Which Pacific Division team is the most dangerous?
There isn’t a clear answer. The Vegas Golden Knights are 17-4-2 since the all-star break despite starting five different goaltenders. The Edmonton Oilers, led by Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, are a force of nature in the offensive end with one of the greatest power plays the NHL has ever seen.
And then there are the Los Angeles Kings, who have quietly gone about their business. Their 2-1 loss to the Calgary Flames on Tuesday was the Kings’ first regulation defeat since Feb. 26, snapping a franchise-record 12-game point streak (10-0-2). Los Angeles’ .649 points percentage is seventh in the NHL.
After a somewhat surprising playoff appearance last season, the Kings have the necessary ingredients to make a run in a wide-open Western Conference. Just as it was when the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, defence has been their calling card this season. Los Angeles has allowed an average of 10.2 slot shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 — tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for the top mark in the league. The Kings also rank first with 4.83 inner slot shots against per 60.
Those defensive efforts, however, were undermined by terrible goaltending. Through the end of February, the Kings had surrendered a league-worst 53.6 goals above expected in all situations — roughly nine more than the next-closest team (Vancouver).
On March 1, Kings general manager Rob Blake acquired goaltender Joonas Korpisalo and defenceman Vladislav Gavrikov from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Since making the deal, the Kings are 9-1-2 and have been even better defensively.
Korpisalo has been a stabilizing presence in net, saving 1.32 goals above expected in six starts. For comparison, Pheonix Copley, who has started 32 of the Kings’ 74 games this season, has allowed an extra 17.3 goals.
Gavrikov has rounded out the Kings’ defensive depth, leading Los Angeles blueliners with 0.83 blocked passes per 20 in all situations since his arrival. He and partner Matt Roy have been on the ice for one goal against at 5-on-5 in 12 games. The Kings have surrendered only 15 slot shots — eight from the inner slot — with that pair on the ice.
The Kings are no slouches offensively either, having scored nearly 50 goals above expected — second most in the league. They have a balanced attack with five 20-goal scorers, led by Adrian Kempe’s 36. The top line of Kempe, Anze Kopitar and Quinton Byfield has outscored opponents 27-9 at 5-on-5 and controlled 59.9 per cent of expected goals.
That leaves 70-point player Kevin Fiala on the second line with Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson — a combination that has a 68.3 xGF% in 132:58 of ice time.
Three points separate first place from third place in the Pacific Division. The winner could be the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, while the other two teams will slug it out in a must-see first-round series.
Although the Kings have won the Stanley Cup twice over the past decade-plus, they have not won a division title since 1990-91. It is within their grasp.
“Why wouldn’t you want to win (a division title)?” Kings defenceman Drew Doughty told reporters. “I’ve never won (a division title) in my entire career. That’s 15 years. … Wherever the chips may fall, we’ve just got to be ready for the playoffs.”
All stats from Sportlogiq