This year’s version of the LA Kings has molded a brand new identity after several years of roster turnover saw key veterans depart in either trades or free agency. The main takeaway when watching this group is how confident they are. In the previous two seasons, a bad goal would turn into two, or an early goal from the opposition would sour the tone that night.
However, the Kings find themselves occupying the third spot in the Pacific Division with 31 games remaining. They’ve won eight of their last 11 games while primarily playing on the road, and Todd McLellan’s group has had quick responses to the game’s first goal in the last three games.
In Vegas, it was Andreas Athanasiou on the breakaway. Against Arizona on Saturday, it was Adrian Kempe‘s blast from the high slot. And on Wednesday, it was Blake Lizotte‘s tip-in 18 seconds after Clayton Keller opened the scoring for the Coyotes.
“When you’re a confident group, you have confidence going into every game that you have a great chance to win,” Blake Lizotte said to the media on Thursday. “Even when bad things happen, you’re gonna get your chances to tie the game. I think that just goes to show, too, it helps to have a character group that when you get scored on, no one’s hanging their head. You get right back after it.”
While the Kings were saying goodbye to players like Jake Muzzin, Trevor Lewis, Tyler Toffoli, they said hello to Lizzote in the form of a three-year entry-level contract in April 2019. The undrafted free agent out of St. Cloud State made the Opening Night roster in the 2019-20 season, scoring six goals to go along with 17 assists in what was a very positive rookie season.
His sophomore season was not as promising, as Lizotte struggled as the team’s second-line center, eventually finishing with a lackluster three goals and 10 points in 41 games.
However, he’s found a home on the LA Kings’ fourth line this season, potting a career-best seven goals and 15 points overall. Lizotte has been one of the main reasons the Kings hold a playoff spot, just as the calendar is about to flip to March.
And as they inch closer to the finish line, the possibility of being in the playoffs is looking more and more like an actuality.
“I think the first half of the year, you talk a lot about how these two points in October are as important as two points in April, but now we’re at that point where it’s becoming a reality to make the playoffs,” Lizotte added. “We always say, we’re kind of in the playoffs now, even though there are 30 games left.”
There has certainly been more scoreboard watching than in recent seasons. With Edmonton falling in Tampa on Wednesday, the LA Kings leapfrogged the Oilers in the standings and are only one point behind Vegas for second place in the division.
However, they have to keep the gas pedal down. Along with Edmonton, the Kings have Anaheim and Dallas right on their heels.
Young players like Quinton Byfield, Arthur Kaliyev, and Tobias Bjornfot have all had to continue their development at the NHL level while trying to help the Kings in the playoff push. If anything, being in a playoff race can aid in their development because it will force them to find that next level in their game.
Much like Lizotte has this season.
“I think that’s kind of the progression of this rebuild over the last three, four, or five years, some of these younger guys are starting to get more experience, including myself, to understand what it takes to win in this league,” he concluded.
The LA Kings have yet another big test on Friday, facing the Anaheim Ducks, who are just two points behind Los Angeles in the standings.