Los Angeles Kings Upcoming Road Trip is a Crucial Stretch

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Los Angeles Kings 2017-18
LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21: Anze Kopitar #11, Alec Martinez #27, and Alex Iafallo #19 congratulate Dustin Brown #23 of the Los Angeles Kings on his overtime goal during a game against the Colorado Avalanche at Staples Center on December 21, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Kings have been jostling for a position in the Western Conference playoff picture. They now find themselves in third place in the Pacific Division, but just one point ahead of both the Calgary Flames and Anaheim Ducks.

In the current Western Conference wildcard standings, the Minnesota Wild hold the second wildcard spot, and they’re tied with the Kings in points.

Big Points Available in Los Angles Kings Upcoming Road Trip

Needless to say, the hunt for the playoffs is tight. It’s inopportune timing that a seven-game road trip looms for the Kings after their showdown with the Edmonton Oilers at Staples Center on February 7.

If the Kings aren’t careful, a poor road trip could result in other playoff hopefuls surging ahead of them in an extremely competitive conference.

From February 9-20, the Kings will embark on a road trip where they’ll face the Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Pittsburgh Penguins, Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, and Winnipeg Jets.

There are a few key points the Kings should keep in mind as they face such a critical stretch of games.

Goaltending Needs to be Solid

On this trip, the Kings play all the teams that rank in the top four in shots on goal per game. The Kings rank 22nd in shots on goal against per game, but it’s safe to expect the goaltender to be tested thoroughly, whether it’s Jonathan Quick or Darcy Kuemper between the pipes.

The Kings can’t afford anything less than terrific play from their goaltender, especially because their offence isn’t equipped to carry the team on nights where their goalie is having a poor performance.

The Panthers, Penguins, Hurricanes, and Blackhawks are the top four teams in the league in shots on goal per game.

The good news for the Kings is that none of those teams rank in the top 10 in goals per game. The Kings are second in fewest goals allowed per game.

It’s really going to come down to how Quick or Kuemper handle their workloads. Quick has given up a total of 10 goals in his past two appearances.

He returned against the Nashville Predators on February 1 after a suspension that resulted from him sitting out the All-Star Game due to a lingering injury.

Kuemper has back-to-back shutouts in his last two starts, though, and hasn’t given up multiple goals in any of his previous four starts.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Kings split up their starts on this road trip, as Kuemper has been playing better in the crease as of late.

Toffoli and Gaborik Could Both use a Good Road Trip

Against the Arizona Coyotes on February 3, Tyler Toffoli broke a nine-game skid without a point. He has just one goal since the calendar flipped to 2018, and that was back on January 6.

It’s remarkable that despite the lack of recent production, he still ranks second on the team with 18 goals and fifth on the team with 31 points.

Marian Gaborik hasn’t scored a goal since back in 2017 and has just one point in his previous nine games.

Timely resurgences from those two could help the offence take some pressure off the defence by scoring more goals.

Gaborik has seven goals and 14 points in 28 games played this season. Toffoli is a more crucial part of their offence, so if they had to pick one out of these two to regain their form on this road trip, it would be Toffoli.

There are some numbers that suggest Toffoli could have a very successful trip. For his career, Toffoli averages about 0.3 goals per game. Extrapolated over a full season, that’s about 25 goals.

He averages 0.5 goals per game in his career against the Jets, about 0.43 per game against the Hurricanes, about 0.38 per game against the Panthers, about 0.36 goals per game against the Blackhawks, about 0.29 per game against the Lightning, about 0.11 per game against the Sabres, and about 0.11 per game against the Penguins.

He performs around the same or better than his career goal scoring rate against five of the seven teams the Kings play on this road trip, so those are some encouraging statistics that indicate he may well snap out of his funk.

Keep the Power-Play Rolling

The Kings have been very successful on the man-advantage recently. Over a span of their last six games, the Kings have converted on seven of their last 20 power-play opportunities for a power-play percentage of 35%. Of those seven power-play goals, Jake Muzzin has three of them.

Four of the seven teams that the Kings play on their road trip rank 19th or lower in penalty-killing percentage. That bodes well for this momentum to continue for the Kings on the man-advantage.

The Kings can capitalize if they can draw numerous penalties against their opponents. The Panthers, Lightning, Sabres, and Hurricanes are the teams the Kings will play on the road trip that rank 19th or lower in penalty-killing percentage.

The bad news for the Kings is that most of these teams don’t go to the box often. The Hurricanes have been short-handed the fewest times in the league, and of the four teams mentioned above, only the Lightning rank in the top two-thirds of teams in times being shorthanded.

The Kings might not get a lot of opportunities on the power-play against these teams, but these opponents could be vulnerable to giving up a key goal if they get penalized at a crucial time.

Conclusion

Any long stretch on the road is daunting, let alone one that comes when the playoff chase is as tight as it is.

The Kings risk being left behind by other teams striving for playoff positioning if they aren’t able to come away with an ample amount of points on this road trip.

The standings are shifting so frequently that it becomes necessary to hold off seriously assessing a team’s fate until a longer window of time has passed. We’ll know a lot about where the Kings stand as a team after their road trip.

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