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Tell your Mamas and your Papas, Kings likely to catch opponents California Dreamin’

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Since moving to where the neon lights are pretty, team helps fans forget all their troubles and forget all their cares when they go Downtown.

Feb 20, 2020; Los Angeles, California, USA; General overall view of the Staples Center before the NHL game between the Los Angeles Kings and the Florida Panthers.  Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

As a region of transplants, Los Angeles sports venues have always attracted a disproportionate amount of opposing team’s fans. Unfortunately, vacationers following their team to the Southern California sunshine make up a minority of those supporters. The majority are Angelenos, who, despite moving West possibly even decades before, still maintain allegiance to the hometown teams of their youth.

The explosion of sports television coverage including “season passes” like NHL Center Ice and NFL Season Ticket allow transplanted fans gather as families or congregate at sports bars to communally enjoy “their” team’s games and traditions. That they are often accompanied by children or spouses born and raised in the Southland but eager to share in the fun often exacerbates the “problem.” Despite the tremendous growth of youth hockey in California, Kings fans, while never outnumbered at Staples Center, are often tasked to drown out cheers saluting not just Original Six or Canadian teams, but also the Islanders, Flyers and Penguins.

With the Kings in the midst of a nine-game home tilt and a schedule that would have seen 15 of 16 games played at home when the season was suspended, and stuck at home with no sports to watch, I took to examine whether the Kings 20-season residence at Staples Center (excluding the lockout-canceled 2004-2005 season) has proven as beneficial to the team as the building has been for downtown real estate developers.

After starting the 1999-2000 season with a seven-game road trip, the Kings made their downtown debut October 29, 1999, tying Boston 3-3. (At this point let me just preempt the Twitteratti by acknowledging that while the Kings did play a few home games at the LA Sports Arena prior to the opening of the Forum in December of 1967, Exposition Park is not “downtown.” It’s “south of downtown,” just like Dodger Stadium, host of a 2014 “home” game against Anaheim, is “north of downtown.”) LA finished that first season at Staples Center with a home record of 21-13-5-2. (.598.)

Per Hockey-Reference, the Kings have played 792 regular season games at Staples Center, posting a record of 416-279-30-67. Because a team can earn a maximum of two points per game, that means the Kings have posted 929 of a possible 1584 points for a total “points percentage” of .586. That figure surpasses the team’s .546 all-time regular season point percentage for games played at the Forum (588-458-180-16). It also far surpasses the team’s all-time regular-season point percentage of .492 (1733-1800-424-159).

At first glance, the team’s .586 home winning percentage at Staples Center appears to be a significant home-ice advantage for a team that has otherwise earned less than half of available points over its 52-plus years of existence. But is that winning percentage as good as it first appears? Does Staples Center provide an additional advantage when teams from less attractive locales visit the Southland?

According to FiveThirtyEight, NHL home teams win 55.1 percent of the time. Phrased another way, an average home-ice team should have a home winning percentage of .551. The Kings bested that mark each of the nine seasons prior to last season’s disastrous campaign. During those nine years, the team’s total home record was 208-110-34 (.639). When the league suspended operations last week over coronavirus concerns, the Kings had a home points percentage of .588.

The 2012 Cup championship team went .598 at home. The 2014 team went .610, both well above the expected .551 mark. Interestingly however, those two teams ranked only 19th and 14th in league-wide home points percentage respectively. The Kings’ best year at Staples Center record-wise was 2012-13, when a labor dispute limited the season to 48 games, all within the conference. LA had the NHL’s best home record that year, going 19-4-1 (.813) before eventually losing to Chicago in the Western Conference Final.

Interestingly, since moving to Staples Center, there were only two other times that the Kings finished in the league’s top 10 in home points percentage: 2015-16, when the team went 26-12-3 (.622) finishing seventh in home points percentage and eight in overall point percentage, and 2014-15, when the team went 25-9-7 (.695) at home (the NHL’s fourth-best home record that season), but incredibly missed the playoffs due to a road record of 15-18-8, the league’s 23rd-best road record.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Kings have finished in the bottom half of the league in home winning percentage during 13 of the 19 full seasons they have called Staples Center home. This season’s home record of 19-13-2 (.588) sounds good initially, but still places the Kings 28th in the NHL in both home and overall points percentage. The team has also finished last or next to last in home wining percentage twice since moving Downtown. Last season, the Kings had the worst home record in the league, going 17-21-3 (.457) on their way to an overall 30th place finish. The 2007-2008 Kings also ranked last in home winning percentage with an identical home record as last year’s squad. Moreover, that previous squad not only had the same amount of overall points as last year’s team, it also matched its 27th league rank in road winning percentage.

So what did I learn? Well, I’d call it more of a confirmation of a historical anecdotal truism. If you want any chance of being a good team, you better win your home games, and if you cannot win a high percentage of home games, then you’ll never be good enough on the road to make up for lost points. Thus if you want to spend the spring playing hockey, you better spend the winter protecting your own barn.

Typically this is the point in my posts where I wax poetic about the Kings’ future good or bad and invite readers to comment below or @MarkDevoreNHL. Today I express only optimism about the future. Nothing has changed as to that today, except that my optimism is not limited to our favorite hockey team. Instead of parting with the traditional “GO KINGS GO!,” I’ll just let Sergeant Phil Esterhaus of “Hill Street Blues” say what all of us at Jewels from the Crown wish to express: “Let’s be careful out there!”