Los Angeles, despite a valiant comeback effort in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final at United Center on Saturday, will relinquish the title to either the Chicago Blackhawks or the Boston Bruins. The Kings were worthy champions in 2012, racing to a 3-0 series lead in all four series and losing only four games en route to winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.
They found the path to a repeat much more difficult and ultimately too tall a task, but the Kings still provided an honorable title defense. Los Angeles rallied after dropping the first two games against the St. Louis Blues in the opening round, and then outlasted the San Jose Sharks in seven games in the Western Conference Semifinals.
The Blackhawks were too much for the Kings, as the Presidents’ Trophy winners moved within four victories of claiming the Cup for a second time in four seasons. Here are five reasons why the Kings won’t be repeating as champs:
1. Offensive outage
Last season the Kings struggled to score early, reunited Jeff Carter and Mike Richards before the NHL Trade Deadline and scored plenty in the postseason. After bringing everyone from the title run back, Los Angeles finished the regular season 10th in goals per game, but the old scoring troubles returned in the postseason.
The Kings averaged two-thirds of a goal per game less in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and their 2.06 per contest is the fewest of any team that reached the second round, let alone the conference finals.
2. Road kills
The inability to score was exacerbated away from Staples Center, and the Kings won just one time in this postseason on the road. They scored only 14 times in nine road games -- 11 in eight contests before a three-goal “outburst” in Game 5 against the Blackhawks.
Los Angeles lost six times by a 2-1 score away from home, including all three games at HP Pavilion and Game 1 at United Center. It was a 180-degree turn from 2012, when the Kings won the first two games in the opponent’s building in each of the four series, and 10-1 overall on the road en route to the Cup.
3. Slow starters
In each of the three games at United Center in this series with the Blackhawks, the Kings started terribly. The earliest Los Angeles recorded a shot on goal was 6:35 into Game 2, and in both Games 1 and 5, it took the Kings more than 10 minutes.
Chicago took the lead in Games 2 and 5 before goaltender Corey Crawford had to make a save. In Game 1, the Kings took the lead with their second “shot” when Justin Williams redirected an outlet pass off his stick and past Crawford, but were outshot 17-2 in the period.
Road teams typically like to keep the home team from a fast start to the game to help dull the crowd, but that didn’t happen in any of the games in this series.
4. Speed kills
The Blues were clearly a good matchup for the Kings because they both play a similar style. Los Angeles was able to overcome San Jose, but barely. When the Kings had to face the speedy and deep Blackhawks, it proved to be a problem.
Chicago was clearly the faster team. It allowed the Blackhawks to combat the Kings’ physical style, and helped them frustrate Los Angeles by keeping the puck. The Kings were better at slowing the Blackhawks after Game 2, but they still had trouble sustaining offensive pressure in part because of Chicago’s team speed and quickness.
5. Bug catching
Los Angeles had incredible luck with injuries during the 2012 playoffs. The Kings played the same six defensemen in all 20 postseason games, and none of the key forwards missed any time (Simon Gagne was out for most of the postseason with a concussion, but the Kings weren’t expecting to have him back).
The physical play in the St. Louis and San Jose series exacted a toll this time around. Williams, Dustin Brown and Drew Doughty all confirmed to reporters after Game 5 that they were playing through injuries. Jarrett Stoll and Mike Richards both missed time with concussions. The Kings would have had their hands full with the Blackhawks at full strength, but with so many key guys nursing injuries it was a pretty implausible task considering Chicago was able to dress the same lineup save for a one-game suspension that kept defenseman Duncan Keith out of Game 4.