Hockey in the southern United States began as an experiment. In todays NHL, the southern teams in the West specifically are some of the top Stanley Cup Contenders. The Los Angeles Kings have won the Cup twice in the last five years. At the beginning of the season they looked poised to have another strong team.
Respect Royalty: Los Angeles Kings Playoff Push
However, things took a turn for the worst quickly. How quickly? The first period of the season opener. Starting goaltender Jonathan Quick injured his groin in less than 20 minutes and missed 59 games before returning on February 25th. The Kings have managed to stay in the mix without him. They are currently one position out of the final wild card spot, just three points behind the St. Louis Blues. Don’t count the Kings out just yet though. There are a few reasons why they will make it into the postseason for the seventh time in eight seasons.
Strength of Schedule
The Kings have a good schedule ahead of them. This year their home record is 16-11-1. 13 of their 21 remaining games are at home. In November they won six home games in a row, only losing at home on the first and last day of the month. Their home power play percentage is 20%, a huge step up from their dismal road power play of 13.83%. That road percentage is 29th in the league.
The Kings also are very fortunate with their opponents in the remaining games. Six of their games are against teams not in a playoff position currently. 17 games are western opponents. They have some great opportunities to make ground on playoff teams. Oddly, there has only been one match-up with division rival Calgary Flames so far. That game ended up a 5-0 win, where the Kings outshot the Flames 39-24. Calgary currently has the first wild card spot in the West, four points ahead of Los Angeles. These games may be crucial down the stretch. Especially if they can be won in regulation without surrendering loser points.
Losing your starting goaltender is always devastating. Having it last last over four months, and happen in the first game of the season is even worse. That’s how this season started for the Kings. And when your goalie is as incredible as Jonathan Quick, it magnifies the problem. A Williams M. Jennings Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and two Stanley Cups are a part of his resume. He sits on the throne as the greatest goalie in Kings history. He has the most games played (477), most wins (253) and most shutouts (42). Safe to say he is an integral part of this team.
Since becoming the starter in 2008-2009, Quick has posted stellar numbers for his team. His worst season for goals against average was 2.54. He has had more than 30 wins a season five times, including 40 wins last season. In his first full game of the season, he helped his team defeat division rivals, Anaheim Ducks, stopping 32 of 33 shots. It will be a challenge for Quick to adjust to the intensity of hockey this late in the season though. Luckily, the Kings have made a major move, and now may have the best goaltending tandem in the entire league.
Blessing of Bishop
Peter Budaj deserves recognition. While Quick was out, he held down the crease for the Kings. In 51 games started, he posted a 27-20-3 record, along with a sparkling 2.12 goals against average and .917 save percentage and seven shutouts. Apparently that wasn’t enough.
Los Angeles made a huge trade and acquired Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was well known that Tampa Bay was shopping the goaltender in preparation for his pending free agency, and the expansion draft this summer. This move will allow the Kings to ease Quick back into the net with confidence.
This hasn’t been a great year for Bishop. Keep in mind it hasn’t been a great year for the Tampa Bay Lightning either. They are 21st in the league as it strands, and needed to move Bishop before the off-season if they were going to do it at all. He has posted a 16-12-3 record this year, with 2.55 goals against average, .911 save percentage and one shutout. If you compare that to Budaj’s numbers you may be scratching your head as to why the Kings made this deal.
Forget those numbers. Bishop was a Vezina runner up last year and an elite goaltender. At 6’7″ and 216 pounds he is a monster in the net. In his last three seasons with the Bolts, he had 112 wins, 2.20 goals against average and .922 save percentage. Those are Jonathan Quick type numbers. So, with both of these goalies in Kings jerseys, Los Angeles can be confident they have the upper hand crease wise in just about every game.
The Kings biggest problem this season has been scoring, the offence relies heavily on Jeff Carter. He has 30 goals, no one else on the team even has 20. The Kings sit in 23rd place in goals for in the league. However, their goals against is a different story. The Kings sit in fifth place in the league in goals against, and that was with Budaj as a starter. Scoring on the Kings when you’re up against either Jonathan Quick or Ben Bishop will be much harder. Combine that with their strength of schedule and things are looking good for their postseason push. Just remember to respect royalty, because the Kings are ready to compete.
Main Photo: SAN JOSE, CA – OCTOBER 12: Jonathan Quick #32 of the Los Angeles Kings defends the net against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on October 12, 2016 in San Jose, California. (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)