The Los Angeles Kings lost an eminently winnable game in an 11-round shootout when they were unable to hold two third period leads against the Arizona Coyotes. Compare that to March 17, 2014 – the Shamrock Shake game – when they let a third period lead slip away and lost in regulation to Phoenix, ending a 21-0-0 stretch that season and a 126-0-11 stretch in their prior 137 games when entering the third period with a lead. Over the last three seasons, Los Angeles is 75-9-8 when entering the third period with a lead. There is never any one singular answer to the question, “What happened to [Sports Team x] when compared to [Previous Team y], but these records, and the team’s challenges to score goals this season, are based more heavily on personnel decisions and retention than anything else.
The Kings played a very good home game on Tuesday, some 24 hours after losing their most important game of the season to date. This, of course, has been repeated ad nauseam after so many losses this season. But the need to increase scoring, the team’s single biggest challenge this season, whether internally or externally, was never addressed after Milan Lucic signed with Edmonton. Los Angeles scored one five-on-five goal. They scored one shootout goal over 11 rounds. These familiar issues directly correlate with a lack of skill and finishing ability throughout the lineup. Los Angeles’ third line center was a rookie – a very promising rookie who’s going to eventually start cashing in more regularly on the scoring chances he’s been generating – and their fourth line center was a first year player, who despite impressive puck protection credentials, hasn’t scored a goal since before the Christmas break. Their third line had combined for 19 goals this season, their fourth line nine. (Heck, their first line had only notched 30.) It’s not exactly fair to compare any team to a Cup-winning team, but in the 2014 postseason, their fourth line center, Mike Richards, averaged half a point per game in the regular season amidst a 17-minute TOI average, took 157 shots, and supplied so much of the intangible experience and drive that characterized that team’s playoff marathon. Without any sort of consistent production from their depth contributors, and with key players having down seasons, there is too much strain when Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson aren’t scoring goals.
Still, at some point a player needs to score a shootout goal and back up a goaltender who played a terrific game through overtime – wow, that Ben Bishop save on Jordan Martinook in OT! – and denied nine consecutive shooters in the extra session. And while the team was clearly the much better team territorially and in both Grade-A and B chances, there were mistakes that put the Coyotes in position to tie the game twice in the third period. The first opportunity, on an innocuous-looking breakout feed from Dustin Brown to Jarome Iginla, ended up in the L.A. net within six seconds of the mistake in transition. (I’m generally not privy to the advanced numbers the team compiles, but anecdotally speaking, this team sure does seem to get stung by mistakes more than recent incarnations did.) The second goal was maddening for the team. Drew Doughty’s narrow empty-net miss set up a dangerous faceoff in Los Angeles end, but Adrian Kempe did what his task was in that situation, which is to avoid losing the faceoff cleanly. It was a contested draw, if we’re being generous to Arizona. The puck actually popped into the air, where Derek Forbort gloved it but wasn’t able to calm it down directly at his feet. Instead, it bounced in front of him, where Shane Doan spun and had his blocked shot pop right into the wheelhouse of Max Domi, who was unmarked to the left of Bishop. Perhaps Forbort could’ve handled that bouncing puck better, but that’s remarkably good fortune that the loose puck fell right at the feet of the one open Coyote near the net. By the SportsClubStats.com algorithm, Los Angeles has a little less than a one-in-five chance of making the playoffs. Buffalo visits on Thursday.