Kings vs. Blackhawks: What's Causing LA's Jekyll-and-Hyde Act in the Playoffs?

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Kings vs. Blackhawks: What's Causing LA's Jekyll-and-Hyde Act in the Playoffs?

There are two different versions of the 2013 Los Angeles Kings.

The first is unbeatable on home ice, and the second has so much trouble duplicating that same success on the road.

This Jekyll-and-Hyde act has been one of the most prominent storylines surrounding the Kings this year. Los Angeles was 19-4-1 at Staples Center during the regular season, but it was only able to earn the fifth seed in the Western Conference because of its 8-12-4 record on the road.

This same trend has continued in the playoffs. The Kings have won all eight of their home matchups and lost seven of their eight road games.

For a chance to break the 1987-88 Edmonton Oilers' record of 11 straight home playoff victories in a single season, the Kings will have to win at least once on the road in their Western Conference Finals series against the Chicago Blackhawks.

The defending champions won the final regular-season meeting between these two teams in Chicago, but they were unable to take either of the first two games of the conference finals.

Kings forward Justin Williams had this to say to LA Kings Insider after his team's 3-1 Game 3 victory on Tuesday:

We’re going to have to eventually win one [in Chicago]. That’s not our focus right now.

I can’t explain why we’re unbeaten at home or why we were 10-1 last year. As you know, we’ve cut it in half. Now it’s important for us to even it up. Eventually, as you said, we’re going to have to win one there. We’re not focused on that yet. We’re focused on Thursday.

Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick, who played a brilliant game on Tuesday, also shared his thoughts with LA Kings Insider on the team's home winning streak.

We’ve kind of been forced to win at home just because we haven’t played as well on the road. We don’t put too much thought into the streak or anything like that. Every time we come here, we’re just trying to win one game.

Why are the Kings having lots of success at home and very little on the road? Let's take an in-depth look at the issue.

 

Great First Periods at Home, Not So Much on the Road

Good starts in front of the hometown fans that energize the building are essential in the playoffs. To its credit, Los Angeles has dominated teams in the first period of games during the postseason and the final few weeks of the regular season.

In their 15-game winning streak at Staples Center (including the last seven games of the regular season), the Kings have not given up a first-period goal in 14 of those matchups while outscoring the opponent, 15-2, in the first 20 minutes during that span.

Los Angeles has now gone six straight home games without giving up a first-period goal. Quick doesn't need a lot of offensive support to win games in the playoffs, and when he's given an early lead, his team's chances of winning are dramatically increased.

In these playoffs, the Kings are 8-2 when they score first and 1-5 when they don't, which proves how important it is for them to be consistent in the opening period, regardless of which city the team is playing in.

Los Angeles has not won a single game in the playoffs when trailing going into the first intermission, and all of its losses in that scenario have occurred on the road.

On the road, the Kings have given up a total of six goals in the first period, including a goal allowed in the opening 20 minutes of five of the team's eight games away from home. The defending champs have lost every road playoff game this year when they have given up a first-period goal (0-5).

Whether it's confidence, the comfort of being at home with family and friends or getting a boost from the home fans, the Kings start games much better at Staples Center in comparison to playing on the road.

 

Penalty Killing Has Been Weaker at Home Compared to the Road

Harry How/Getty Images

Strong penalty killing is a key component of every Stanley Cup champion.

When the Kings won the championship last year, they led the postseason in penalty killing percentage (tied with St. Louis Blues at 92.1 percent). In this year's playoffs, Los Angeles has killed just 86.3 percent of its penalties (only the Boston Bruins have a worse success rate among the conference finalists).

At home, the Kings have allowed just one power-play goal in 21 short-handed opportunities. On the road, they have five power-play goals against in 29 short-handed situations.

Five of the Kings' road losses included a power-play goal against, and in the second round against the San Jose Sharks, the defending champs killed only 71 percent of their penalties away from home.

However, the Kings have killed off their last 16 penalties at home, including a perfect 2-of-2 mark in Game 3 against the Blackhawks on Tuesday.

If Los Angeles doesn't kill penalties more consistently on the road in this Western Conference finals, its championship defense will not advance past this round.

 

Lack of Scoring on the Road

Harry How/Getty Images

The Kings have scored three or more goals four times at home in this year's playoffs. But this team has scored three-plus goals just once on the road, when the Kings won an important Game 5 in overtime (3-2) during the first round against the St. Louis Blues.

In six of Los Angeles' eight road games, it has scored just one goal. Even though Quick is arguably the best goaltender in the world, forcing him to shut out the opponent on the road for his team to have a strong chance of winning is not a successful formula, especially when clubs like the Sharks and Blackhawks have tons of offensive skill.

Here's how the Kings' goal-scoring compares at home and on the road:

  GF/G
Home 2.625
Road 1.375

The defending champs rank fourth among the conference finalists with an average of 2.00 goals scored per game.

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With that said, the Kings do have impressive offensive players who are capable of scoring big playoff goals, such as Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Penner.

But the only player among this trio of stars who has scored a goal on the road in this year's playoffs is Brown (two), which isn't good enough for veteran guys who each played an important role in L.A.'s title run in 2012.

To win the Stanley Cup, the best players must perform at a high level on the road. This hasn't happened for the Kings in the postseason so far, and if it continues, the Blackhawks will win the Western Conference.

 

Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he is also a credentialed writer at the 2013 NHL playoffs in Boston.

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