The Kings lost a game to a team that has little foothold in the standings on Wednesday night. This, on a macro scale, is because the Kings are a middle of the pack team. After the loss, they rank 17th overall in the NHL in points (with games in hand on the six teams directly above them) and are one point up in the second wild card in the Western Conference. They will beat some really good teams (see: Pittsburgh, Chicago, Columbus), and they will lose to some not very good teams (see: Vancouver, Buffalo, Colorado). They have a positive goal differential, albeit slightly. They have hung tough with a heavy slate of road games – Los Angeles is tied with Minnesota for the fewest home games played in the Western Conference – and amidst a litany of injuries, dings and scrapes. As of right now they are a decent NHL team. As has been repeated ad nauseam, that was more or less the goal with Jonathan Quick sidelined for the majority of the season and with other injuries that have affected top producers and role players. They’re again tested by their scoring depth with Tyler Toffoli out, but this still appears to be a team that will learn whether they’ll play past April 9 on the final week of the season. Given the challenges they’ve faced, that’s a positive referendum on Darryl Sutter and the coaching staff, who have consistently prodded the team to more or less play the same way every night, as they have though most of their tenure. Sometimes the pucks go in the net, sometimes they don’t. They mostly didn’t on Wednesday.
The loss to the Canucks was heavily influenced by poor starts to the first and second periods, and because Ryan Miller was excellent. Otherwise, the Kings improved as the game progressed and dominated the run of play over most of the final 40 minutes, but that’s kind of a moot point when the team trails by two 21 minutes into the game. Los Angeles took three penalties in the first 11:27, and Vancouver cashed in when Loui Eriksson harmlessly brought the puck from the right corner towards a scoring area when Drew Doughty backed off to defend what he believed to be a passing lane, though there didn’t appear to be anyone activating towards the net. On the second goal, an innocuous-looking rush into the Los Angeles zone turned into a non-scoring chance goal as Daniel Sedin tied up Derek Forbort’s stick during the defender’s attempt to clear the zone, leaving Troy Stecher to send a bouncing puck towards the front of the net that Henrik Sedin tipped past Budaj for a goal that was both fluky and represented some iffy defensive zone play. Trailing 2-0, Los Angeles generated the majority of the remaining scoring opportunities in a dull game but weren’t able to beat Miller, other than a Tanner Pearson shot that the goalie didn’t see cleanly after the puck ramped up Alexandre Burrows’ stick blade. Trevor Lewis had a quality chance on a pinpoint diagonal feed from Jake Muzzin, but Miller’s best saves came when he denied Anze Kopitar on a putback attempt and quickly reacted to Kyle Clifford’s mid-slot redirection midway through the third period.
Obviously the elephant in the room is the team’s lack of scoring, and this is a conundrum that won’t easily be solved in Toffoli’s absence. Toffoli’s not only a legitimate goal scorer, but also an excellent distributor in all situations who has assisted on six of Jeff Carter’s 19 goals this season. On the days when Carter doesn’t score, Los Angeles is 7-13-1, with four of the wins coming after regulation. (To be fair, three of those four post-regulation wins came in overtime, which counts in the ROW standings.) It’s easy to point the finger at Anze Kopitar, who has three goals. He’s clearly snakebitten; nothing is going in for him right now. The lack of scoring punch was encapsulated in the play in which Miller’s save of Dustin Brown’s shot skidded directly into his wheelhouse, and his rebound attempt was denied when Miller’s right pad somehow pinned the puck against the ice, forcing a whistle. Prying injury information from a hockey team is often a futile endeavor, but given the nature of his injury he suffered in Ottawa in November, it’s certainly within the realm of possibility to note that he’s likely playing through something that’s keeping him from operating at 100%. Still, the lack of helpers is startling. It’s partly due to the team’s overall lack of scoring (and a power play that has two goals on its last 17 chances), but Kopitar has only one assist over his last 10 games.