Not exactly how the Kings wanted to head into a six-game roadtrip.
With yesterday’s shootout defeat against the Detroit Red Wings, the Kings fell for the fourth-straight game, with a record of 0-2-2 in that stretch. The most recent of those three defeats have come on home ice, dropping the team’s overall record on home ice to 7-7-5. It’s the first four-game losing streak in the regular season since November of 2021, when the Kings lost five straight game, with four coming at home.
“We’re looking to build now and pull ourselves out of this,” Todd McLellan said of what’s to come. “Teams are very prepared for us, they have a book on us and we have to find more players on this trip. We found a few more [last night], the team was a little bit better.”
It hasn’t been all that bad of a stretch – McLellan felt last night was a step forward, and it clearly was – but there have been some signs of concern for the Kings.
Yesterday’s loss to Detroit was the fourth two-goal lead the Kings have lost this month. Their second in four games. The Kings had numerous opportunity to make it 3-0, as they did a week ago against Edmonton. In both of those games, 2-0 became 2-2 before the second period concluded.
“We’ve got to find ways to get to three before other teams get to one and we’ve had plenty of opportunities to do that,” McLellan added. “That’s not to say we’re going to get to two right away but if we get there, a lot of these games are similar, where we would get to two, we have numerous chances but can’t put it in and all sudden, they’re back in the game.”
Let’s look towards the metrics. The chances being created, on paper, have been very much in line with full-season averages. My favorite comparison is scoring chances. On the season, the Kings are averaging 31.02 scoring chances per/60, at 5-on-5, per Natural Stat Trick. Over their last four defeats, they’re averaging 31.03.
If there have been two areas of dropoff, it’s been getting shots through and simply finishing chances. The Kings, on the season, are seeing about 19 shot attempts blocked by the opposition on a per/60 basis. While the stat is obviously bolstered by the game in Vegas, that number has been closer to 25 per/60 over these four defeats.
The Kings have also shot at just 5.2 percent in these four games, the fourth-lowest rate in the NHL. That’s less than half their 10.5 clip entering this streak. Looking specifically at high-danger chances, the Kings have buried at right around a 23 percent clip on the season. They’re below 10 percent over these four games.
“I think if the offense had finished a little bit more, we might not be asking the questions, but it’s getting magnified,” McLellan said. “From an offensive perspective, goals came easy for us earlier in the year, now they’re coming harder. We’re a little slow on releases, a lot of shots are getting blocked right now, where we were able to get those through……just the polish or the pace of shooting the puck has to get quicker.”
This isn’t a team that has forgotten how to score goals and last night, we saw a lot of positive signs that point towards getting things back on the right track. Honestly, those are encouraging stats to see as the issue. If the Kings had a drastic drop off in Grade-A chances or shot volume, it’d be more a cause for concern. To see those numbers in line, with an unsustainably low shooting percentage being the outlier, that’s at least the easier fix on paper.
Perhaps getting back on the road could be just what the Kings need. After all, the Kings are 13-2-1 away from home and despite a strong slate of competition ahead of them, they’ve found a lot of success on the road this season.
Sometimes too, just getting away from it all can be a relieving factor that gets things back to where they need to be.
“We’ve been playing well on the road this season and we’ve got to pick it up,” forward Adrian Kempe said. “I think we’re pretty confident in any building we go into and I think it’s going to be a fun trip, a lot of tough games and a really good challenge for us. We’ve just got to keep the road record going.”
Regardless of whether it’s home sweet road or not, we’ll learn a lot about the Kings here over this coming stretch.
Beginning today as the Kings fly to Washington, 20 out of the next 27 days will be spent on the road, heading into the All-Star break. Depending on how players spend their All-Star breaks, it could be 7 of 34 spent outside of Los Angeles. That’s a long stretch. The Kings have just four home games remaining this month, compared to nine away from home. This trip includes a season-high six games away, before another stretch of three to conclude the month. As of this writing, four of the six opponents on this trip currently sit in playoff spots and the other two are a single point out.
It’s with that in mind that we’ll learn somethings about this group.
On one hand, the schedule has been relatively favorable to the Kings so far this season. Lots of sets of double-days off, extra days spent to recover and a schedule that’s allotted them ample practice opportunities to work through some of the kinks that have come up. From an opposition standpoint, the Kings have played a tough schedule. But in terms of how it’s been aligned, it’s been in their favor.
Starting on Sunday, the Kings will play 12 games in 22 nights. No more than one day off in between, including coming back from this trip, and one set of back-to-back games. Then it’s two days off in Nashville, one more game, and the All-Star break.
“You’re asking about a large chunk of games and obviously we’re going to play a lot of them, we’re going to play them fairly quick, we’re going to be on the road against tough competition and that’s really good for our team,” McLellan said of this upcoming stretch of games. “We need that heading into the All-Star break, it’ll give us a good opportunity as an organization to evaluate where we’re at.”
As noted, the Kings will face six consecutive teams either occupying a playoff spot or sitting just one point outside of one. The Kings are 7-8-3 this season against teams that are currently in playoff spots. It’s a record that will continue to change as the season goes along, because those spots are ever changing.
It’s a narrative that’s come up a lot and has been concerning to some. Less so to others. For me, I’d trend more towards the latter. It’s not as if the Kings are getting shellacked against teams currently in playoff spots and squeaking by against teams towards the bottom of the standings. The Kings have beaten teams at the top of the NHL and they’ve done so convincingly. They’ve also lost some games recently to those teams narrowly. With the level we’ve seen from the Kings this season, particularly in October and November, it’s more about the group rediscovering that form than anything to do with the opposition. This is a tough trip against high-level competition. The Kings will need the best version of their own game in order to find success.
“We’ll look at it more as just individual events as we go along,” McLellan added. “We have some guys that are playing really well, we have some guys that have fallen off a little bit and we’d like to get everybody back on board and play consistent. Early in the year, we talked about starts. Now, we’re getting starts but we’re not maintaining it in the second period, so we want to adjust that a little bit and make sure that we’re pushing as fierce in the second period as we did in the first. That is the short term, that’s now. I don’t know where we’ll be when we’re in Tampa Bay or Detroit or anything like that, but that’s now.”
That now continues tomorrow, as the Kings will have a full-team practice day in Washington before they take on the Capitals on Sunday afternoon. When traveling from California to the East Coast, the Kings prefer to go a day early when they can to get a practice day in and get acclimated to the time differences. They’ll continue to work on areas of their game that they believe can help against Washington and will look to get back in the win column in 48 hours time.