With only a few games left and the Los Angeles Kings firmly entrenched in a playoff spot by a considerable margin, making the postseason is almost a given (it's not over til it's over, though...).
However, the defending champs haven't exactly been in prime form in recent games. Some puzzling results, like lackluster losses to Phoenix and Dallas, a near-miss shootout win against Colorado and a dominant performance that somehow resulted in a loss against Anaheim have left some a little apprehensive.
There have been a few key elements of the game that seem to be kinking the team up when it comes to putting together dominant 60-minute performances. Here's a brief look at what needs to be addressed if the team wants to peak in the postseason.
The Kings have been outstanding at home, dropping just four games in regulation. However, when it comes to playing on the road, they have been less than stellar. An 8-10-3 record certainly speaks to that.
The team possesses a plus-25 goal differential at home but a minus-10 on the road. It's also not the goals for that is the big difference, but the goals against. While the team has scored just six fewer goals on the road than at home, they have given up a staggering 28 more goals on the road than at home.
More on the point of goals-against differences, the team on the road is killing penalties at a 78 percent clip compared to an 87 percent rate at home. The team also had 20 more penalties on the road than at home, which is about an extra one or two power plays a game for opponents.
Quite simply, the Kings need to get their road act together. This was a team that lost just one game in the playoffs last year, which was an integral part to its success. That swagger needs to come back, and that mentality of road warriors needs to return.
Getting out of the gate well has been a bit of a problem this year for the Kings, and it's been very influential in how the results have gone.
The Kings, in 42 games, have trailed after the first 20 times. Yes, 20. They've scored a significantly fewer amount of goals in the first period compared to the second and third, and when trailing after one period, they hold just a 6-12-2 record.
On the flip side, when the Kings lead after one period, they are the best team in hockey. They have lost just two games all season when leading after one and are in the top 10 in second-period goals and top five in third-period goals.
It's key that the Kings play a stronger first period. It's been a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde act for the team thus far, and you never know which team will show up. Will it be the sleepwalkers or the dominators? It's literally been a coin flip.
It's really hard to be on the case of Jonathan Quick. He had such a stellar year last year and carried the team through thick and thin.
This year, it's been more of a struggle for the former Conn Smythe winner. An injury recovery has been part of the equation, as has a younger defense and also a higher scoring offense. Despite a little more inexperience at the back end, the Kings still give up the fourth-fewest shots in the league.
As Darryl Sutter has indicated before, save percentage doesn't lie, and Quick's has been awful. He's had 32 starts for the team this season and is still just under .900 save percentage on the year, with mixed results happening all the time. He will have big one- and two-goal, 30-save efforts combined with four- and five-goal, 20-save efforts.
It's hard to know what the problem really is with the Kings young goaltender, but his role as the starter in the playoffs will be heavily relied upon. Jonathan Bernier has been the better goaltender this year arguably, but it's hard to imagine a Kings Cup repeat with Bernier in net, or Quick continuing his floundering form.