On the face of things, the Los Angeles Kings have had a nightmarish season. They’re the defending Stanley Cup Champions, have talent top to bottom, but are still struggling to get into one of the two Western Conference wild-card spots.
Over their past five games, however, the Kings have appeared every bit the team that won two Stanley Cups in three seasons (and back-to-back championships in full 82-game seasons, their fans will have you know). So, what has made the difference for the Kings in their past five games? They’re finally getting the stops they need from Jonathan Quick.
In the five games before the Kings began their current streak, Los Angeles scored nine goals and gave up 17 while going 1-4. Those are the kind of streaks that can test even the truest of fans’ patience. But since their Feb. 5 3-2 loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers, the Kings have rattled off five straight victories, outscored their opponents 19-11 and have themselves right back in the playoff picture.
Over the course of 2014-15, the Kings have had the league’s best 5-on-5 Corsi For percentage at 55 percent, second-best Fenwick For percentage at 54.6 and have been in the middle for shooting percentage and save percentage, 7.69 and .922, respectively. When the score is close at 5-on-5, the Kings slip slightly, falling to seventh in Corsi For at 53 percent and eighth in Fenwick For at 52.7. However, they land in the bottom third of the league with a 7.39 shooting percentage and .918 save percentage.
The possession numbers aren’t the concern. And, really, neither is the shooting percentage. What is worrisome, however, is the abysmal save percentage. Unlike prior seasons where the Kings were to be feared on nearly every single night, their goaltending has been the weak spot.
Last season, the Kings were just as futile when it came to scoring at 5-on-5 with the score close. They were the 29th ranked team with a shooting percentage of 5.89, but that was contrasted with a save percentage of .922. Two years prior, their other Cup winning season in 2011-12, the Kings had a 5-on-5 close shooting percentage of 6.36, 29th in the league. That same season, Los Angeles’ save percentage ranked sixth at 5-on-5 close (.934). In both seasons, big saves – or just saves in general – at timely moments were what propelled the Kings to success.
All this is to say that the Kings’ woes aren’t due to anything other than subpar goaltending. They’ve dealt with futile offense for more than a few years now and they’ve had success with their current lineup. Putting even more of the onus on Quick is that when the team really needs to be bailed out – when their possession game isn’t clicking – his game has improved, but not enough to offset the Kings’ issues. Better put, he’s not stealing any games.
Take Los Angeles’ five-game span from Jan. 21 to Feb. 5, for example. The Kings 5-on-5 close Corsi For percentage was an abysmal 46.6 percent. That’s far lower than the normal for the Kings, and it showed in their 1-4 record over that time. On top of it all, their save percentage was in the bottom third of the league at .908. In the five games since, it’s been a complete reversal.
Since Feb. 7, the Kings have a 5-on-5 close Corsi For of 62.9 percent. While having your goaltender play well is key to any team’s success, it’s going to have less of an impact when you have the puck that much more than your opponent. Through the five game winning streak, the Kings have posted a 5-on-5 close save percentage of .925, good for middle of the pack in the NHL. And really, slightly above average goaltending is all Los Angeles needs.
Of goalies that have played 5 games since Feb. 7, Quick has a .921 SP, seventh out of 14 goaltenders. The Kings are 5-0-0 in that time. And while there’s something to be said for run support, the Kings have won consistently with a stingy defense, physical play and incredible puck possession. Those are the main tenets of Los Angeles game. They’re not a team that outscores opponents night in and night out to win.
What hasn’t failed them in the last few seasons is their goaltending, and that has been the case this season. Quick isn’t tested often – he faces the fourth fewest shots per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey. When he is, the Kings simply need him to stop just one more puck. It could be the difference between the playoffs and an early summer.