A slow start is nothing new to Kings fans. In fact, you have to go all the way back to the 2002-03 season to find the last time the Kings won more than a single game to begin their season. Frequently, the Kings find themselves under .500 after three or four games. They are in very charted territory right now.
It sure feels worse this time though. At least, it did before the Kings secured victories in the final two games of their much-maligned homestand. For now, panicked voices have been subdued.
Every season, I expect things to be different for some reason. Sure, the Kings won a bunch of games in a row after losing their first two last season, but they still lost those two games. They didn't even play that well in the victories! Yet, here we are, a year later, and I found myself in the same precarious position: expecting a hot start from the Kings.
Expecting Darryl Sutter-coached teams to do well early in the regular season seems to be an error. The last time one of his teams managed to be above .500 after four games was 2001-02, when he led the Sharks to a 2-1-1 record. That team would eventually fall to a 3-5-3 record after ten games. Curiously, Sutter-led teams seem to struggle in the regular season in general, but that's probably a thought for another article.
Though we're still just 85 regular season games removed from a Stanley Cup victory, the start of this season felt critical. It sure seemed like the Kings should come out and make a statement, right? "We're not gonna repeat last season. We won't be flat again." Three games later and the Kings were roadkill.
At least, it felt like they were roadkill. I mean, if we were on a road trip, the Kings were the aftermath of us all hitting a bump in the road and going, "ohmygod what was that?"
They didn't truly get run over though. The Kings were at least as fine as they've been in any regular season since Sutter took over. Sure, they were frustratingly flat offensively, but they still controlled each game for the most part.
If we go game-by-game, we can figure out what exactly went wrong.
No sugarcoating this one, the Sharks smoked the Kings. This is going to happen sometimes, especially against good teams. By the way, it appears that the Sharks might be excellent again, at least for now. As they should be. The core isn't any worse than it was a few seasons ago, the depth might be better, and they improved their goaltending situation. The Sharks are certainly not as good as they've been so far, but they should be a playoff team. We know how that goes, though.
Much as the Sharks did to them a game earlier, the Kings smoked the Coyotes. The difference? Goaltending. Jonathan Quick was far below average and Mike Smith was above average. Using war-on-ice's scoring chance bot, the Kings logged 21 more chances than the Coyotes. Limit it to "high danger" chances, and the Kings were still five better. Sutter said as much in his postgame presser.
This is the only game where the outcome should have even been up in the air. If we assume the Kings deserved a 1-1 start, it basically came down to a coin flip for game three. The Kings were badly outshot, yes, but they also badly out-Corsi'd the Canucks. If we give the Canucks some credit for blocking shots, then we can narrow it down to Fenwick and scoring chances. Both of those figures were basically identical. The Kings just couldn't get anything past Ryan Miller. It happens sometimes. In another world, the Kings were a much more palatable 1-1-1 after three games.
Games #4 & #5
A return to normalcy. By any and all measures, the Kings dominated both games. Jonathan Quick was fine. The offense generated plenty, even if the goal output was still below what we'd all like. The defense was more than enough. The Kings were the Kangz, at least for two games.
This is still a team that is more new to us than the past few have been. We still don't definitely know that the Kings are dominant, as they have been for some time now. It's still too early to say that the Kings are still good and wins will come soon definitively, but in all honesty the Kings are still good. The start to this season is the kind of anomaly that crops up from time to time in an 82-game season. That it happened to begin the season only served to tighten the focus on a very unnecessary microscope.
Sluggish start and all, the Kings have by far the best Corsi in the league. They generate far more scoring chances (and high danger chances!) than their opposition. They have played generally great hockey without reward. Do they need to take fewer penalties? You betcha. Do they need to score more goals? Definitely. Those things tend to just happen, though, so long as the Kings don't uncharacteristically panic should more losses pile up.
This roster has flaws - mostly offensive depth - but that simply makes the team "very good" instead of "possibly the best." Very good is a fine thing to be. Very good will contend for the Stanley Cup in most years. It's also possible that certain things happen to make them "possibly the best" without any significant roster changes at all.