The Los Angeles Kings rank 18th in the NHL in terms of offensive production, scoring 2.56 goals per game. That doesn’t sound very good, but it’s actually a big step forward from 2013-14, when they were one of the five worst offensive teams in hockey and were outscored by the Edmonton Oilers.
This isn’t a new trend for L.A. When the club won its first Stanley Cup in 2011-12, it did so after finishing 29th in regular-season scoring.
It’s tempting to shrug and say "defence wins championships," but that actually isn’t the case with the Kings. Los Angeles has won two championships in the last three seasons, and both times it was able to massively increase its scoring in the postseason.
In 2012, the team saw a massive 24 percent spike in its per-game offense in the playoffs. In 2014, the number was an absurd 40 percent increase. The Kings need goals just like any other team, and they’ve managed to find them in the postseason.
That’s why it’s a little troubling to note that it’s basically just one line scoring for the defending champions this season:
|L.A. Kings' goals for, 2014-15|
|Group||Goals||% of team goals|
|Pearson / Carter / Toffoli||17||73.9%|
|All other Kings' forwards||6||26.1%|
|All Kings' defencemen||0||0.0%|
The trio of Tanner Pearson, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli—I’d call it That 70’s Line, but the nickname has been overused to the point that it should just go away for a while—has been exceptional for L.A. It is just one of the Kings' four forward lines, yet it's scoring three out of every four goals for the team.
Pearson alone has more goals than the rest of the forwards and defence combined.
Without that line, we’d be talking about a Stanley Cup hangover and an offensive drought in Los Angeles. Instead, the Kings are 6-1-2 and sitting third overall in the NHL as the league prepares for action on Wednesday.
Given the Kings’ history of woeful offensive production, we can’t simply dismiss this out of hand as an early-season aberration.
On the other hand, Los Angeles has only played nine games, which could well mean it’s nothing to worry about. To determine whether it’s something or nothing, we need to take a longer look at what’s actually going on.
Unsurprisingly, when we take that longer look, we find that the Carter line has been shooting the lights out in a way that it is unlikely to sustain in the long term—no surprise there, as I doubt anyone thought all three guys were going to score 40 goals this season.
At five-on-five, Pearson has six goals on nine shots. Last year, he scored just twice on 25 attempts. Carter’s five-on-five shooting percentage (30.8) is nearly three times what he’s managed on average over the last three seasons.
Pretty much all goal scorers are inherently streaky, and the line is riding a hot streak at the moment.
At even strength, that line’s impressive offence has been offset by a death-by-a-thousand-cuts situation everywhere else. No single player is more than a goal below where we’d expect them to be—multiplying their shot totals by their average shooting percentage over the last three seasons—but in the aggregate, it adds up.
Nix an expected goal from Anze Kopitar, Kyle Clifford, Alec Martinez and a bunch of others, and suddenly a group one would expect to have 12 goals at five-on-five has scored just five.
It’s a similar story on the power play. In five-on-four situations, based on the shot totals of the individuals involved and their collective shooting percentages over the last three seasons, we’d expect the Kings to have four goals so far this season. That’s the total they have.
The difference is that Toffoli and Pearson have them instead of Kopitar and Justin Williams.
In short, it’s a wash. The fortuitous hot streak that Carter and company are experiencing at the moment is pretty much exactly compensated for by the difficulty the rest of the group is having converting shots into goals.
Add in Marian Gaborik’s injury, and there’s reason to think the Kings are going to settle into the middle of the NHL pack offensively. For a team that allows so few goals against, that isn’t a problem at all.