Despite a seven-game winning streak, the season isn’t going as planned for the LA Kings.
Well, this isn’t how it was supposed to go.
Coming into this season, the LA Kings were expected to be better than the perennial lottery pick team they have been for the past few years. The promise of a top-rated prospect pool finally starting to graduate to the big club, to go along with the acquisitions of Phillip Danault, Viktor Arvidsson, and Alex Edler had Kings fans believing a playoff berth could be a reality.
The days of the dreaded rebuild looked to be behind the team.
The opening game of the season for the Kings seemed to confirm this notion. A 6-2 thrashing the Vegas Golden Knights – who were widely preseason favorites to win the Pacific Division – gave fans a glimpse of a whole new team. This version of the Kings was fast, aggressive, creative, and above all, exciting.
Then, the ghosts of seasons past came back to haunt the team.
The Minnesota Wild came to town two days later, and although they only lost by one goal, the Kings reverted to their bland, robotic ways on offense. The same can be said for the games that followed in Nashville, Dallas, and then an embarrassing 7-3 loss to the Blues in St. Louis.
The Kings followed up the bad start with a seven-game winning streak. Goaltender Jonathan Quick suddenly found the fountain of youth, and the Kings appeared to have done a 180.
A team that had been left for dead was now looking like a serious playoff contender, as despite the disastrous injuries to Doughty and Walker, coach Todd McLellan appeared to have pushed all the right buttons in righting the ship.
All good things come to an end, and the winning streak was ended on a heartbreaking loss in overtime in Winnipeg to the Jets. Since the loss in Winnipeg, the Kings returned home to the Staples Center and lost five straight games.
The first two were against eastern Conference powerhouses Washington and Carolina, so losing to those teams really isn’t a reason on itself to sound the alarm – even though they could have won those games with less sloppy play.
The game that followed Carolina against the hapless Arizona Coyotes, however, was enough to highlight some genuine concern as to whether this team is actually going to take any steps forward this season.
Yes, Arizona goaltender Karel Vejmelka played an excellent game, but it also underscored the fact that once again, the LA Kings cannot score goals when they really need them.
The Arizona game should have served as a wake-up call, but it did not. Three nights later, old friends Jack Campbell and Jake Muzzin visited the Stapler with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which was not pretty. In front of a national TV audience, the Leafs completely outplayed the Kings in a game where Los Angeles looked like a step behind the Leafs all night long.
The malaise that has been set into this team cannot be allowed to linger. Five games become ten and then twenty in a blink of an eye in the NHL, and if this continues, the Kings’ goal of making the playoffs this season might be in real danger. The question now becomes, what can they do about it?
Let’s start with the absence of Drew Doughty. Simply put, Doughty is irreplaceable on this team, and they will have to learn to live without him for a while. The Kings first recalled Austin Strand from the Ontario Reign to fill the roster spot, and this was a good choice as the team could use some more physical players (more on that later).
The problem with Strand is, like most of the rest of the LA defense corps, he is limited offensively. Barring a trade for the “young, dynamic, offensive-minded, left-shot defenseman” (which will cost them a lot of prospects and/or draft capital), the solution will have to come from within the organization.
Clague looks pretty comfortable as a power-play quarterback, and in his NHL debut, Durzi recorded a goal and assist, so there is potential already within the organization. Now, the LA Kings just have to give them a fair chance to show they belong in the NHL.
Getting more offense from the defense would be a good start, but with the Doughty and Walker injuries, that is certainly a lot easier said than done. Still, the team must carry on, of course, and a “next man up” mentality must prevail. Adversity can also create opportunity, which leads us to the next area of concern for the LA Kings.
It has been said repeatedly that the Kings have one of, if not the best, prospect pools in the NHL. General Manager Rob Blake and the company have decided to take a slow, patient approach with their prospects – but how much longer are they going to wait?
The “same old Kings” approach has not worked for the past few seasons and will not work now either. The LA Kings require some shakeup, and the longer these current doldrums last, the more drastic the shakeup will need to be.
What better way to send a jolt through the lineup than to bring up some youthful energy in the form of Alex Turcotte, Samuel Fagemo, and although he’s not a rookie, Martin Frk, to go with Kaliyev, Clague, Durzi, and Rasmus Kupari.
Of course, some established veterans would have to take a seat, but that wouldn’t be a bad thing either – it might just be time to send a message that mediocrity will no longer be tolerated.
Should the LA Kings choose to go this route, it will be up to coach Todd McLellan to use them correctly. I understand the thinking behind the “earn your spot in the lineup” mentality, but there has to be some flexibility as well. Putting someone like Arthur Kaliyev, for example, on the fourth line, playing fourth-line minutes, then expecting top-line production out of him is unrealistic.
Play to “the kids” strengths, put them in spots where that can happen, and the results could be just what the doctor ordered. Try it for nine to ten games to give it a legitimate chance to work. If it doesn’t, it still would not be any worse than what is happening right now.
By all means, the season is not lost. This could very well be a bump in the road that will be turned around as quickly as it happens. Doughty will be back soon, and Quinton Byfield is nearing his return date as well, so help is on the way.
The LA Kings cannot wait too much longer to remedy the problem if this persists – listening to the song “Gloria” on a jukebox will only work once in a lifetime, and the 2019 St. Louis Blues already used it.
The LA Kings have a good chance as anyone in the Pacific Division to make the playoffs this season. They just can’t get themselves behind the eight-ball already.