Monday, April 14, 2014

3rd in the Pacific: What Could Have Been

On Christmas Eve 2013, the three California teams were arguably the three very best teams in hockey. Leading into the Christmas break, their records atop the Pacific Division were:
1) Anaheim: 27-7-5, 59 points
2) Los Angeles: 25-9-4, 54 points
3) San Jose: 23-8-6, 52 points

Nearing the midpoint of the season, the Kings were in the hunt not just for their first regular season division championship in over 20 years, but for the President's Trophy. Even with Jonathan Quick sitting on the sidelines nursing an injury, they were coming off a strong road trip in which they had shut out the Canadiens 6-0, knocked off the (then) high-flying Maple Leafs 3-1, and curbstomped Ottawa 5-2. A hiccup in Chicago saw them outplay the Hawks but simply not finish (the start of a theme), but they rebounded, winning 3 out of 4 on the ensuing homestand.

Unfortunately for Kings fans, the new year was not very prosperous.

As the Ducks won 18 of 19 games between Dec. 6 and Jan. 15, culminating in a 9-1 pummeling of Vancouver and the Sharks continued to chug along, losing consecutive games only once before shootout losses to Washington and Calgary in late March, the Kings suddenly seemed like the guys in Revenge of the Nerds, which is to say they couldn't score to save their lives.

They lost 5 in a row from Dec. 23 to Jan. 2, scoring six goals in five games and posting goose eggs twice.

They lost another 5 in a row from Jan. 18 to Jan. 25, scoring 8 goals and getting ignominiously shut out in the Dodger Stadium game by the Ducks. (This streak did begin with the preposterous goal-off-the-netting in Detroit, but even if they won that it was still a 4-game losing streak.)

They lost another 4 in a row between Jan. 28 and Feb. 3, scoring only 4 times and suffering another pair of shutouts, before knocking off #Lumbus to go into the Olympic Break on a winning note, though all of the losing had dropped them to 31-22-6 (68 points) by that time, closer to the wild card teams than their California brethren.

Meanwhile going into the Olympics, Anaheim sat at 41-14-5 (87 points) and the Sharks 37-16-6 (80 points).

In other words, between Dec. 23 and Feb. 6, the Kings went 6-13-2. In those 21 games, they were shut out five times and managed to score a total of 33 goals. That's 1.57 goals per game over a quarter of the season!!

In the same time period, the Ducks went 14-7-0. The Sharks went 14-8-0. The Kings fell from 5 points behind the Ducks with a game in hand and 2 points up on the Sharks with the same number of games played to 19 points behind the Ducks and 12 behind San Jose (though they did still have that all-important game in hand on Anaheim!).

In the end, the Kings finished 16 points behind Anaheim and 11 behind San Jose.

But what could have been? I mean, the Kings were right there with those teams at Christmas before falling off the map and falling apart for literally a quarter of their 2014 season.  While there were a couple of blowouts in there (5-0 in St. Louis on 1/2, 4-1 against the Pens on 1/30, and 5-3 to the Hawks on 2/3), most of these were close losses (3-2 in Nashville on 12/28, 1-0 in Chicago on 12/30, 3-2 in Dallas on 12/31, shootouts against Minnesota on 1/7 and Detroit on 1/18, 3-2 in the afternoon in Boston on 1/20, and 2-1 in Anaheim right before the Stadium Series game, which itself was a close match). A few timely goals or saves in that stretch and the Kings could very easily have been the top seed in the West with home ice advantage guaranteed through the Conference Final instead of being a third seed who only can get home ice in later rounds if the wild cards pull off an upset of two.

It's disappointing to see the Kings go through a slump like that, especially when their division and in-state rivals seemed to up their games to new levels at exactly the same time, allowing them to run away with the division, but it doesn't mean the Kings can't still win this thing. They were the 6th best road team in the NHL this season, but San Jose and Anaheim were the 2nd and 3rd best home teams so this won't be an easy run by any stretch of the imagination.

I suppose this analysis shows the danger of believing passionately that the NHL is a 3-2 league. You're supposed to score as many goals as you can, not try to get to a low number and keep your opponent to a slightly lower number. Fortunately, it's probably truer about the playoffs than the regular season though that you grind out your wins, and that is the way the Kings play. So I'm not too concerned, but it sure would have been nice to get home ice somewhere along the way early against some very good teams.

In the end, at least the Kings don't have much traveling to do this playoff season as they could very well spend the next month playing games in the state of California.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Kings v. Flyers 1993

Are you old like me such that you remember the 1993 season? If so, maybe you remember the March 13, 1993 Kings-Flyers game in Philly that was postponed after the 1st period because of the Storm of the Century.

I was thinking about this today because of the rescheduling of the Columbus-Dallas game from last week when Rich Peverley nearly died on the bench. Evidently, the goal that was scored in the game is going to still count so that Columbus will have a 1-0 lead at the start and Nathan Horton, James Wiz (I'm not gonna butcher his name by misspelling it), and Matt Calvert will get to have that and the assists in their career stats.

According to the NHL, this is how they have done things in the past:

"Today's decision mirrors actions the League took in rescheduling the postponed game between the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators at Joe Louis Arena on Nov. 21, 2005, as a result of a medical emergency involving Detroit player Jiri Fischer at 12:30 of the first period."

Not so fast! Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but when that Kings-Flyers game was postponed until later in the year (April 1), the teams did not keep their goals from the first period, but instead played the whole thing over from the start with a clean slate. Unfortunately neither the LA Times nor the Philadelphia Inquirer say in their articles about the cancelled games who scored the teams' goals in the first go-round. But I seem to recall at the time feeling bad for the guys who'd scored because they wouldn't get those goals in their career stats (I was 13 at the time, these things bothered me.)

Anybody remember if they started 1-1 on April 1, 1993? Or did the storm blow away those goals? Let me know in the comments!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Fixing the Shootout

I actually wrote this without posting it back in November, but with the GMs currently meeting and discussing ways to potentially fix the shootout I decided to take it back out, tweak it, and post it after all.

Some people love the shootout. Some people hate it. Some people wonder what was so wrong with ties.

As for me, I'm still not quite sure why losing in a skills competition is worth exactly the same in the standings as losing in overtime or where that third point is even coming from (A hockey game is worth two standings points, if you win you get both of them, in a tie the two points were equally divided between the two teams; how does a third point materialize where none previously existed? But I digress.)

Based on the facts that the GMs have been discussing adding a 3-on-3 overtime session to reduce the number of shootouts and that there has been a vocal minority of NHL media and fans (mainly media) clamoring against the shootout ever since its inception after Lockout 2, I think it's fair to say that this institution could at least use some tweaking. For my suggestion, read on.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Olympic Predictions

We are down to the final 12 – wait, we started with 12! – as the games start to mean something in Sochi. So who's gonna win gold?

Will the Canadians be the first repeat Olympic champions since the mighty Soviets/broken Soviets won 3 straight from 1984 - 1992 (would have been 8 straight except for a little Miracle)? Will the Americans win for the first time since 1980? Can the Russians win glory on their home ice like their Canadian counterparts did four years ago? All this and more after the break!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Terry Murray version 2.0

Do you remember December 2011? The Kings were in a tailspin. 30 games into the season they were a .500 team. They were not scoring goals. As of December 13 they had lost 5 games in a row. Something had to give. And finally defense-first defense-only head coach Terry Murray paid for the lack of goals and the lack of wins with his job.

His replacement was Darryl Sutter, a guy a lot of us called a Terry Murray clone. But that comparison was forgotten after the Kings acquired Jeff Carter and annihilated all competition en route to winning the Stanley Cup just six months after sacking Murray.

As the Kings' current inability to score goals continues I can't help but wonder if that comparison should be revived. So I got to looking back to 2011 to see just how this current skid compares.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

What the Hell Is It with the Preds and Flames?

The Kings have lost 4 games this year to the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators, two of the worst teams in the NHL - with 34 and 38 points respectively they are numbers 13 and 14 in the Western Conference. The Kings have lost only 6 games in regulation to the rest of the NHL to this point!

And here is the crazy thing: in all four of those games, the Kings have trailed, come back to tie, and then lost the game in the final five minutes (the final minute in 3 of the 4). How can the Kings keep doing this against two awful teams they are supposed to beat?

Oct. 21 at home against Calgary, the Kings gave up a power play goal by Brodie with exactly 30 seconds left to lose the game 3-2 after Jeff Carter had tied it up with a shortie in the 2nd period.

Nov. 2 at home against Nashville, the Kings gave up a goal to Legwand with 3:56 to play, losing the game 4-3 after they had rallied with goals by Brown and Richards to tie a game they had trailed all along only a couple minutes earlier.

Nov. 30 at home against Calgary, the Cammalleri scored with 23 seconds to go, breaking a 1-all tie and giving the Flames a 2-1 win after Justin Williams had scored to tie it up only 4 minutes earlier.

And then last night in Nashville, Carter tied it up with the goalie pulled before Fisher scored ten seconds later with a mere 27 seconds left on the clock to win it 3-2.

If it's any consolation, after the second loss to Calgary, the Kings did win 9 of 10 before this current two-game skid. But seriously, they better get their act together and start playing the full game against not just the elite teams, but the bottom feeders too. The Pacific Division is too tough to let any points slip away.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Christmas Wishes

In addition to this blog, I am also an aspiring author and general creative-type, and  every year for the past 10 years I have been making somewhat elaborate Christmas cards for my friends and family. Two years ago it got a little out of hand when I decided to write a short Christmas-themed picture book, and this year I've written a sequel, only this time I've paired up Christmas with hockey, specifically my beloved L.A. Kings.

If you like the Kings, hockey, Christmas, or just a heartfelt story to celebrate the season, please read on. And if you enjoy the book, there is a link at the bottom to the original story, A Simple Christmas Wish, which is available for $2.99 as an e-book on Amazon (positive reviews are always appreciated! and if you don't wanna shell out the $2.99, DM me on Twitter and I'll email you a .pdf of the original) I am trying to find a publisher for the original too, so if you like either of them and know anyone in the publishing industry who might be interested in getting a great book out for the holidays next year, please send them a link.

Thanks, everybody, and Merry Christmas!