The biggest late-season choke in Kings history was this time four years ago, in Andy Murray's last season. This was also, as many of the more paranoid of us are already aware, the last season the NHL took a break for the Olympics. Actually, four years ago today was the high-point of 2005-06, after which, the wheels fell off. It was such a spectacular crap-out that by the end of it I had passed all the way through despair and resignation to hysterical giggling.
If you are familiar with my habit of poring over the schedule for silver linings, you might be able to imagine my pathetic attempts to dredge up the tiniest scrap of hope. "Okay, if Edmonton loses, and the Kings win in regulation, then all they have to do is -- what? F***!" [Kings lose again.] "Okay, well, maybe if --" Etc. I'm just glad there is no blog archive of it.
On March 7, 2006, the Kings were 35-23-5, which was good for 6th place in the West, 2 points from 4th. They then embarked on a 5-12-0 run, during which the coach and staff were fired, Avery mutinied, and Taylor started packing his bags. By the end of it, the Kings were 40-35-5, good for 10th place, 8 points out of the playoffs with 2 games to go. (They finished the season with a two game winning streak.)
So, here we are four years later. Different coach, different GM, different scouts, different mascot, and exactly two -- count 'em, TWO -- of the same players. Totally different teams in every way, except for the jersey, and the accumulated PTSD of 42 seasons of Kings futility.
Just for the sake of argument, what if the last two games of this past week are the start of a 5-12-0 run? Where will the Kings sit at the end of such a nightmare?
They would be 43-32-4, 90 points, with three games left.
At that point, we would have a much clearer picture of the magical playoff point threshold. Right now, I'm betting 95. It could be anywhere from 93-97, depending on who gets hot. So the Kings would probably still be hanging by a thread, with some hope that if they win their last three games, they can squeak in. But those three games would be against PHX, EDM and COL, three highly motivated teams. Even Edmonton I would be scared of in that situation.
And not to make hypothetical matters even more grim, the four games right before the last three are NSH, VAN, ANA, ANA. I guess what I'm saying is, if the Kings are in trouble and spiraling with seven games to go, I think they're screwed. The last seven games will finish the job.
So I'm going to stop worrying about getting to 95 points by the end of game 82. Now my target is 89 points by the end of game 75. Because I think if the Kings are in a position to get to 95 by winning 3 of their last 7 games, they will do it. But if they have to win 6 of 7, it's over.
The Kings have 80 points. By this new yard-stick, they need to get at least 9 points out of their next 11 games, in order to have a shot at the playoffs, 11 points out of 11 games in order to be comfortable, and 13 out of 11 games in order to be in great shape.
Now, even if they manage fewer than 9 points in their next 11 games, they will still mathematically have a shot. My point is, if they aren't at 89 points with seven games left, given who their opponents will be, and given what their psychological state will be (to have fallen so far after having played so well), I don't think they'll have the resiliance to pull it off.
And looking over what I just wrote, I think 11 points may actually be the tipping point. If they go 4-6-1 the next 11, are they going to be confident? I doubt it. 5-5-1. That's what they have to do. 5-5-1 in the next 11 games, then they will have 91 points with seven games to go.
Those eleven games are: CBJ, CHI, DAL, NSH, CHI, NYI, COL, COL, STL, DAL and MIN.