22 games to go.
When asked on Wednesday, if with 22 games left in the season, his team is already playing “playoff hockey” Todd McLellan said that the Kings have been playing playoff games for a while now. That’s the nature of this condensed season – as soon as you get ramped up, and into the heart of the season, you’re already on the backstretch. It feels like yesterday that we hit the halfway point in the season, and maybe just the day before that when we were only 20 games in. A normal season spreads out those smaller measuring points, but with a 56-game schedule, sometimes they overlap.
Every game for the Kings right now is an important one. And, with a lot of games coming up at home, the Kings will have an opportunity to claw their way back towards fourth place in their own building.
Monday and Wednesday in Vegas were the 19th and 20th away games of the season, which ties the Kings for the division lead in most road contests to date.
“We were talking the other day, we’ve just played 20 of our last 30 on the road,” McLellan said. “If somebody would have told me that yesterday or the day before I wouldn’t have believed them, because the year just feels different. If you did that in a typical 82-game season, traveling from city to city, boy would you even feel it. The travel’s been much better, much easier this year, there’s benefits to both sides of it.
Though the Kings are two games below .500 this season away from home, and though they did the bulk of their damage on the road early in the season, their .450 winning percentage this season away from home is a substantial improvement from both the 2019-20 (.333) and 2018-19 (.415) seasons. Perhaps the easier away conditions this season, with the two games per city, is a reason for that, though that’s the same for every team around the league.
Following Wednesday’s win over Vegas, the Kings will play 11 of their next 15 games at home, with just two games from other four coming outside of California. So far this season, the Kings have collected at least one point in 10 of their 14 games played at STAPLES Center. The Kings haven’t been a bad team at home by any means, but they’ve at times been a team that has too frequently picked up point, when points were needed. Each of the team’s four overtime losses included a third-period lead, and we’re looking at a team that is amongst the better teams in the NHL on home ice if even a couple of those games go their way.
Looking closer at how the team has played at home so far this season, the theme in Downtown Los Angeles has been close. For the most part, every game has been close. Of the 14 games played, five games have gone to overtime, and seven games have been decided by one goal. Just three games this season have been decided by three goals or more, and all have been Kings victories. LA has only lost by multiple goals at home twice this season, with one including an empty-net goal.
“We’re comfortable at home, or we should be,” McLellan said. “It’s our building, our environment, we’re familiar in our locker room, we get to sleep in our own beds, we’re around our family, we don’t have to eat hotel food. Our training facility is much better than what you would get on the road, last change could be really important for our team, there’s so many things.”
Also playing in the Kings’ favor is that 10 of the scheduled 16 games versus Vegas and Colorado, and six of the eight road games against those two opponents, are now in the rearview mirror. While there’s no team to be taken lightly in any circumstance in this league, and especially not when you are at the stage in the development process that the Kings are, LA is just 2-8-0 versus Vegas and Colorado, the division’s top two teams at this point in the season.
As Drew Doughty put it though, after the team’s most recent loss in San Jose, teams like the Sharks are opponents that are around the same place that the Kings are, and the opportunity to play important games versus the teams around your level will be good for the Kings.
Still remaining on the schedule are five games versus Arizona, including three at home, five games versus Anaheim, including three at home, and four games versus San Jose, including two at home. It’s still too far out from the end of the season to drop a “control your own destiny” situation, but if you’re looking at how the Kings can best control theirs, it’s by winning home games, with 14 of the final 22 on the schedule coming at STAPLES Center.
The Kings are back on the ice this morning, for a morning skate in advance of the first of two games against the Sharks. Puck drop is set for 7 PM tonight at STAPLES Center.