Los Angeles Kings: 5 Keys To Locking Up Home Ice in the First Round
The Los Angeles Kings have been one of the more surprising teams of the year, and not in the way their fans would like. Despite being a heavy favorite to finally end the Sharks reign atop the Pacific Division and at one point in October being the number-1 team in the entire NHL, the Kings have struggled in a number of areas this season, which has led to them often times fighting to stay in the top 8 of the Western Conference.
The Kings now sit in a four-way tie for fourth in the West on 81 points, which would seem like a good place to be in, however they're only two points ahead of 9th place and a disappointing early summer. But that being said the Kings look like they'll be in the playoffs this spring for the second straight year and even have a shot at locking up a home ice advantage.
However in order for them to lock up this position they need to address a few flaws in their game. Here are 5 things the Los Angeles Kings need to do in order to seal down a quarter-final series that starts in their building.
1. Special Teams
The Kings have had a very up-and-down season when it comes to their special teams.
Their power play has not been good, to say the least. They're clicking at 17.1%, a rate good enough for 17th in the league, and it's been worse at different points of this season. When you watch a Los Angeles power play, it's pretty easy to see why: there's very little player movement, no cycling, very predictable passing, and a pretty obvious hesitation to shoot the puck. The result has seen any team with a decent penalty kill cutting off the passing lanes the Kings have grown to depend on so much, essentially rendering the Kings extra-man units ineffective.
But as bad as the power play has been, the Kings have been great on the penalty kill. This group sits 6th in the NHL with an 84.9% success rate. From my experiences of watching them, they're very fast and extremely aggressive on the penalty kill. They have great killing defensemen in guys like Jack Johnson and Rob Scuderi, and their play in front of Jon Quick has made them a pretty good team when they're forced to play short-handed.
If the Kings want to have a chance at taking home-ice in the first round, they need to keep up their decent penalty kill and work to improve their mediocre power play, because anybody will tell you special teams are a massive part of any team's game.
2. Dustin Penner
The trade between the Kings and the Edmonton Oilers that sent Dustin Penner to "Hockeywood" was arguably the biggest blockbuster on Deadline day, and it can even be said that it made the Kings the biggest winners of the deadline dealing. Since joining the Kings, Penner has notched a goal and two assists in four games, which is by no means bad.
That being said the Kings are really hoping Penner will turn into a point-per-game type of scorer, something that they haven't been able to find this season with guys like Kopitar, Williams, and Richardson having good years, but not producing on a consistent basis.
The Kings needed to pick up an offensive stalwart at the trade deadline to really secure their offensive ranks, and their definitely went out and did that. Now it's up to Dustin Penner to make their investment worth it over the remainder of this season. He needs to stay consistent and keep putting up points on the board for Los Angeles to keep their offensive production on track if they want to have any chance at making the playoffs in about three weeks' time.
3. Goaltending Consistency
The goaltending performances from the tandem of Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier has been a definite bright spot of the Los Angeles season this year. Thanks to their stellar performances, combined with a great young defense corps, the Kings have only allowed an average of 2.41 goals per game.
I have no complaints as to the Los Angeles goaltending, in fact like I said it's been great. That being said it needs to stay that way. The Kings have had the luxury this season of giving Quick a few more nights off, having played 49 games so far this season, a number much lower than where he sat was last year. Having a backup goaltender the Kings can trust has been a great situation for Los Angeles. As long as the goaltending can stay healthy and consistent, the Kings will have a great chance at winning home ice advantage for the first round.
4. Offensive Depth
The Los Angeles Kings have no players with 30 goals yet this season, in fact their leading scorer, Anze Kopitar, only has 24. But that being said they have four players who have reached the 20-goal plateau. They're winning games, but they're not winning them by scoring large numbers of goals. In fact their average of 2.61 goals-per-game is 21st in the National Hockey League. Thus, they're winning a lot of games by 1-0 or 2-1 scores. Their ability to win these games is a big plus, but their offensive production needs to increase if they want to have any chance in the playoffs.
The addition of Dustin Penner will help with that production, but they will need to be able to score more goals to keep up with the offensive productions of teams like Detroit, Vancouver, or Chicago, the latter of which could very likely be their first-round match-up in this year's playoffs.
5. Keep Winning
It's been the same way all season long - the Western Conference is an absolute log jam where one game can change your fate completely. As stated previously in this slideshow the Kings are currently caught up in a four-way tie for the fourth position, and sit only two points ahead of ninth place. At this point, not winning night-after-night is not an option, despite the fact . It may not be possible to win each and every game, but with things so tight, every point counts. This is true all through the West.
If the Kings want to take a home-ice standings position in the first round, they need to keep pace with the Western Conference, which basically means playing mistake-free hockey. It's a tall order, but with the Kings sitting at 6-3-1 in their last 10 games, they have the skill to do it, and they're playing well enough to storm into the playoffs on a high note.
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