The last three games have been heart-wrenching.
The Kings lead a Toronto team that looks ready to lose but get stonewalled by a goalie not named Bernier.
The Kings play a neck-and-neck game against Anaheim only to lose on what was essential an own-goal.
The Kings battle back from an early deficit against a Phoenix team fighting for their playoff lives then collapse in the third period.
Besides their frustrating nature these games all share something more important in common. They were one goal losses, all of which gave the Kings ample opportunity to score a tying goal. They had almost 15 minutes to force overtime against Toronto, a period and a half to score against Anaheim after going down and three minutes to tie it up with Phoenix.
The last three games wouldn’t hurt so bad if the Kings could have squeaked out a point. We use to be a team that came out on the winning side of their one goal games.
I’m going to engage in an activity now that you are well aware I typically deplore, statistical analysis. Yuck.
The Kings have participated in 16 overtime this season, 12 of which occurred over the first 34 games where they had a 22-8-4 record. In the second half of the season, dating back to a December 15th loss against Chicago, the Kings have only participated in four overtimes, during which time their record is 16-8-2.
Seven of those regulation losses have been by a single goal, as the last three games have been. Suddenly that recent 8 game winning streak isn’t looking too hot. Obviously the Kings definitely need to win more games, but this whole “built for the playoffs” business has had me thinking lately, not only is the Kings low win record a problem, the lack of overtimes is highly disconcerting.
What interested me was knowing how many times have the Kings scored the goal to force overtime, and how often have they given that goal up. Overall, the Kings are 10-5 in this category (one of the overtime games was 0-0 heading into overtime), meaning that 10 times the Kings have been down a goal and tied it up to force OT, and 5 times they have been ahead only to give up that tying goal. But remember, they have only been to overtime four times over the last 36 games and of those four, only once did the Kings force the overtime. Three times they gave up tying goals.
So is this just a random smattering of stats I’ve compiled? Well, yes, but I think it illuminates something about the Kings that is a big shift away from the team that won the Stanley Cup and went to the Conference Finals the last two years; we are no longer a team that battles through adversity.
Perhaps I’ll look at this “forced overtime” stat for the last two years, but we all know that two years ago the Kings were overtime heroes and it played a big part in winning the Cup. Last year’s playoffs saw several overtime games as well. The best regular season teams don’t just win games, they net points when they lose. The Kings are doing neither lately, and really, are still riding out the success of a strong first 34 games. But remember, the point I’m making here is not how well the Kings do once they get to overtime, it’s how often they can force an overtime when trailing and how often they relinquish a one goal lead.
Now, anytime you say that a team’s record is X-X-X over the last so many games, you are being selective to make a point. I could just as easily say the Kings are 8-3 in their last 11 games, which sounds great, but I wanted to look beyond the streaks.
I don’t want to be too pessimistic here, because the Kings still retain all the potential to finish the season strong and be that team built for the playoffs, but the last three months haven’t shown it.
So what causes this? Does a lack of offense result in this minuscule overtime appearance? Well, scoring more goals than the opposition certainly negates OT and when you are down on your luck and need a game-tying goal, a robust attack is necessary. Defense is also a consideration as a strong defense doesn’t give up game-tying goals very often. I haven’t looked into how often the Kings have let slip any sort of lead. We don’t see this overall stat, though we do often see mention of a record being such and such when leading after the first or second period. I didn’t watch the FSW telecast of the Phoenix game but I’m sure Bob Miller mentioned frequently that it was the first time the Kings lost in regulation this season when leading after the second period.
Offense and defense are culprits plain as day with their hands caught trying to reach into a cookie jar they are too short to reach and too fat to utilize. The third cause for this unsettling lack of overtime is what I suspect to be the Kings inherent issue this season, and that is leadership.
I am not going to say this is Dustin Brown’s fault. I have my issues with him as a captain, as I believe Kopitar deserves the captaincy in every last respect, but this goes beyond Brown. Richards is a leader and has been ineffective. Greene is a leader, wears an ‘A’ and has been frequently scratched. Kopitar is a leader and has too often been a one-man band alongside his co-headliner, Jeff Carter.
Look, I don’t know what is going on in the Kings’ locker room, where the strengths or weaknesses lay. I’m not going to assume or infer. All I know is that something is missing – that something that sparks and motivates a team to overcome the bad bounces, the unfair referee calls and video reviews or their suspect exclusion, the player slumps, Quick misses or defensive flubs. This is not due to a lack of talent. The talent is there. It is not due to bad coaching, Sutter is not a hack. It is not just the will of the hockey gods.
An element is missing on that bench and it is of the ethereal. It is the substance of myth. The attitude that refuses denial is either gone, or it obscured by an over abundance of confidence, eagerness, mere frustration or perhaps at worst, the degradation that bastardized pride brings.
I don’t know. I don’t suspect. I don’t have answers, only my own frustration. I only began with a theory about the team’s ability to battle through adversity and some delving into the game-to-game logs showed a definitive, startling turn in this particular category when viewed through the lens of overtime.
Winning a Cup requires more than outplaying opponents. Without the ability to steal success from the maw of imminent defeat, no accolades will be endowed, no chalice lifted, no lines inscribed.
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