Play Under Review: Crawling Back Into Sunlight
This LA Kings check-up is a couple games late, but it felt strange to essentially rehash the last snapshot with a little bit of winner flair at the end. So, here we are, just over a week back from their Olympic break. The Kings have won the their last five. They’re slowly erasing the sour taste of January from everyone’s palette. March is just getting started, meaning the LA boys still have plenty to prove as the regular season winds down, but they’re off to the right start.
Goal-scoring was the premiere Kings problem before the Olympics. Shooting at 7.5 percent this season puts them at 28th out of 30 teams, despite ranking 11th in shots for and holding strong with the third best shot differential in the league.
Some of that inability to finish before now has been due to bad luck. Since returning from break, that’s started to turn around. In their last 10 games, which includes being shut out by opponents twice, the Kings’ shooting percentage in consistent with their overall numbers. However, in their last five wins, the Kings managed to convert 11.7 percent of their official shots on goal into actual goals. They had a ridiculously high 21.4 shooting percentage in their 6-4 comeback win versus the Colorado Avalanche, but even the lowest of their last five — 8.3 percent vs the Calgary Flames — is an improvement over the heartbreaking low numbers earned during most of January.
At the beginning of the season, the power play and penalty kill started strong but both took detours into a land of suck after October. The amount of penalties the Kings take contributes to what hurts their kill, and they tend to allow a number of shots or fail to clear the defensive zone consistently. Power play goals against have glaring errors in a number of recent games, particularly the 4-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that saw a couple PP goals against take the Kings out of the game in the first period. The Kings also allowed three power play goals in the game against the Avalanche. Ugly.
What’s strange is that the power play hasn’t looked much better recently, but it’s somehow been just effective enough to matter. The Kings have scored three PP goals in the past four games, and the last two have been game-winners. More of that, please!
Anze Kopitar currently leads the team with 8 power play goals, tied with players like Patrick Sharp, Phil Kessel, and James Neal.
Another thing that’s helped the Kings start to win again is depth contribution. Kopitar and Carter aren’t the only people on the ice managing to make anything happen, and the most improved player in this last stretch has been captain Dustin Brown.
Brown’s had trouble scoring all season. By the end of January, he was also failing to drive plays and maintain possession, a element of his game that stayed consistent even though he couldn’t bury the puck. Since the Olympics, Brown has earned four points in four games. In the Kings’ five consecutive wins, his Corsi for was 62 percent at 5v5. He had a +13.9 relative CF percentage. Through the five games prior to the Kings OT win against Columbus, Brown was -9.7.
Now that the trade deadline’s passed, the Kings are heading into the Marian Gaborik era. Acquired from the Blue Jackets, Gaborik’s tied for 7th alongside Marian Hossa and Rick Nash for highest goals per game among active NHLers (with at least 400 games played). Based on his current shooting percentage and ice time, Jewels From the Crown estimates that Gaborik will score about six goals for the Kings before the end of the regular season. The Kings have already set a solid foundation for success coming out of the Olympic break. Hopefully Gaborik adapts quickly, stays healthy, and the team continues to build on current trends.