Battling for a playoff position, the LA Kings have shown the rest of the NHL that they’re not a team to be taken lightly. After missing the playoffs for three straight seasons due to the organization’s rebuild, the management group decided that they would take the next step to become a playoff team.
Now, the Kings sit third in the Pacific Division with 86 points and a record of 38-25-10. A huge upgrade from the last few seasons but still not quite enough to clinch a playoff berth yet.
The Calgary Flames are the only team in the Pacific Division that is guaranteed a spot given the position that they’re currently in first place. The Edmonton Oilers have played one less game than the LA Kings, yet they have three more points. The Oilers have taken a large lead on the Kings as of now.
While the playoffs look like they’ll happen for the LA Kings, it’s not over yet. In fact, the Kings have struggled a bit in the last few games, losing two in a row. Those two games happened to be some of the most crucial games of the entire year, too.
The Vegas Golden Knights have also had a successful month, like the Edmonton Oilers, and they’ve been slowly but surely creeping up into a playoff spot. The Knights have 82 points in 72 games this year. That’s four fewer points in one less game than the LA Kings so far.
While it doesn’t seem likely that Vegas will catch up to LA, it could equitably happen.
If the Kings continue as they have been lately, and the Golden Knights keep up their tear, Vegas could pass LA. If the Knights do end up passing the LA Kings, that could be enough to send them right out of the playoff race.
The wild card race sees the Dallas Stars and the Nashville Predators battling it out while the Knights try to creep in as well. If the Kings were to lose the majority of their final nine games, they’ll fall right down to third in the wild card spot.
While the Kings may have 86 points, which is two more than the Dallas Stars and just as many as the Nashville Predators, it’s important to keep in mind that LA has played the most games out of anyone else in the Western Conference.
The Stars have 84 points in only 71 games, giving them two extra games to catch up to the Kings. The Predators have 86 points in 70 games this year. That’s three entire games that they have in hand, and if they win all of them, they’ll be up by six points to the Kings.
That means that if the LA Kings want to make the playoffs this season, they must find a way to stay in third place. Of course, Dallas and Nashville have no impact on that third spot, but the red-hot Vegas Golden Knights do.
As shown in this chart, the only hope that the Kings have in this playoff race is if they end up playing the Edmonton Oilers in the first round. If they don’t stay in third (or move up to second, which feels doubtful), there will be no playoffs.
The importance of these last nine games cannot be overstated.
Every single game that the LA Kings have left must have a “do or die” mentality. There should be no low-effort games like we’ve seen recently with the team.
If the LA Kings want to make the playoffs and put up an effort against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, they must treat every game they have left like they’re in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Regulation losses have to be avoided at all costs, and they have to find ways to get as many points as possible. If needed, take these games to overtime and shootout. Out of the final nine games, only two of the teams that the Kings are set to play are in the playoff picture.
Those two teams are the Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche. None of those teams will have an impact on the final standings for the Kings. Every other team has little to no chance of making the playoffs, creating less of a risk for the Kings if they take those games to overtime and shootouts.
As much as this contention relies on other teams like the Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers losing, most of the power is in the hands of the Kings themselves.
If LA truly wants to compete for the Stanley Cup in the playoffs, they must take care of business in these last nine games. Everything should be left out on the ice because it’s all or nothing at this point of the season.