USATSI_8510413_154158418_lowresIt’s hard to believe, but the Los Angeles Kings will not be returning to the post-season. The defending Stanley Cup champions had their playoff hopes extinguished on Thursday night after losing to the Calgary Flames by a final score of 3-1. The Flames, by the way, are in.

This is the first time the defending Cup champs missed the playoffs following their ultimate victory since the Carolina Hurricanes were taken by the same winds of fate in 2006-2007.

How could this have happened? That’s a good question.

Fatigue likely played a big role. Consider the fact that the Kings played 64 gruelling playoff games over the course of the last three seasons. There was also competition of Olympic proportions for many key players. The Kings didn’t always dominate during the regular season, but they were almost always able to find that extra gear of “compete” in time for the playoffs. This year, there just wasn’t enough gas in the tank to push the team over the line.

Look at Drew Doughty. He averaged 29:02 of ice time, up 2:38 over his career high. In 29 games, he logged over a half hour. For a 25-year-old, that’s a big workload. But it also exposes a weakness in the inherent lack of depth on the Kings’ blueline. When you have to lean on Doughty that much, there’s a problem.

Goalie Jonathan Quick played in 71 games. He played 72 in 2009-2010, but fatigue was certainly setting in this season. He posted a 2.26 goals against average, which is tremendous and good enough for eighth in the NHL. He also had six shutouts, but his numbers were astonishing last season and he came up short in the end.

The pattern is clear: the Kings have had to lean too much on their star players to get the job done. And this time, they didn’t get the job done.

To be fair, injuries and other off-ice matters were an issue. Defencemen Robyn Regehr and Alec Martinez missed considerable time, while newer acquisition Andrej Sekera also missed time due to a lower body injury. Slava Voynov was also on the shelf due to a league suspension following felony domestic violence charges.

From their disappointing performance on the road to their lack of depth, it’s clear to see how and why the Los Angeles Kings missed the post-season. They won’t be happy with how things went this season and for good reason. There are reasons for how things broke down, but these aren’t excuses by any means and the Kings will be back with a vengeance next year. Bet on it.

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