Can the Kings and Predators get back to the playoffs this season?
Their success last season, along with off-season roster moves made both of these teams attractive sleeper picks in the Western Conference. With a quarter of the season basically completed, these two teams still have some question marks that need to be answered before they can be considered legitimate contenders.
Los Angeles Kings
Los Angeles Kings: 11-8-2, 24 points (2nd place in Pacific Division)
Although second place sounds great for the LA Kings, the standings are so tight in the Pacific division that only four points separate second and fifth place. The Kings got off to a hot start in their first ten games where they were scoring a ton of goals, but have since cooled down offensively.
Gabriel Vilardi leads the team in goals this season with ten, while the big-ticket free agent, Kevin Fiala, leads the team in points with eighteen. The Kings were a top-five offense through the first ten games of the season where they scored three or more goals in eight of their first ten games. Since then, it has been a mixed bag of streaky offense and poor goaltending.
Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen both have over a 3.00 GAA and under a .900% SV, which is going to have to change if the Kings want to make any real noise. The Kings currently have the 10th worst GAA in the NHL, allowing 3.38 goals against on average.
As of late, the Kings have lost three of their past four games and have a pivotal stretch of home games coming up with five of their next six games in Los Angeles. Not a lot of people saw the Kings as a run-and-gun type of team coming into this season, but it is shaping up that they are going to have to outscore opponents given the mediocre defense and goaltending displayed so far. It will be interesting to see how this team’s identity will evolve as the season goes on, but the Kings still have some of the best depth in the Pacific division and should be respected as a dark horse wild card team as of right now.
If you want to hear more in-depth Kings analysis, check out this interview the Empty Betters podcast had with LA Kings super fan and season ticket holder, Morgan Miller:
Nashville Predators: 9-8-2, 20 points (5th place in Central Division)
The Predators were a team that a lot of people were high on considering their success last season along with the additions of Ryan McDonagh and Nino Niederreiter. So far this season the Predators have been average and that is in large part due to the mediocre play of Juuse Saros.
Saros has been the backbone of the Predators for the past couple of seasons ever since Pekka Rinne retired, but this season it has been a struggle for the Finnish goaltender. Saros is 7-6-2 so far on the season with a .905 SV% and a 3.06 GAA. These are not the numbers that fans are used to seeing from Saros, but the good news is that despite the subpar performances from Saros this year, the Predators are still in the middle of the pack in the Central division.
Filip Forsberg and Matt Duchene have led the way offensively for the Predators just as everyone predicted, but could use some more help from Ryan Johansen to get things ramped up offensively. Roman Josi leads the blue line with sixteen points through nineteen games. While Josi has been good for the Predators, they might need him to return to the other-worldly form that we saw from him last season for this team to really jump in the standings.
The Predators currently rank 27th in the NHL in goals scored per game with 2.7. If they can get their offense and power play clicking, they should be able to finish top 3 in this division given their strong defensive core and proven veteran goaltender.
Both the Predators and Kings have been average so far this season, but the good news is they have both been good enough to remain competitive in their divisions. If these two squads can get some solid consistent goaltending and figure out the power play, then look out for these two teams to make some noise.