Waking up with the Kings: February 2
-On a day in which the Kings lost for the 15th time in 20 games and scored either one goal or no goals for the sixth consecutive game, there was a positive development out of their forward lines in the performance of Tyler Toffoli. Though the inability to score is the central story originating from this pre-Olympic slate, the Kings received a positive return in Toffoli’s placement as the left wing opposite Jeff Carter on Anze Kopitar’s line. His 18:42 of ice time was the second-highest single game usage in his regular season and postseason career, and his six shots represented a career-high. He was a positive asset along the boards and in the dirty areas and found himself in positions around the slot with an opportunity to shoot the puck. Should he be able to consistently generate performances like Saturday’s, the Kings’ offense will receive a boost. It’s almost silly to lead with a positive story about the offense when only one King has scored a goal over the past six games, but if Toffoli sticks on the top line and is comfortable on the left side, the offense will be more balanced as opponents will have to respect Carter and Toffoli on opposite wings, thus creating match-up challenges. This line’s performance on Tuesday should be an interesting storyline against the Blackhawks.
-We’re not seeing the five-man units working together in unison to the same degree that we saw earlier in the year. Players appear to be spread out over too wide a swath of the ice instead of the compacted five-man groups when possessing the puck in the defensive and neutral zones. There weren’t many passing options when Jake Muzzin turned the puck over on the play that led to Wayne Simmonds’ goal; because the forwards had broken up the ice early in the breakout, he defenseman was forced to make a long, angled width pass that Glaude Giroux deftly knocked out of mid-air. That type of cheating towards the offensive zone is something that has rarely seeped into the team’s game, and perhaps with the scoring dearth it has tilted the balance of the team’s forwards in the favor of recognizing the development of an offensive opportunity. In this need for offense even Anze Kopitar had broken ahead of the play in the first period while looking for a homerun pass that never developed, and though he has scored on breakaways in the past, he’s among the last players on the team associated with cheating towards the offensive zone.
-This upcoming break in the schedule is obviously coming at the right time for the Kings, who will need points this week to solidify their footing on a playoff spot. It’s probably too early to start paying attention to SportsClubStats.com, the popular statistics site that calculates a team’s chances of making the playoffs and their projected seeding, but let’s do it anyway. The Kings’ grasp on a playoff spot had been above 90% for the glut of the season; with yesterday’s loss it dropped to 87.1%. There is a 56% chance the Kings will finish as a “sixth” seed, which in all essence means the third place slot in the Pacific Division. So, should Los Angeles continue to win games at the rate they have won games from Game 1 to Game 57, they’re still looking at a first round match-up against San Jose, or should the current conference leader falter down the stretch, Anaheim. According to SportsClubStats.com, there is a greater probability of the Kings missing the playoffs than receiving home ice advantage in the first round. As of this morning, the most probable records that the Kings could generate them that would keep them as the first team out of the playoffs are 11-11-3 and 11-12-2. The Kings would remain more secure in a playoff spot by winning three more games than they lose. There’s really only one scenario to avoid like the plague – a first round series against Chicago – and the probability of that developing is very low at this point of the season. It’s still very early, so this is obviously premature analysis. The biggest developments out of this 20-game stretch are the team’s likeliness of opening the playoffs on the road after appearing to be in a dogfight with San Jose for home ice advantage (and, to a lesser extent, a dogfight with Anaheim for the division, as was a possibility earlier), and the less secure footing of a playoff spot.