really, the only true area of concern for the Kings is their ability to generate scoring chances. Los Angeles has had a scoring chances for percentage of 54.3 percent over the past four seasons, generating an average 8.5 for and allowing 7.1 against per 60 minutes from 2012-13 to 2015-16. However, the percentage has dipped to 47.5 in the early season and the for and against totals have flipped. For a team that has the puck as often as the Kings, though, there’s a fair chance that the scoring chances, too, will revert back to the totals of previous years.
All of this is to say that the biggest issues in Los Angeles right now aren’t based in a team struggling to play effective hockey, but rather in bad luck. The Kings simply haven’t been able to catch a break or bounce. But if they stick to the game plan, as Sutter suggests, the turnaround — and, yes, the goals — should come in short order for Los Angeles.
(All advanced statistics via Corsica)
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