In their home stretch, the Los Angeles Kings will need to get it done on the road. Not only is it vital to get wins outside of Los Angeles, it is important to do so with better scoring balance.
The Kings will finish their season by playing 20 of their final 32 games away from Staples Center. That daunting schedule includes a stretch from Jan. 24 to Mar. 12 in which they will have just four home games.
Only two of those four will be played consecutively. The Kings, currently seventh in the West but dead last in the NHL in team scoring, have gone 10-5-6 on the road this season.
“A home win is huge, but I think we are really good on the road,” left wing Kyle Clifford said after a Jan. 23 victory over Ottawa. “We’re going to keep moving forward and looking in the right direction.”
Clifford posted a Gordie Howe hat trick in that game, in which the Kings also got a penalty-shot goal from Trevor Lewis and a pair of tallies from their blue line.
Until that point, however, such even production and secondary scoring had been lacking severely for the Kings.
In their other January games, they had scored just 20 goals in 10 games, with their top line accounting for more than half of those markers.
They were 4-2-4 in those contests dominated by Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams, who carried an eight-game point streak into the All-Star break.
“It’s hard to get shots when you don’t have everyone playing the right way. It’s going to take 20 guys; tonight I don’t think we had 20,” captain Dustin Brown said after a 3-1 loss to Colorado on Jan. 21.
The Kings had been a team that thrived on depth and an ability to grind down opponents with four lines that could generate offensive possession time and sustain pressure.
Last season in the playoffs, the checking line of Clifford, Brad Richardson and the departed Wayne Simmonds became their go-to line in their first-round series against San Jose.
They also got significant contributions from their depth guys during the 6-1-3 February road trip they had last season, which likely saved their playoff chances and the job of then-coach Terry Murray.
“If you look at our good games over the years, our third and fourth lines are having cycle shifts for an extended period of time,” Brown said Jan. 21.
This season, the Kings sought to bolster their top six, acquiring Mike Richards in a trade from the Philadelphia Flyers and signing unrestricted free agent Simon Gagne.
Gagne is sixth on the club in goals and fifth among forwards, despite having missed 16 of 50 games to date. He sustained a concussion, the latest in a series for him, which has left him out indefinitely.
Richards also ranked second on the club in goals, although he also missed eight games with a concussion.
Earlier in the campaign, Richards was carrying the load individually that the Kings’ top line has shouldered of late. He had a stretch from Nov. 16-28 in which he scored seven of the Kings’ 16 goals and assisted on another during a 4-2-1 surge.
Still, after Richards, Gagne and their top trio, the Kings’ forwards have been woeful.
Jarret Stoll, who has oscillated between center and wing in the hopes of reviving his game, has five goals. Every other Kings forward outside of what could loosely be termed their “top six,” has combined for a meager 18 goals on the year.
“You need four lines if you want to win games in this league, bottom line,” Brown said Jan. 21.
While their scoring depth has not been there this season, the Kings have continued to be stout defensively, anchored by their All-Star Jonathan Quick in net. Quick has a 1.93 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and six shutouts that place him among the league leaders and, after a 1-0 loss in Calgary Jan. 19, Brown called him the "backbone of our team."
“I know he’s frustrated, that we’re not scoring goals and supporting him,” Justin Williams said after the loss to Colorado. "I’m sure he’ll never say that, but we have to do that for him as well, score and play good defense."
There are encouraging signs for Los Angeles, however, even beyond their balanced blowout of Ottawa on Jan. 23. They have scored at least three times in six of their last 11 and are an impressive 13-0-1 when scoring three or more goals this season.
The Kings have also been generating more chances and stronger chances, both at even strength and on the power play.
"You just have to bury your chances when you get them," defenseman Rob Scuderi said Jan. 21. "It’s not like we don’t realize it in here, it’s not the elephant in the room.
"We’re all talking about it and we’re trying to work our way through it.”
Pacaific Division notes:
The Pacific Division squads each sent one representative to the All-Star Game … Anaheim’s Corey Perry’s contribution of a goal and an assist was the most notable … Phoenix’s Keith Yandle had an assist but skated at a minus-5 … San Jose’s Logan Couture had an assist while Dallas’ Jamie Benn was scoreless and Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick stopped 10 of 13 shots he faced … Dallas got Mike Ribeiro back from a knee injury in their 1-0 win over Anaheim Jan. 24 … The Stars will have Benn back immediately after the break and Brenden Morrow was activated Monday from the injured list … Thomas Hickey (LA), Jeff Zatkoff (LA), Tyson Sexsmith (SJ), Matt Irwin (SJ), and Matt Fraser (DAL) are all Pacific Division prospects who played in Monday’s AHL All-Star Game in Atlantic City.