Should the Kings Be in Panic Mode? Analyzing the Analysis of Our "Rut"

What's been holding us back? And should we be panicking about it? - Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

NHL.com's featured article on Monday evaluated whether or the Kings should be patient or panic. With the absence of Alec Martinez, the question is even more relevant. What do you think?

From Dan Rosen of NHL.com comes an article about struggling teams: Who should be patient and who should panic? Let's take a look at what he says about the Los Angeles Kings.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

Time for: Panic

This was posted on Monday morning. Since then, we've won a game (convincingly!) but lost Alec Martinez.

Why: The champs are in a rut and don't seem to be able to find their way out. They are struggling to score and aren't playing well enough defensively to overcome it.

Okay, good start. So our problems are struggling to score, and not playing well defensively. Does defensively include goaltending? We'll see, I guess.

The Offense

They're minus-9 in goal differential (22-31). Anze Kopitar and Kyle Clifford lead the team in scoring, but they have only six points each. Mike Richards has just one goal and Jeff Carter doesn't have an assist yet this season.
The goals aren't coming. Against Detroit and Nashville, it was the result of great goaltending and (in Nashville's case) crazy shotblocking. Against Colorado and Edmonton we just couldn't finish chances and had the crappiest of power plays. Performances like those offer a lot more concern than our last few losses should.
Dustin Penner has been a healthy scratch and Drew Doughty is a minus-10.
Drew Doughty is also playing 27 minutes per game. Of the top 15 players in ice time per game, how many have a positive +/-? Three... and one of them isn't a defenseman, it's Ilya Kovalchuk. (By the way, his 26 minutes/game is four minutes more than any other forward. Which is insane.) Doughty needs to play better, though workload has an impact. More on that later.
If they could have pulled out a win in Detroit on Sunday, maybe the Kings would have something to build on, but instead Jonathan Ericsson scored with 4.5 seconds left in regulation to lift the Wings to a 3-2 victory.

So our 47 shots? Our territorial domination for 59 minutes? Nope, absolutely nothing to take from that. We allowed three goals and thus the game was a waste. Now that annoys me.

"They didn't score easily in the playoffs, but they were able to be really comfortable in tight games and were able to find a way to play with the lead," [NHL Network and TSN analyst Craig] Button said. "This year, they haven't had the same luxury."

2.85 goals per game in the playoffs... that would have been top-10 in the NHL last season. Not overpowering, but certainly not calling that scoring difficulty. So what luxury is he referring to? Playing with the lead? We've only played with the lead in three of our last eight games, and we've won all three by multiple goals.

So maybe he's referring to being comfortable in tight games as a luxury. Has our team controlled the game when it's close? Take a quick look at Eye on the Prize.

(You'll notice Fenwick% is used to evaluate the teams. I'll directly quote the definition of Fenwick% from that site... it's "The percentage of total shots and missed shots that were taken in total for a team.")

OK, the Kings have 61% of shots in tie games, while their opponents have 39%. When the game is within one goal, the Kings get 58% of the shots, and their opponents get 42%. In the Detroit game we had 43 of 74 total shots when the score was close... 58%. Against St. Louis the game stopped being "close" after Carter's second goal; at that point, shots were 11-6 Kings, so they had 65% of the overall "close" shots.

So we're comfortable in close games, at least according to getting more shots and more chances. So, as Dan Rosen asks...

Why has it been such a struggle?

The Defense

Part of the blame has to go to injuries to key defensemen Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell -- a pair of penalty killers and big, physical blueliners who can eat up lots of minutes. Greene is done for the season after back surgery and Mitchell hasn't played yet due to offseason knee surgery.

Definitely missing these guys. Ellerby and Drewiske are unquestionably a drop-off from Mitchell and Greene. And Muzzin or Campbell (Muzzbell?) will be a drop-off from Martinez

"It's not that you don't have depth, but now you're asking players to carry more minutes and are they capable of contributing when they do," Button said. "Drew Doughty has to carry more of the load. Slava Voynov is asked to do more. Rob Scuderi is asked to do more. [Alec] Martinez fell into that 5-6 area and when you get those injuries, you're asking him now to play top-four minutes. Everybody gets extended and from a defensive point of view, that becomes a challenge.

Button is correct here; all the D-men are carrying heavier loads. Is this having an impact on our top defensemen contributing? It's certainly dragged down Drew Doughty's offensive numbers, although given that he's averaging 2-3 shots a game and seeing PP time, I think we'll see a goal from him soon enough. Scuderi's +/- (along with Doughty's) is also suffering. Do we expect these individual stats to continue looking ugly? It certainly might with the absence of Alec Martinez, so we'll need to keep an eye on that.

Counterpoint: Voynov has had to handle tougher competition and play extra ice time, but instead of suffering, he's absolutely flourishing. Not enough we can say about his play.

"I mean, Mitchell and Greene, it's penalty killing and being able to clean up the front of the net.

Penalty killing ranks 18th in the league. So not great, but not terrible. And certainly not a reason to PANIC. Clearing loose pucks in the goalmouth was an issue earlier in the year, but off the top of my head, most of the recent goals against have been on the first shot, not the rebound.

"Those aspects are so key to not spending time in your own zone. The more time you spend in your own zone the less time you have to try to generate offense."

This is correct. So how much time have we spent in our own zone? Again, let's ask Behind the Net.

Second-fewest shots against per game. So, not much.

"That's the one thing I thought L.A. did a tremendous job of last year in the playoffs -- they were able to not give up very much in their own zone and not spend a lot of time in their own zone."

That's right. In the playoffs last year, we didn't give up many shots (aside from the Vancouver series), and in the final two rounds we consistently outshot Phoenix, and we either outshot or kept pace with New Jersey. But we also did that for the entire 2011-2012 regular season, outshooting our opponents by four shots/game. And we're doing it MORE this year, outshooting our opponents by eight shots/game.

So, What Was the Question Again?

There's nothing wrong with Rosen's basic statement, which is: the Kings have to score more goals, and allow fewer goals. That's not even an argument. But the problem is what his opinions, and Button's quotes, suggest. The implication is that we're spending too much time in our zone, and not getting chances on the other end, and... gulp... we should PANIC. But that's not the problem.

The problem isn't that we're giving up more in our own zone; it's that what we are giving up in our own zone is ending up in the net. And it's safe to say we can attribute the opponents' high shot percentage this year to one or more of the following:

  1. Below-average goaltending
  2. Allowing the opponent clean looks at the net
  3. Pure, dumb, statistical luck

There are big questions at this point. Will Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier stop more shots than they have been? Will missing three of our top six defensemen allow opposing teams to get more shots and better chances to score? Will our struggling forwards maintain the chances, but score more goals? The answers to that are going to determine whether Kings fans can relax... or freak out.

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