EL SEGUNDO, CA — With the All-Star break firmly in their rear view mirror, the Los Angeles Kings have been back to work for the last couple of days on practice ice, trying to right the ship heading into the last three months of the season, the final push to make the playoffs.
Given that the 20-15-12 Kings (52 points) are not in the playoff picture as of this writing, they know that there is a tremendous amount of work to do to get on a roll, and to do that right away.
“It’s that time of the year,” said right wing Tyler Toffoli. “We’ve got to be pushing now, to make the playoffs. We’ve got a couple of long [road trips] in this half of the season. We didn’t really take advantage when we were at home [during their last home stand] for seven games. It’s time to get back to winning games and being confident, as a group.”
Prior to the All-Star break, the Kings held a meeting in which they talked about what they needed to do in order to secure a playoff spot.
As of this writing, it appears that it will probably take 93 points for the Kings to qualify for the wild card position, and 97 points to secure third place in the Pacific Division.
The assumption here is that the rest of the teams in the Western Conference will continue to accumulate points at their current pace, and of course, conditions are very likely to change, which would seem like a glaring flaw in these projections. However, this projection has come within 1-2 points of the actual mark over the past handful of seasons, and has been dead on more than a couple of times—it has an excellent track record.
Assuming that these projections are right in the 1-2 point range, the Kings will need to earn at least a 20-14-1 record the rest of the way in order to secure a wild card spot, and 22-13-1 (or the equivalent) for third place in the Pacific Division.
The Kings could also sneak into third place in the Pacific Division with 96 points. However, the San Jose Sharks currently project to earn 96 points—the Kings would have to win their two remaining games against the Sharks to win the season series between the teams in order to win the tiebreaker.
In any case, neither record is unattainable, by any means. That said, the Kings, who have a .553 winning (points) percentage to date, will have to pick things up in order to attain the .586 (wild card) or .629 (third place in the division) winning percentage they will need in order to make the playoffs.
As reported earlier, the Kings have talked about what it is going to take for them to earn an invite to the post-season party—they know what lies ahead.
“First and foremost, we need to win games,” said defenseman Robyn Regehr. “It doesn’t matter who we’re playing, where we’re playing—anything like that. We need to put together some really good hockey. All of us can play better, and this team can do more. That’s what we’re focusing on. We’re not getting too carried away with the opposition or the circumstances, or anything like that.”
Forward and captain Dustin Brown was asked if the team is looking at their remaining schedule, most notably, their upcoming five-game road trip (the annual “Grammy Trip” while Staples Center hosts the Grammy Awards) as being critical to their playoff hopes.
“It is critical for us, so it’s not if we look at it that way,” Brown emphasized. “The fact of the matter is that we’re not where we want to be. We have to win games if we want to make [the playoffs].”
On the other side of the coin is goaltender Jonathan Quick, who indicated that nothing has changed, and that the only thing the Kings are looking at is their next game—they host the Chicago Blackhawks tonight (7:30 PM PST, Staples Center).
Indeed, when asked if this year’s stretch drive will be more difficult, given that the Kings are ranked 12th defensively, rather than first (2013-14) or second (2011-12) in the league, Quick had a sharp retort.
“Rankings are for fantasy owners and [expletive deleted] like that,” he snapped. “We’ve got a game tomorrow. We’ve got to get two points.”
“We got a lot of stuff to prepare for tomorrow,” he added. “That’s where the focus is. We’re not trying to look back to last year, the year before, or the year before that. We’re just trying to win a hockey game tomorrow.”
Despite Quick’s claims, his words ring a bit hollow, not in fact, but in their implicit denial that the Kings are looking at the bigger picture. Again, the team has discussed, in great detail, where they are in the standings, and what it will take, well beyond tonight’s game, in order to make the playoffs—Quick is no exception to that, so don’t be fooled.
This season, a problem for the Kings is that they are discovering that their success is a double-edged sword.
“The challenge is that in 2012, we were the LA Kings, who hadn’t won anything,” Brown explained. “Now we’re the [two-time Stanley Cup Champion] LA Kings. That makes it harder. Everyone’s ready for you, everyone knows the position we’re in. I’m sure there’s a lot of teams who would love to take points from us and prevent us from doing what we want to do.”
“We’ve been successful for two out of three years, so there’s probably teams that have copied the way we played, or have done certain things—it’s pretty fair to say that our strength is right up the middle, goaltender, defensemen,” Brown elaborated. “I think they’re making it really hard on our centermen. That’s something that our centers are going to have to figure out—how to deal with that pressure.”
“It’s adapting. That’s what good teams do. Sometimes it’s a process, but it is what it is. We have to find ways to win games.”
Another, perhaps more glaring, obstacle in their path is their road record—the Kings have just five road wins this season (5-9-6), a dreadful record that must improve greatly if they are to have any hope of making the playoffs this season.
“If [that] doesn’t piss you off, as a player, you shouldn’t be playing at this level,” said Brown. “But as individuals, teams, coaches, you pore over video and stats, and this and that. We need to figure it out, and it’s something we have to figure out very quickly here, because of the situation with the standings, and how many road games we have.”
“I don’t know if there’s any rhyme or reason, because if you look back at the playoffs the last few years, our road record has been pretty good,” added Brown. “But now we’re where we are, and we have to move on.”
The one thing the Kings have going for them is that over the past three seasons, they have been able to turn on the jets whenever they’ve needed it the most.
“I think our team, historically, is best when our backs are against the wall,” Brown noted. “We dig down and find a way. This is another situation where it’s an important  games left.”
Do the Kings have yet another huge, late-season push in them?
Fasten your seat belts, hang onto your hats, and make sure the kids meet the height requirements, folks, because this is likely to be one hell of a ride, and a bumpy one, at that.
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