ANALYSIS: The Los Angeles Kings have been unable to get the job done at home in recent games and have blown a tremendous opportunity to move up in the standings and get themselves into playoff contention. Features audio interviews.
LOS ANGELES — Whether it is having all the comforts of home available, or being able to spend time with the family, or just being able to enjoy good home cooking, whatever the case might be, playing at home has brought out the worst in the Los Angeles Kings.
Indeed, the Kings have lost four straight home games, even though they earned a point in two of the defeats (shootout losses to the Edmonton Oilers and Atlanta Thrashers). Their last home loss came on February 21, an embarrassing 6-3 defeat at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes at Staples Center. And with a 4-2 loss at San Jose on February 19, the Kings are now 1-3-2 in their last six games.
The Kings only win during that stretch was a 4-3 win at Anaheim, a solid effort, on February 18.
The Kings are now just 13-13-8 at home. Surprisingly, their road record is better, albeit just slightly, at 12-11-1.
As of this writing, the Kings are in 12th place in the Western Conference, four points out of a playoff spot, which was more or less where they were before their very poor six-game stretch.
In the four home losses, the Kings have come out flat and have been outworked and outskated by the opposition. Even worse, the Kings allowed 16 goals in the four losses, an average of four goals per game. They also allowed six goals in their losses to the Thrashers (7-6 shootout loss) and against the Coyotes.
For a team that has prided itself on its vastly improved defensive play so far this season, their poor defensive play is alarming.
“I don’t know what it is at home,” Kings center Jarret Stoll said after his team’s loss against the Coyotes. “It’s frustrating for sure. We’re not getting wins and we’re just not playing our game.”
“We’re not playing stingy, good defense, checking hockey,” Stoll added. “We can’t play loose like that. Our defensive zone has to be a lot tighter, a lot better. Around the slot area they got a lot of chances and scored some goals because of it.”
“We’ve got to be checking better,” Kings head coach Terry Murray said after the loss to Atlanta. “We have to shut things down, tighten it up a little bit.”
“Maybe a few days ago, I would’ve said we have to score some more, so things change,” Murray elaborated. “We’re just trying to find it right now. Giving up the number of goals at home here is a concern. We have to be better defensively. We’ve got elite teams that we’re going to be playing against here in front of us, good goal scoring teams. We’ve got to make sure we’re checking the right way.”
Shoddy defensive play has been a problem, but the larger issue has been overall poor efforts due to a lack of intensity.
“The last couple of games we were flat-footed,” Kings center Anze Kopitar said following the loss to the Thrashers. “We didn’t skate. They came out strong and were ready to play and we simply weren’t ready. For the next game, we have to make sure we’re ready right from the get-go.”
“It certainly looks like we weren’t ready with managing the puck here [today],” Murray said after the loss to the Coyotes. “The goals that happened are turnovers, giveaways, takeaways. It’s unfortunate. It was a huge game for us. It was one of those four-pointers [in the standings], it was a must-win to keep yourself in a good position.”
“The urgency starts to surface whenever you get down and you’re in the third period and the pace picks up a little bit,” Murray added. “But the first couple of periods were not where we needed to be, that’s for sure.”
In their latest home debacle, the Kings came out flat from the start, but managed to get out of the first period, 1-1. They even took a 2-1 lead on a goal by right wing Dustin Brown. But their lack of intensity was glaring in the second period when the Coyotes dominated the sloppy Kings.
“Halfway through the game we were looking good,” Stoll lamented. “We just needed that third goal. We needed to push for that third goal. They tied it up and then they went ahead pretty quick after that and took over the game. We just never had an answer for that.”
“Those are games you’ve got to win,” Stoll stressed. “We’ve been saying it over and over again. It’s been the same story, especially at home. It’s disappointing. We just couldn’t find it. We didn’t have it. There’s no excuse for it. You’ve got to have it this time of year. Looking at the standings where we are, where they are, it’s a pretty important game.”
“They just out-waited us, they had more patience than we did and they capitalized on our mistakes,” said Kings defenseman Kyle Quincey. “They have very good, young, skilled forwards and they showed it [today[. They cycled us well and around our net they were more hungry than we were.”
So what is the root cause of the problem?
“When you’re into the latter part of the season and there’s a possibility of good things happening, [the motivation to play well comes from everyone on the team],” said Murray. “It’s just something that everybody brings their part of it to the room and to the ice with hard play, heavy play, energy efforts—it comes from all over the place. It’s the environment we’ve created for ourselves with getting close and having the opportunity.”
“It comes again in the third period whenever we need to show more desperation and urgency to go after it, it seems like stuff starts to come out again,” added Murray. “We have a difficult time getting rid of some of that stuff that surfaces from the past. It’s something you have to learn how to do. It needs to happen but it wasn’t there tonight.”
One thing is crystal-clear, however. Whatever the problem might be, it is between the ears of the players.
“It’s reaction to the challenge,” Murray lamented. “It’s a mental issue. I’ve got to know if it’s part of the process. I’ve seen teams make tremendous jumps where you don’t have to keep prodding and step back. You just keep moving on. Maybe we’re looking at a different animal.”
“I’ve got to dig into this and find out what’s going on,” Murray emphasized. “Is this a young team that has some distractions? What is it? There’s something clearly that we’re not comfortable playing our better games at home. It’s been there too many times this year. It should be points that we’re putting up. The energy, the excitement again, it’s just not where it needs to be, so we’ve got to figure that out.”
The players can’t put their finger on it either.
“If I had that answer I think we’d figure it our and correct it,” said Quincey. “We don’t know what’s going on but we don’t have too many home games left so that might be a good thing.
Indeed. Because the opposition was hungrier than the Kings in their recent home games, the Kings have completely botched a golden opportunity to move into the playoff picture. Instead, they are still on the outside looking in and their task is that much more difficult with their next five games on the road and all against teams ahead of them in the standings.
“It’s a deeper hole and we dug the hole because of our casual play with the puck and not coming out with that kind of excitement that should be present in the locker room right now when the opportunity is there to keep moving forward,” Murray explained. “We’re going to have to regroup, get on the road and do it over again.”
“We’re pretty disappointed with [their effort against Phoenix],” said Quincey. “It was a huge two points we needed to get. We’re not quitting. We need to bounce back. We obviously like the road, so we’re looking forward to that.”
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