The Los Angeles Kings are officially halfway done with their regular season. It’s time to hand out some midseason grades.
The Kings have fought through numerous scoring droughts from key players this season. Anze Kopitar has just 4 goals in 36 games. Marian Gaborik has just 2 goals in 19 games. Jake Muzzin got off to an especially slow start, but Alec Martinez’s career season has helped to offset Muzzin’s relative lack of production. Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson are the only two forwards with shooting percentages above 10%, and also the only two players with double digit goals on the team. Carter is 2nd in the league with 22 goals, only trailing Sidney Crosby’s 26. Carter has scored about 21.8% of his team’s goals. No player in the league has scored a higher percentage of his team’s goals this season than Carter. The Kings are 21st in the NHL with 2.46 goals per game. Carter elevates an otherwise underachieving offense. If Kopitar and Gaborik snap out of their funks, they should be fine, but their offense thus far isn’t what has kept this team in the thick of playoff contention. C-
When Drew Doughty is leading your defensive unit, you’ll always be in good shape. The reigning Norris Trophy winner is helping the team give up a league-low 25.8 shots on goal per game, which has helped Peter Budaj have the best season of his career so far. The Kings lead the NHL in hits per game with 30.4, and their physicality and grittiness are prominently on display. The Arizona Coyotes rank 2nd in that category, but average 3 fewer hits per game than the Kings. Playing the Kings is an exhausting endeavor for opponents, and their smothering style is anxiety inducing. A
When Jonathan Quick got injured in the opening game, the entire season was in jeopardy for the Kings. The enlightening play of Budaj has helped keep the Kings in contention for a playoff spot. Jeff Zatkoff was originally supposed to be the guy to get the bulk of the playing time between the pipes while Quick recovered, but when he got injured, Budaj established himself with strong play. Quick is one of the elite goalies in the league, and it’s hard to argue that the Kings wouldn’t be in better shape in the standings with Quick instead of Budaj playing the majority of the games in the crease. The lack of shots against Budaj certainly help his cause, yet he ranks just 24th among qualified goaltenders with a .916 save percentage. With deeper analysis of his stats, it appears as though Budaj isn’t so much carrying this team to victories as he is treading water. Considering that he wasn’t even originally supposed to be Quick’s main backup, though, what Budaj has done this season is remarkable. He ranks 7th among qualified goaltenders with a 2.13 GAA, and is tied for 8th in wins with 18. He’s also 4th in shutouts with 4 in 33 starts, which illustrates his poise in net. During those shutouts, the shot totals against him were 24, 19, 39, and 28. The 39 was really the only one where he faced a barrage of shots, but it’s not fair to penalize him for that. Of the 30 goaltenders with at least 20 starts this season, Budaj ranks 10th in Quality Start Percentage with a 57.6% mark. Budaj has been put in a very good position to succeed behind this team, and he has made the most of his opportunity. B+
Although it has looked better as of late, the Kings rank tied for 16th in the league in power play percentage at 17.8%. Like the offense in general, Carter has carried this unit. He has 7 power play goals, which ranks tied for 9th in the league. The Kings have 21 total power play goals this season, meaning that Carter accounts for 1 out of 3 power play goals the team scores. He’s tied with Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals at that ratio. Only Mike Hoffman of the Ottawa Senators scores a greater chunk of his team’s power play goals. Doughty and Dustin Brown have each netted 3 power play goals for the Kings. Kopitar has 6 assists on the power play, but no goals. He hasn’t gone scoreless on the power play since the 2012-2013 season, which is also the only year that he has had less than 5 power play goals. The unit appears to be underachieving, and has a lot of room to improve. C
The Kings are a disciplined team, and don’t feel especially vulnerable when they end up a man down. The Kings rank 7th in the NHL with a penalty kill percentage of 83.6%. They only rank 17th in the NHL in the amount of times they’ve been shorthanded. They deliver clean hits, and don’t make foolish mistakes that cost the team later in the game. It’s definitely a luxury that not all teams have. B+
If you had said before the season started that Quick would have played in only 1 game by midseason, Tyler Toffoli had missed 9 games in the first half, only two Kings players had double digit goals, Kopitar and Gaborik had combined for 6 goals in 55 games, and Jake Muzzin had tallied just 11 points through 41 games, I would have assumed this team would be well out of a playoff berth. Instead, they’re currently holding the second wild card spot. What happens when Quick and Toffoli come back? When Kopitar and Gaborik pick up their pace? So much has gone wrong this season for the Kings, and yet they sit in great position to make the playoffs. Credit Budaj for playing as well as he has in goal, and for how fantastic Carter and Doughty have been. This is a team that has won the Stanley Cup twice in the past five years. This group knows what it takes to become champions. That’s a factor that can’t be underestimated. All they have to do is find a way to make the playoffs. No opponent wants to have to meet them in the first round. They’re lingering on the periphery of the playoff picture, but they’re dangerous. This team has had to deal with numerous injuries and general underachievement so far, but they’re poised for a strong second half as players begin to return and assuming that key players revert back to normal output. B-