The Los Angeles Kings are getting itchy


Rarely is it a good sign when, A. the head coach is being asked if his job is in jeopardy, and B. the coach doesn’t have much of a problem with that being asked. That’s where the Los Angeles Kings, along with coach Todd McClellan, find themselves after either losing or tying their 12th of 14 games last night to the Buffalo Sabres (2-7-5 in that stretch).

Wednesday night’s loss was particularly alarming, given that the Sabres have been mostly woeful this season, whatever level of firepower they have. The only way for a good team to lose to the Sabres is if a team can’t manage to even keep a loose hold on the Buffalo’s cadre of young scorers. After taking a 3-1 lead, boy, did the Kings fail to manage even that modest task.

Sabres @ Kings 1/24 | NHL Highlights 2024

The Kings ran the gamut of dumbass defensive mistakes that tend to get a coach asked what it is it he would say he does here. Unconscionable turnover high in the offensive zone? Check. Surrendering the blue line meekly and allowing far too much space at the top of the circles? Check. Inexplicable defensive-zone turnover from the longest serving d-man? Check. And let’s throw in a neutral-zone turnover to complete the set.

All of this has been a trend the past month for LA. For the season as a whole, the Kings have been one of the better defensive teams in the league (fifth best xGA/60). But since December 28th, they’re 23rd in that category.

The main culprits have been the Kings’ top pairing of Drew Doughty and Mikey Anderson. Doughty was the author of that Clouseau-esque turnover from behind his own goal-line Wednesday night that resulted in Alex Tuch’s game-winner, and that’s generally been his M.O. of late. Phillip Danault hasn’t been his usual defensive dynamo at center either.

But as with most good teams — and the Kings are still good — that hit a slump, there may be something structural going on, but the biggest explanation is much more surface level. Such as, Cam Talbot hasn’t been able to stop any balloon heading his direction lately. Yeah, he’s facing more rubber than he did earlier in the season, but there’s no way to explain away a .879 save-percentage, which is what Talbot is rocking in January.

The other surface reason is almost always luck, and the Kings can’t buy a bucket right now. No team over the past month has shot worse than the Kings’ 4.9 percent, which is just not going to continue. Last night, the Kings suffered one of Devon Levi’s few plus NHL performances, and there isn’t much they’re going to do about that. The Kings’ chance-creation has sunk a little (3.0 xG/60 for the season and 2.81 in the past month), but not enough to worry that everything has gone wrong.

Perhaps ratcheting up the heat on McClellan and the team as a whole is that they play in a division with the biggest surprise in the league (Vancouver) and another team that is putting on one of the most dominant streaks in history (Edmonton), as well as the defending champs (Vegas). Before the season, the Kings might have thought they could take advantage of some defending champ malaise and Oilers goofiness to win the division and make the path through the playoffs a touch easier. No one saw the Canucks coming. Now the Kings have slipped out of the top three in the Pacific, and could be staring at a first-round date with the Canucks, or the Avs, or the Jets, making a third-straight first-round exit all that much bigger on the horizon. That’s not what the Kings are after.

The Kings could press the panic button and launch McClellan, trying to mirror the bounce-to-the-moon the Oilers got. But if they look at what really happened with Edmonton, nothing about their play really changed all that much. Their coaching change just coincided with some competent goaltending, at least, to combine with dominant even-strength play that had already been taking place.

The Kings have more issues to iron out, as the past month they have not been dominant at 5-on-5, but it’s not like it’s beyond them. They did it for the previous season and a half. Talbot is not going to be this bad forever, and even if he is, there’s not much any coach is going to do about a sub-.900 save-percentage. A move for a second or third pairing d-man who can carry the puck out of the zone himself and stand up at the blue line wouldn’t hurt either.

As another famous Los Angelean once said, “Nothing is f-cked here, dude.”

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