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Los Angeles Kings' Season-Long Issues Are Finally Catching Up to Them

Vinh CaoContributor IIIApril 9, 2015

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 4: Members of the Los Angeles Kings stand in observance of the national anthem before a game against the Colorado Avalanche at STAPLES Center on April 4, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Aaron Poole/NHLI via Getty Images)
Aaron Poole/Getty Images

After an 8-2 blowout victory over the Edmonton Oilers last week, the Los Angeles Kings fell 4-2 to that same borderline AHL team on Tuesday night.

The crucial, embarrassing loss now leaves L.A. two points behind the Calgary Flames in the Pacific Division and three behind the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference’s wild-card race.

Moreover, it served as a microcosm of the team’s season-long struggles.

Shallow Offense

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 02:   Dustin Brown #23 of the Los Angeles Kings works against Anton Lander #51 of the Edmonton Oilers at Staples Center on April 2, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  The Kings won 8-2.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

The Kings’ attack in 2014-15 has been limited to one line’s intermittent hot streaks.

Jeff Carter’s unit has delivered much of the team’s offense, as his speed and shot have tormented opposing teams to the tune of 28 goals, 61 points and a plus-six rating.

Between Tyler Toffoli and either Tanner Pearson or Dwight King, the lanky pivot has enjoyed a strong campaign.

Unfortunately, L.A. hasn’t featured much punch otherwise.

Top-line staple Anze Kopitar has struggled through a languid year, firing pucks even less frequently than usual and losing more battles than we’re accustomed to. He’s registered a career low of 16 goals in a full season.

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Kopitar's Timid Offense (5-on-5)
GF60G/60Sh%Shots/60iCorsi/60
2013-142.8740.9212.867.1812.01
2014-152.5800.539.895.349.73
Source: Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com

According to Behind the Net, no Kings forward has averaged a shorter shot distance this season.

Kopitar won't even look at the net unless it's a sure thing, and his reluctance to pull the trigger has stunted Marian Gaborik’s output, as opponents are opting to blanket the sniper knowing that Kopitar isn't likely to take the game into his own hands.

When head coach Darryl Sutter paired natural centers Carter and Kopitar together, both players veered off the rails.

Together, they posted a goals-for percentage of 41.7. Away from each other, Carter’s number rises to 60.6 percent while Kopitar’s reaches 57.4 percent.

Where the bottom six is concerned, there has been very little production to speak of.

Mike Richardsan ideal fit alongside Justin Williamswas granted a fleeting taste of the third line before Sutter stuck him next to fourth-liners Jordan Nolan and Kyle Clifford for the majority of the season. Blue-collar grinder Jarret Stoll was promoted in his place.

This counterintuitive move has led to grave ramifications:

Bottom-6 Production
2013-14 Pts2014-15 Pts2013-14 Pts/602014-15 Pts/60
Mike Richards41151.321.16
Dustin Brown27271.251.23
Jarret Stoll27161.250.70
Kyle Clifford8150.791.14
Jordan Nolan1081.060.88
Nick ShoreN/A7N/A1.12
Source: NHL.com and Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com

In the wrong roles, Richards and Stoll have completely and utterly floundered in 2014-15. Captain Dustin Brown, who requires some level of offensive help to contribute positively, has received none and thus fallen flat on his face for the second consecutive year.

All three veterans have generated the lowest full-season point-per-game averages of their respective NHL tenures.

That’s downright pathetic.

Despite playing next to a superb puck-possession winger in Williams for the lion’s share of 2014-15, Stoll has mustered the lowest Corsi percentage among Kings centers.

Without Williams, his Corsi and goals-for percentages drop off a cliff from 54.0 to 46.0 and 58.6 to 47.8, respectively. Without Stoll, Williams hasn’t lost a step, putting up Corsi and goals-for percentages of 58.6 and 58.0.

There are no two ways about it: Stoll has amounted to dead weight this year.

Even if Sutter decides to bring Richards back into the mix on Thursday against the Calgary FlamesLA Kings Insider's Jon Rosen reports that isn't likelyhe’d just return to the fourth unit, rendering his attacking upside irrelevant and exposing his defensive shortcomings yet again.

Forward usage has represented a persistent bugaboo, and the Kings still can’t shake it with only two contests left in the season.

Patchwork Defense

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 11:  Slava Voynov #26 of the Los Angeles Kings plays against the New York Rangers in Game Four of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Madison Square Garden on June 11, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images)
Dave Sandford/Getty Images

Second-pairing rearguard Slava Voynov’s absence due to suspension has ravaged the back end.

Drew Doughty has been forced to shoulder far more minutes than ever before, which has taken a serious toll throughout the season. The All-Star’s game has suffered from fatigue, occasionally yielding ugly turnovers, lifeless coverage and bewildering decisions with the puck.

While the 25-year-old has always carried a heavy burden, simply too much has been asked of him this year.

He can’t lug the entire defense on his back.

Unfortunately, his ill-advised deployment has coincided with Jake Muzzin returning to earth following a breakout 2013-14 campaign. Doughty’s regular linemate has only looked decent...away from Doughty:

Kings' Top Pairing in 2014-15 (5-on-5)
GA60GF%
Doughty with Muzzin (top competition)2.4147.8
Muzzin without Doughty (lower competition)1.1965.2
Doughty without Muzzin (top competition)1.4366.0
Source: Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com

Sure, Muzzin has posted a career-high 40 points, but that's deceptive. He often gambles for offense and has racked up a ton of production on the power play, as the man advantage has generated 35.0 percent of his points this season compared to 20.8 percent in 2013-14.

His even-strength offense has only improved marginally, while his all-around displays have taken a massive turn for the worse.

This has further exposed the club's lack of defensive depth.

For a brief stretch, deadline acquisition Andrej Sekera had more than compensated for Voynov’s absence, moving the puck intelligently while offering understated, effective defense.

Alas, he succumbed to a lower-body injury about a week ago and hasn’t seen the ice since.

Alec Martinez’s concussion and an awful year from Matt Greene have also conspired to foil L.A.’s blue-line efforts.

Brayden McNabb and Jamie McBain have performed well, but they haven’t seen as much action as they deserve. Despite leading the blue line in goals-for percentage and routinely offering a shot in the arm to the offense, the latter hasn’t suited up for a game since late February.

A blend of misfortune, regression and poor personnel decisions have led to some unsightly team statistics: 

Kings' Defensive Slide
1st-Period GAW% Lead After 1W% Lead After 2W% 1-Goal GamesPK%
2013-1449 (4th).767 (12th).900 (8th).488 (14th)83.1 (11th)
2014-1557 (13th).724 (20th).771 (25th).351 (27th)81.0 (17th)
Source: NHL.com

Coming into the season, an increasingly slow Robyn Regehr should have been the blue line’s main concern. He’s been perfectly competent in his second-pairing capacity, though, clearing the crease and crushing opponents along the boards.

It’s the pieces around him that have disappointed, drilling too many holes in this ship for it to stay afloat.

Doughty is drained, Muzzin hasn’t played up to snuff on the top unit, Greene hasn’t looked the part of an NHL defenseman and injuries have pillaged the depth chart.

Since the Kings can’t start well, hold a lead when they actually establish one, kill penalties or pull out close victories, it’s no wonder their playoff fate remains up in the air.

Outlook

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 4: Marian Gaborik #12, Drew Doughty #8 and Jake Muzzin #6 of the Los Angeles Kings stand in observance of the national anthem before a game against the Colorado Avalanche at STAPLES Center on April 4, 2015 in Los Angeles, Californi
Aaron Poole/Getty Images

It’s hard to count out a team that appears to love having its back against the wall, but L.A. is cutting it really close in 2014-15.

Sutter’s club can’t muster consistent secondary scoring, whereas the defense has paled in comparison to past versions. There’s no fire, no grit, no desire. Now, in the midst of their postseason push, the Kings have allowed their sore spots to take center stage.

Much like Doughty, they look exhausted.

After two Stanley Cups and three deep playoff runs in a row, the flip-the-switch approach may have finally cost them.

Unless otherwise noted, statistics courtesy of Stats.HockeyAnalysis.com, Hockey-Reference.com and NHL.com.

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