Alex Iafallo started the 2021-22 NHL season off with a bang, tallying points in what seemed like every game for the LA Kings. His two-way dominance finally began to pay off as we started to finally see him record creative assists and even net a few pucks in with his wicked snapshot.
Playing in the first season of his new four-year contract extension, Iafallo finally began to look and play like the definition of a first-line player. Earlier on in the year, Iafallo, Anze Kopitar, and Adrian Kempe began to solidify themselves as LA’s top line and they started to put the Kings over the top as they finally reached a playoff-level atmosphere.
Not only was Alex Iafallo subsequently improving offensively, but his defensive skills only made him a better player.
Having a two-way player in the top six is one of the most beneficial things an NHL team can own, and that’s exactly what Iafallo brought to the LA Kings. Iafallo has been one of the most consistent defensive forwards in the league, and it was reassuring to see his offensive extinct finally kick in and help him get to another level.
While it was fun to watch Iafallo play like one of the most underrated players in the league at the time, it’s come to attention that the 28-year-old’s point production has come to a sudden halt. Iafallo still has 33 points in 68 games this season, but something feels off recently.
Iafallo has only scored one goal since January 30th which was 24 games ago. Scoring a single goal for over a month isn’t something you’d like to see from a player that receives first-line minutes. In fact, these are types of numbers that get a player benched. The only reason it seems that Iafallo hasn’t been scratched is because of his leadership and the fact that he’s been on the team for five seasons.
Throughout those 24 games, Alex Iafallo has recorded a total of four assists and one goal. That’s an average of 0.208 points per game, or better yet, a point almost every five games. Now that the Kings are in the most hectic time of the season where they’re battling for a playoff spot, having a player that records a point every 5 games on average isn’t something that should be happening.
Although it’s easy to mention the negatives, it’s quite difficult to find any positive things to say about Iafallo’s play in the last few games. Watching him miss on every scoring opportunity is painful, and it’s clear that it drives him crazy. He receives some of the easiest scoring chances every now and then, and somehow, the puck stays out of the opponent’s net.
Whatever it is, it’s been dragging Iafallo down mentally and it’s been dragging the team down. In order to win games and come out victorious during these important stretches of games, the first line needs to perform. We haven’t seen anything of that sort from Iafallo and the first line recently. While Kempe and Kopitar both occasionally do help out the team on the powerplay, the first-line slump has impacted the Buffalo, NY native the most.
We know that Iafallo is capable of generating offense and we know that he’s capable of creating plays for his teammates to score, he just hasn’t been doing that in these last few weeks. We did, however, see him record a beautiful assist on Anze Kopitar’s goal against the Seattle Kraken on March 26th, but that was the only recent successful play we’ve seen from Iafallo in the last two months.
The goal that he scored on March 31st was undeniably a refreshing feeling for fans and Iafallo himself. That goal has hopefully boosted his confidence.
We know that Iafallo is capable of pulling off dangerous chances and visionary plays, so why hasn’t this been happening in the latest games?
There is no true answer for us as Kings fans, and that’s because it could be a morale issue above anything else. Hockey players like to score goals, and when they don’t score, they’ll get upset. When Iafallo’s puck luck wasn’t going his way, it probably started to affect his on-ice performance. He obviously wants to score to get that monkey off of his back (and lucky for us, the goal he scored in Calgary could’ve been the spark), but nothing is going his way.
A further concern could be where he slots into the lineup. The first line hasn’t been generating any offensive chances in the last few weeks, and that should be an indication for there to be some sort of mix-up. Maybe it’s time to give Rasmus Kupari a shot on the first line and put Alex Iafallo on Quinton Byfield’s wing. Maybe try to move Iafallo around the lineup to see where he can find his scoring touch and with who he fits best. He hasn’t played tremendously alongside Kopitar and Kempe for a solid two months now, and that should be the green light for Todd McLellan to take Iafallo off of that line and find him a new home elsewhere in the lineup.
The greatest assumption is that he’s in a nasty slump. Players in all sports have slumps periodically, and you’ll even see some of the best and most gifted players suffer cold breaks from time to time. The only issue with this slump is the length of it. Alex Iafallo is an admirable hockey player and he didn’t simply make $4 million at the trade deadline last season for no reason. If we want to see Iafallo finally regain that offensive power he had at the start of the year, we must surround him with the best environment possible.
It’s time to see some sort of switch. Iafallo is a capable top-six forward, but the cold hard truth is that the Kings might have to take him out of the role. At least until he finds his offensive game. It hasn’t worked recently, and there’s legitimately no risk in playing him in a bottom-six role. Give a younger player the chance to revive the first line while Iafallo finally achieves some offensive power in the bottom six.
The possibilities are endless for the 28-year-old, but there needs to be something done with him in the next few days. Continually playing him in the same environment may harm him even more than we can hope for, and it’s for the best that the LA Kings shake him around in the lineup.