Seven games are in the books, and the Kings have managed only a .429 points percentage. That's 23rd in the league. Instead of contending for their division, they're languishing in the cellar.
Not where Lombardi wants them to be.
In a short season, factors like unsustainably hot power plays (such as Tampa Bay's at 36.6%) and good streaks by goaltenders (such as Craig Anderson's .964 SV% in 8 games) can have a huge impact on a team's chances of making the playoffs. Shooting and save percentages are always volatile in the short term, and usually even out over time. But in a 48 game season, luck can help a team bank points before poor possession numbers catch up with them.
Right now, the LA Kings have the opposite problem. Thanks to Robert's terrific work, combined with stats at Behind the Net, we know that the Kings have been getting more shots and scoring chances than their opponents on a regular basis. This bodes well for their chances going forward. However, their goaltending has been inadequate and their special teams abysmal. Despite controlling most of the play, it hasn't yet paid off in regulation wins.
Jonathan Quick is well below his career average, sporting a .897 SV%. His even strength save percentage is worse. He will have to get back to his usual self if the Kings have any hope of making the playoffs. That's not to say he has to have another Vezina-caliber season; he simply needs to be average. Hopefully he can shake off the rust and recover from not playing for so many months.
LA's power play rank is 27th; though showing signs of improvement, it's still a measly 10.8%. Even their penalty killing, a traditional source of strength, took a hit after a terrible performance in Anaheim. It's now ranked 18th.
As a counterpoint, we know that the Kings are - at least in the small handful of games we've seen so far - the same strong puck possession team they had become before their championship run. That suggests that the team isn't fundamentally flawed, and a major move isn't necessary.
If this losing record continues, though, we wonder how long Lombardi will wait to make changes.
A chance to right the ship
We know that Dean Lombardi isn't afraid of bold mid-season shakeups, and he has a green light from AEG to spend. Tim Leiweke told him that missing the playoffs last year wasn't an option, and the blockbuster Carter/Johnson trade was the result. We remember how well that worked out.
We also know that Lombardi is deeply analytical, and not reactionary. For now, he seems willing to be patient.
Helene Elliott of The Los Angeles Times advanced an interesting theory on Hockey Night in Canada Radio -- that Dean Lombardi believes the defending champions deserve a chance to prove they can right the ship before he makes any moves. They've won two straight after three losses to open the season. It fits with what Lombardi wrote in a brief email: "I have to let this play out a bit." - Elliotte Friedman, 1/30/13
Despite the losses of Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene, I see no reason why this current roster can't get back to winning. Their underlying numbers are strong, even though some veterans have room for further improvement. Kopitar is still recovering from the tweak to his knee; while he hasn't always been his dominant self, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have picked up the slack. They are being killed in the short term by poor goaltending and special teams - yet both of these things are impacted greatly by luck, and can change very quickly.
Like all teams in the NHL, the Kings track scoring chances closely. There have been hints over the years that Lombardi also looks at possession stats. Though there are clear areas for improvement, there are also encouraging signs for the future.
But this brings us back to the problem of a shortened season. How long can Lombardi wait to let this play out?
Demand for season tickets has been through the roof, and I very much doubt that AEG has changed its mind about the importance of making the playoffs. The Stanley Cup champion roster has earned a chance to turn the ship around, but a sub-.500 record won't cut it. Unless wins start piling up, it's quite possible another roster shakeup is coming on Leiweke's orders.
Dates to watch for
Here are key dates in the schedule going forward. The Kings have 41 games left.
- 10th game, Feb. 10th, against Detroit
- 20th game, March 4th, against Nashville
- Season midpoint - March 11th, against Calgary
- Trade Deadline - Wednesday, April 3rd
- Regular season ends - April 27th
If the Kings make a move at the deadline, there will be 12 games after that to make a late-season push.
Say you're Lombardi. If the Kings' losing record continues, how long do you wait before you make a move? Do you think a major move is needed, or minor tweaks?
Please toss around any roster tweaks or trade ideas you have in the comments.