On a five-game losing streak, and with a 1-4-1 record, the Kings were likely hoping for good news. Instead, the hits keep coming. Wednesday presented bad injury news for Kings defensemen Drew Doughty and Sean Walker.
Tough injury news for Kings’ Doughty, Walker
In Doughty’s case, he’s expected to need six weeks to return to skating. Overall, the team projects Doughty to need about eight weeks to actually return to action.
The news is even worse for Sean Walker. After suffering a torn MCL/ACL, Walker is expected to miss the rest of the 2021-22 season. (It’s not yet clear if the injury will run into the Kings’ 2022 training camp, or part of the 2022-23 season.)
Doughty suffered his injury in a knee-to-knee collision with Stars defenseman Jani Hakanpaa.
To an extent, the Kings might be relieved it wasn’t even worse for Doughty. Still, it’s painful, as Doughty’s shown signs of improvement in his all-around game after a steep drop-off in play.
Let's go with Doughty, who was encouragingly pretty good last season and seems to be on a similar track early on this year (even if the point production is obviously unsustainable). #GoKingsGo https://t.co/M3bPETNUdZ pic.twitter.com/D47dF2km76
— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) October 22, 2021
Walker suffered his season-ending injury after getting tangled with Blues forward David Perron.
Sean Walker leaves the game in the first period after bending his knee in a lockup with David Perron.#GoKingsGo #StlBlues #STLvsLAK pic.twitter.com/elw7fuHvL8
— LA Royalty (@LARoyalty1967) October 26, 2021
While Doughty’s the more significant name, the Kings’ defense will also struggle to replace Walker. He logged more than 20 minutes in each of the three games before getting injured against the Blues.
Without Doughty and with Walker leaving early, the Kings’ top defensemen in ice time were Matt Roy (28:45 time on ice), Alexander Edler (24:18), Tobias Bjornfot (20:10), and Mikey Anderson (18:19). Not ideal.
How the Kings have been playing so far
At 1-4-1, the Kings are obviously off to a disappointing start. And the silver linings might fade without Doughty and Walker in the Kings’ lineup.
That said, if you examine their numbers, the Kings probably deserve better than 1-4-1 start.
Generally speaking, they’ve been stout at 5-on-5. Via Natural Stat Trick, the Kings ranked fourth in high-danger chances (59.22-percent for), eighth in expected goals percentage (54.01%), and grade out well in most shot volume stats.
So far, the problem’s been a familiar lack of finish (6.42 shooting percentage at all strengths, fifth-worst in the NHL).
There’s also been the less familiar issue of a nonlethal penalty kill. Through six games, the Kings have allowed seven power-play goals on just 17 opportunities, resulting in a 58.8 PK percentage.
Even without Doughty and Walker, the Kings’ penalty kill is almost certain to improve. But it’s fair to wonder if the Kings will lose advantages (that impressive territorial play) while disadvantages like that PK level out.
It’s all disappointing stuff for a Kings team hoping to take a step up from a rebuild. Then again, Doughty, Anze Kopitar, and other veteran Kings may remember that improvement often means ups and downs, rather than a straight line upward.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.