With 20 games remaining in the 2021-22 regular season, the LA Kings are holding onto second place in the Pacific Division. They’ve been hit hard with the injury bug within the last couple of weeks, going just 5-4-1 over their last 10 games. A quick look at the standings, Edmonton is like the warning sticker on your side mirror: “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear,” trailing by four points but with two games in hand.
As it has been all year, special teams are really hurting this team right now. The Kings went 0-for-4 on the power-play against the Colorado Avalanche, a team with very few flaws but were 20th in the penalty kill coming into Tuesday’s game. Los Angeles has also given up eight shorthanded goals, tied for the most in the National Hockey Hockey League with the New Jersey Devils.
Who really has the advantage?
The Kings are converting on the power-play at a lowly 15.8 percent conversion rate, including a 6-for-45 stretch since February 1.
“Our power play, I thought the Danault group was good, the other one wasn’t real good at all and that hurt us,” LA Kings head coach Todd McLellan said following Tuesday’s 3-0 loss to Colorado. “As short-staffed as we are, that’s where we have to take advantage of some of those situations and get at least one and we failed to do that here and in San Jose, and it didn’t help us. The game that we did win, really short-staffed, we were able to score 6-on-4. When we took advantage of it, it helped us.”
Since February 1, Kings 6-for-45 (13.3%) on the PP; 15.8% on the year.
Why not try different personnel on the PP at this point?
Obviously, a few players missing from the lineup right now, but this feels like the definition of insanity.#GoKingsGo
— Ryan Sikes (@ryan_sikes10) March 16, 2022
They really have nothing to lose making some personnel changes on the first power-play unit, starting with one big change.
First power-play unit
It might be time to take Anze Kopitar off special teams completely, starting with the power-play. At 34 years of age, Kopitar has looked slow in the second half of this season, accumulating just one goal and nine assists since February 1. Over that same span, the LA Kings captain has three points (1G, 2A) on the power-play. While he only had three goals on the man advantage a year ago, Kopitar was contributing in other ways, as shown by his 20 power-play assists.
In all, he has five goals and 11 assists on the man advantage, but, again, much of that was done during the first half of the season.
So for starters, how about replacing him with Quinton Byfield? It’s been a question I’ve seen from many on social media: Why isn’t Byfield getting power-play time?
At 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, the Newmarket, Ontario native is a big-bodied forward to park right in front of the net to not only screen the goalie but to re-direct blasts from the point. In 32 games with the Reign last season, Byfield collected three points (2G, 1A) in 32 games on the man advantage. Not overly impressive numbers, but the track record from his time in the OHL suggests he could be a long-term solution here. With Sudbury during the 2019-20 season, Byfield had 22 (6G, 16A) power-play points in 45 games played.
I like Alex Iafallo here because he wins those ugly puck battles down low and keeps the puck in that gives the Kings additional scoring chances. Sean Durzi will be replaced by Drew Doughty when he is healthy enough to return, but he has done a fine job on both power-play units as a puck-moving defenseman. Viktor Arvidsson will replace Arthur Kaliyev, who will slide down to the second unit.
Let’s see what Byfield can do.