In celebration of Festivus, let us take this time to reflect on the “Airing of Grievances” for the 2021-22 LA Kings thus far.
In what is probably the least-celebrated event of the holiday, let us recognize Festivus by showcasing the LA Kings‘ “Airing of Grievances” thus far in 2021-22.
5) The (Mis)Handling of Christian Wolanin
When he scored his first goal of the season on Sunday in Washington, there was a palpable sense of Christian Wolanin finally fitting in.
Okay, one goal may not make or break a player’s tenure but since his impressive performance for Team USA in the 2021 World Championship this past June, it feels as if Christian Wolanin deserved better treatment than what he received.
Acquired from Ottawa last season for Michael Amadio, Wolanin brought some depth to the Kings’ defensive unit.
The Quebec City-born defenseman played a handful of games between Los Angeles and Ontario last season and in July, was rewarded with a one-year contract extension. However, Wolanin was later placed on waivers, went unclaimed, and placed on waivers again when the Buffalo Sabres claimed him on Oct. 16.
Wolanin, however, played just one game for the Sabres being re-claimed by the Kings on Dec. 1.
A second-generation NHLer, Wolanin may not be slated to be one of the club’s premier defensemen of the future but he has more worth than what others may think nonetheless.
It’s hard to say what the rest of the season will hold for him but Christian Wolanin should be expected to be an outlet for some needed depth, whether in Los Angeles or in the AHL with Ontario. Either way, it shouldn’t have taken this much time and trouble to figure that out.
4) Missing Quinton Byfield
One of the most exciting storylines for the 2021-22 LA Kings was how Quinton Byfield would fare in his first full NHL season.
We have yet to find out.
While it may not have been official, it seemed as if Quinton Byfield beginning the 2021-22 campaign with the Kings was a foregone conclusion. Unfortunately, in the club’s final preseason game, the second-overall pick from 2020 suffered a left-ankle fracture, sidelining him indefinitely.
While the sudden roster void left by Byfield’s injury may paved the way for a new opportunity from a new player, the big man’s void was a tough one to swallow.
The Kings struggled offensively and while he only had six games of NHL experience entering this season, Byfield’s presence was crucial for the Kings’ performance thus far. So, to suggest that the Newmarket, Ont., native was missed by the silver-and-black would be a fairly significant understatement.
Nevertheless, while the Kings did struggle offensively for much of the season thus far, they have picked things up in said category in recent weeks. As for Byfield, he has also returned from injury in recent weeks, although only playing for the AHL’s Ontario Reign thus far.
When Byfield will make his season debut for the Kings remains to be seen but after 10 weeks of not having his services, the Kings should be happy when the big man ultimately does suit up for them. It’s just unfortunate that it took so long.
3) Olli Maatta’s Decline
While Sean Walker and Drew Doughty were sidelined earlier this season, the Kings’ remaining defensemen had an opportunity to up their collective game, all the while giving prospects like Sean Durzi a chance to shine, as well. For Olli Maatta, though, it’s been a rough go so far this season.
When the Kings signed him in 2020, Olli Maatta brought with him a veteran resume that included winning two Stanley Cups – with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017. However, the Maatta experiment, if you will, hasn’t worked out quite as planned – and the 2021-22 season has been no exception.
Defensively, the 27-year-old has been more of a liability, consistently turning pucks over and, at times, looking like a deer in the headlights, so to speak, when the opposition attacked.
While Doughty has returned to action, Walker remains sidelined for the remainder of the season, as does Alex Edler, who went down to injury just a couple of weeks ago.
But, it hasn’t been all bad for Maatta recently as the Finland native has been more of an asset on the defensive side of things lately. Heck, Maatta’s offensive game has been better, too, scoring his first goal of the season last week in Florida – a goal that helped turn the tide for the Kings en route to a 4-1 victory. In fact, Maatta has been a combined plus-four in his last three games.
Prior to being scratched for a few games, Maatta was averaging between 12 and 16 minutes a night of ice time. Since then, however, the Kings have put more trust in the veteran blueliner as the 27-year-old has averaged just 21 minutes a night over his last four outings.
When looking at his brief Kings tenure overall, there may not be much to celebrate about Olli Maatta. However, if his recent performances are any indication, don’t be surprised to see things get better for the veteran in the new year.
2) Growing Pains for Cal Petersen
When the LA Kings signed him to a three-year extension back in September, it appeared as though Cal Petersen was the club’s new No. 1 netminder. That was emphasized when the Notre Dame alum started the club’s season-opener, ending Jonathan Quick’s streak, which dated back to 2009.
However, Petersen’s thus far hasn’t been what his supporters have expected.
While he hasn’t been terrible by any means, Petersen has nonetheless shown signs of growing pains, which should still be expected to a degree. However, with a 3.10 goals-against average and an .893 save percentage thus far, Petersen’s shoo-in status as the Kings’ new starting netminder has been put on hold –at least temporarily.
His 5-5-1 record may be more indicative of his team’s overall play, Petersen has nonetheless come slow out of the gate in 2021-22. In fact, the 27-year-old hasn’t played since Dec. 6 when the Kings lost a lackluster performance in Vancouver by a 4-0 count. However, it is worth noting that Petersen’s recent inactivity has been more the result of Jonathan Quick’s resurgent play than of Petersen’s struggles. Unfortunately, while he was likely going to play this past Sunday in Washington – the second of a back-to-back for Los Angeles – Petersen had to enter COVID protocol, making way for Garret Sparks to be called up to play, earning his first NHL win since 2019.
Perhaps it’s the pressure of a new contract or his new responsibilities but Cal Petersen has struggled either way. The season, of course, is still young, so only time will tell before we see how Petersen will respond to his early-season difficulties.
1) Special Teams Torment
Special teams have not been kind to the LA Kings thus far as both the club’s powerplay and penalty kill have lacked efficiency thus far.
Entering the holiday break, the Kings sit 23rd overall in power-play efficiency at 17.4%; and 77.4% on the penalty-kill, ranking them 25th overall.
For the most part, the power play has been difficult to watch this season.
While on the man-advantage in 2021-22, the Kings have had significant struggles keeping the puck in the attacking zone. More often than not, the silver-and-black have lost puck possession to their shorthanded opponents so often that it appeared as though it was them on the power play and not the Kings. Heck, they even allowed five shorthanded goals, which is second-most in the entire NHL. Only the New Jersey Devils have allowed more with six.
Of course, before we jump to conclusions, let us remember that the Kings have, slowly but surely, been better with the man-advantage in recent weeks.
While it may not always result in a goal, the Kings have made a more conscious effort to keep the puck in the attacking zone.
As for the penalty kill, their 19 powerplay goals against may not be much to write home about but it is, at least, comforting to know that 11 teams have given up more power-play tallies so far this season. That may be enough to be complacent but the Kings do have plenty of season left to improve their work with a man or two down.
While their fans can take solace in knowing that their team’s 5-on-5 play has been solid this season, the Kings must nonetheless find ways to improve their special teams play if they want to think about the playoffs.
Stay tuned for the “Festivus Miracles” next.
*What do you think of this list? A different order? Anything left off that should have been included? Let us know in the comments!