Since Terry Murray took over as the Kings head coach back a billion years ago, the Kings shifted away from being a high flying young fast offensive team to a tight checking system defense first group. The old cliche of “defense wins championships” is certainly something Dean Lombardi believed in, and after tanking for a few years with Marc Crawford at the helm, he figured the young core of the team needed a defensive mentality. Hence, Murray.
Los Angeles is not a high scoring bunch. They haven’t been since Murray took over. It has been a mainstay since Darryl Sutter took the helm as well. They’re 25th in the league in goal scoring this year. They’ve been in the bottom third of the league for goals scored 4 out of 8 times since 2010. They’re in the bottom five if you collectively look at their goals since 2011. Coincidentally, they were in the bottom five in the league in that category both years they won a Stanley Cup.
Of course, the Kings have the best goals against rate in that same time frame. They’ve been in the top 5 in that category every season except the lockout season, and this year (6th).
This shouldn’t be too large a revelation, as, again, they play a defensive style.
It’s served the Kings fairly well in the playoffs. A Conference Finals appearance sandwiched between Cup wins would indicate that. But getting to the playoffs where the Kings style of heavy, slow, defensive hockey has been most effective has been a struggle. The team eeked its way into the post-season barely in 2012, and was a low end seed in 2014 as well. The past few years...yeah.
The Kings’ defense has certainly slipped from it’s massive heights. Defensemen have gotten older and retired or been deported for being awful people. Dependable two-way centers have moved on after seeing their game fall off cliffs. The rest of the league has gotten faster.
I think it’s still a safer bet going with a team with dominant defense as a Cup pick, rather than a high flying scoring group. Scoring can be very inconsistent whereas you can be a lot more stable with your defense. But you need goals to get to the playoffs. And the Kings don’t have those this year. At least not consistently.
In 75 games this season, the Kings have scored 1 goal or less in 25 games. A third of the season with only one goal. With 2 or fewer goals scored in regulation, they’ve had that happen in 45 games out of 75 games so far. 2012 was fairly comparable on that stat, where they had 53 games of that (65% then vs 60% now).
The defense did slip from then, clearly, as the Kings of 2012 won 16 games (7 in regulation) whereas they have only won 12 times now (and only 2 regulation wins). There was also the factor of the 6 additional loser points the Kings picked up then. The Kings of old when scoring less won more in regulation and loss more in extra time than what the Kings do now. It’s not that surprising when you look at how bad the Kings are currently at 5 on 5 hockey with goal scoring. In 2012, the lack of Kings scoring was largely blamed on their power play doing absolutely nothing, not the normal run of play. Remember Jamie Kompon?
Another large difference was in 2012 where the Kings had 24 games of only scoring 1 goal in regulation or got shutout vs the 27 games they’ve already had that happen in this season. They also got shutout in regulation less that year (9) while they got 12 games of that this season.
Though probably the biggest difference was the play down the final stretch of the season. The Kings got a new coach, a proven young goal scorer, and won a ton. Mostly because they started scoring. 2017 has been the exact opposite result. The goals never came, and neither did the wins. The Kings kept their coach and added a goal scorer who is 39 and had 8 goals on the year when they acquired him. Jarome Iginla has helped a bit, but the Kings are cluster fuck.
The Kings aren’t scoring and aren’t winning. 5v5 has been a tire fire offensively for the Kings. The defense hasn’t been as suffocating as it has been in the past either. Their low scoring games have cropped up more this year, and they’ve won even a lower percentage of those than they have in the past as well. Sutter has got to implement a tweak to his system to let the Kings speed the game up a bit instead of the hours of board play in the offensive zone. The Kings have been very successful 3v3 with the open ice.
There’s not exactly a dearth of fast skilled players on the Kings anymore either. This will be where Dean Lombardi will need to make tweaks, because it was clearly an issue the past two seasons and he’s done zero to address it. Renting Kris Versteeg doesn’t count because you let him walk and he took a nothing contract.
The defense has rebounded a bit from their disaster of 2015 and 2016, but the goal scoring remains the ever pressing issue. If Los Angeles doesn’t try to speed their game up and open their offense up, they’ll just be repeating the mistakes of this year. Likely with the same results, and management shouldn’t be given a pass despite their success years ago.