The Los Angeles Kings have had a rough start to their season. They’ve stumbled out of the gate to a 2-2-1 record, with their two wins coming against the Red Wings and the Canadiens. While they’ve performed well at even-strength, their powerplay has been non-existent so far, going 0-for-18 in five games despite having over 30 minutes of opportunities, 9th in the NHL. What’s even more concerning is the fact that you can’t really single out one aspect of their play as the reason for their struggles. They struggle to maintain possession of the puck and establish a presence in the opposing zone, their passes are sloppy and inaccurate and they can’t generate quality shots.
As you can see, the numbers aren’t encouraging. The Kings’ passes are often inaccurate and the ones that are completed are too often on the receiving player’s backhand. This forces them to take that extra split second where a goalie might be out of position to get the puck back to their forehand rather than take a quick shot or make a quick second pass, which leaves the opposing goaltender extra time to get into position. It is especially apparent in a couple of sequences. First, this clip from their home opener against San Jose
On this sequence, the Kings’ passes are all over the place. Their attempts keep getting blocked or deflected, forcing them to handle tough, bouncing pucks that slow down their offense. It’s actually surprising that the Sharks are unable to clear the puck at some point during the play given how many passes are off target. None of the Kings’ pass attempts are directed towards the slot and, even though they did generate a shot in close, execution like that will not lead to regular scoring chances going forward. Another example of their sloppy passing is this segment from the Jets game.
As you can see, Ilya Kovalchuk’s pass to Drew Doughty isn’t crisp or precise. It’s a slow, bouncing pass that goes to Doughty’s backhand and hops over his stick, forcing him to turn his head away from the play and take extra time to handle the puck. The next couple of passes are also slow-moving pucks, making it easy for the defense to read the play and react without having to scramble. So even when they complete passes, which they do at a bottom-five rate, they aren’t able to draw defenders out of position. They attempt too many sloppy perimeter passes that are slowly headed in the general direction of a player, rather than quick, crisp, tape-to-tape passes that force the defense to move around and leave open lanes for subsequent passes. On this sequence, the passing led to a Doughty shot from outside the slot through heavy traffic that was easily blocked by Brandon Tanev, helping the Jets clear the zone shortly after.
All this sloppy passing unsurprisingly leads to very few quality chances for Los Angeles. With the defense settling into their penalty kill formation and no quality puck movement to open up lanes, the Kings settle for outside shots at a higher rate than anyone in the NHL. For comparison, Toronto’s powerplay generates 78% of their shots from the slot (2nd in the league), more than twice as much as the Kings. As a result, Toronto’s powerplay unit converts at a scorching 47% rate. All this distance shooting leads to one of the worst shooting accuracy in the NHL, as opponents force a ton of shots wide of the net (6th most misses per-2) and clog shooting lanes (3rd most shots blocked per-2). L.A. doesn’t help itself by making questionable personnel decisions, such as playing Kovalchuk, their best one-timer option, as the net-front man, sliding Jake Muzzin, a left-shot defenseman, to the left circle where he can’t be a one-timer option. They’ve since changed their strategy, but it remains an odd attempt.
Bad passing, missed shots and overall lackadaisical execution inevitably lead to bad possession numbers for the Kings. They struggle to enter the zone, getting shut down before they can even set up, leading to very little possession time. They also have a high turnover rate, which gifts plenty of dump out opportunities for their opponents and chances like this going against them.
The Kings were a middle of the road powerplay last season, finishing 17th with a 20.4% efficiency. Having Jeff Carter healthy and adding Ilya Kovalchuk should have helped them make their special teams more dangerous, but they’re still scoreless when up a man. They won’t be shut out for the entire season but unless they change their strategy or play with significantly more effort and better execution, don’t expect them to be anywhere but the bottom of the league in powerplay efficiency.