Los Angeles Kings relying on fresh blood to push for the playoffs

With 16 games left in the season, the Los Angeles Kings have staked a claim to second place in the Pacific Division, but injuries threaten to derail their playoff hopes.

Analysis by Edward Segal, Valley Life Editor

Locked into competition with the Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers for a playoff spot, the Kings have heated up to show that they are not to be taken lightly.

Sitting on a 11-6-2 record since the all-star break, the Kings found a way to win consistently after a slow start to the season, placing themselves in the fight for the second seed in the Pacific division. It is unlikely that the two-time Stanley Cup champions will catch the Calgary Flames to top the division, but beyond that, second place is up for the taking.

Looking to fill the holes left by a series of injuries, the Kings traded for defensemen Troy Stecher, Nelson Nogier and Frederic Allard, hoping the fresh blood will solidify their front lines.

The Kings have lost four defensemen in the month of March, including two-time Stanley Cup champion Drew Doughty, who suffered an upper body injury in early March. The 14-year veteran’s leadership will be sorely missed if he does not return to the ice.

Calling many players from the Ontario Reign, their AHL affiliate, the Kings will look to their youth and newly acquired defensemen to hold the fort down until their health improves.

“I think we expected to be in this position,” Kings general manager Rob Blake told LA Kings Insider in reference to the slew of injuries. “The next couple of weeks are really important for us, but at least the guys are in that position, where you walk into Vegas and it feels different than it did a year ago.”

Coming off a 5-1 loss to the Golden Knights, the Kings looked on the verge of dropping in the standings, but the subsequent 6-1 win over the Nashville Predators, coupled with Vegas’ two-game losing streak, kept them in second place. Stealing a point in Chicago Thursday kept them three points ahead of the Edmonton Oilers.

With the season coming to an end, the city’s 56-year-old franchise needs to scoop up as many points as possible against the bottomfeeders of the conference. The four games against their rivals from up north, the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, are vital if the Kings want to outbid them for a playoff berth.

One of the main reasons for the Kings’ success since the all-star break is their 5-on-5 play. Ranking second in shots on goal differential at +440, the Kings overcame their previous struggles in the category from seasons’ prior.

Sophomore forward Quentin Byfield has helped add to the youth and energy of the team, while the leading scorer, right wing Adrian Kempe, has proved to be an offensive threat, scoring 28 goals on the season. Claiming second in the fastest skater contest on all-star weekend, the Swedish forward proved to be a liability for opponents when he breaks through the defense and puts shots on goal.

In the Kings’ most recent victory Tuesday over the Nashville Predators, Byfield and Kempe each put a pair of goals into the back of the net.

On the downside, special teams have been an area of concern for the Kings as they are fifth worst in power play percentage and sixth worst in penalty kill percentage. Struggling to find the answer with players in the penalty box, the Kings have allowed 45 power play goals while only scoring 33.

Head coach Todd McLellan has been thinking of ways to stagger minutes to make up for the injuries and use those who are healthy to get others in the lineup going.

“I feel that the two best players that we’ve had together are [Phillip Danault] and [Trevor Moore],” McLellan told LA Kings Insider. “They’re catalysts right now, so if we were going to do anything, we would split those two players up and try to get other players going.”

In Thursday's shootout loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, Danault and Moore accounted for all of the Kings' regulation goals, proving McLellan's point.

With the competition for a playoff spot intensifying, the Kings need to stay aggressive if they are to avoid being on thin ice.

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