For just the second time this season, the Kings departed a two-game set without a point, as they dropped both games played this weekend in Colorado.
Todd McLellan called the Avalanche’s performance on Friday the best game a team has played against the Kings so far this season. While Sunday afternoon featured a stronger effort from the visitors, one in which they created additional offensive opportunities, the result was the same at the end of the day. The Kings fell 2-0 and 4-1 in Colorado, with just Kurtis MacDermid’s snipe from the point in Sunday’s third period separating Avalanche netminder Philipp Grubauer from consecutive shutouts.
Perhaps this weekend was a bit of a heat check, if you will.
After the Kings fell a season-low three games below .500 in Vegas in early-February, they used the next 14 games to flip the script, as they played six games over .500 (8-2-4) to enter this set at 11-8-6, three games over the .500 mark on the season.
The Kings had lost just twice in regulation over that span, earning points from 12 of 14 games, as they worked their way from the bottom of the West Division to right in the mix for a playoff berth. Los Angeles had not faced a road test quite like Colorado since those games in Vegas, and the speed that the Avalanche play with, both with and without the puck, were major issues at Ball Arena
“Their pace of play with the puck is evident, but their pace of play without the puck, their ability to take lanes away and force you into mistakes was as good as we’ve seen from a team all year,” McLellan said after Friday’s game.
Colorado is one of the NHL’s best puck possession teams. With 347 more shots attempted this season than their opponents, they’re nearly 100 better than the team in second, and more than 200 better than the team in fourth. The Avalanche controlled the attempts by more than a 2-to-1 margin on Friday evening, though the Kings bounced back with a nearly even effort on Sunday.
Night 1 left the Kings with a bad taste in their mouths.
“The vibe wasn’t good at all,” Anze Kopitar said of the group after Friday’s defeat. “I don’t think you have to be a hockey expert to see what was really going on last night. We realized that wasn’t the game. Outside of Cal, I don’t think anybody was, or should be, satisfied with their game. We’ll correct that tomorrow.”
Night 2 certainly showed some more positives.
After Nazem Kadri opened the scoring, the Kings started to tilt the ice a bit back the other way. Midway through the second period, different forward lines were able to roll momentum over, line to line, in the offensive zone, as the Kings had more controlled zone time than they had in the prior 80 minutes.
Then, Kadri connected with Andre Burakovsky for a heck of a goal. Three minutes later, the Avalanche scored again. Suddenly, despite all of those positive shifts, the Kings found themselves trailing by three goals late in the third period.
“We put together a couple of good shifts there, and any time you have some shifts you put together, you keep some pressure on there [and give up a goal] it kind of stings,” defenseman Mikey Anderson said. “It kills a little momentum for sure, but that’s the way the game works, some days that happens to you, other days it goes your way. It’s just trying to deal with it and find a way through it.”
While the results from the two nights show a closer game on Friday, when looking at how the two matchups unfolded, the Kings can take some pride with how they bounced back on Sunday.
On Saturday, the Kings were forced to cancel their practice due to a non-COVID related illness putting a few players not feeling well in the morning. Precautionary stuff, but McLellan noted post game that not everyone who dressed was at one-hundred percent to play the game.
Without usual first-line winger and power-play presence Dustin Brown, who is out with an upper-body injury, the Kings were also down a leader, and a key contributor. McLellan was happy with how the team responded to a bit of adversity.
“Our leading scorer goes out and guys pick up the slack a little bit,” McLellan said. “Obviously, we didn’t score enough goals or play well enough, but nobody rolled over for tonight’s game, there weren’t a lot of excuses. If moral victories mean anything, we picked Dustin up tonight. Not having Olli affects us, we had a few players play, not necessarily sick, but not at their upper level. I’m pleased that the guys valued the 60 minutes and played hard, it’s a good sign for our long-term growth.”
The results from these two games are not what the Kings had in mind at this stage in the season, however, if we’re looking for one extremely positive takeaway from the weekend it has to be the play of Cal Petersen, who brought his A-Game on both nights. It’s been a whirlwind of a week for Petersen. He was added to the COVID-19 Protocol list on Wednesday, missed that night’s game against the Ducks, but was cleared on Friday and stepped right back into the net.
Petersen made 81 saves on 85 shots, good for a .953 save percentage, including a career-high 44 saves on Friday evening. On both nights, he gave the team a chance to win. Despite the lopsided shots on Friday, the Kings were just a goal away from a tie game, thanks to Petersen, while he made several key stops on Sunday, that gave his teammates a chance to swing a comeback.
“Outstanding,” McLellan said of Petersen. “Very calm, gave us a chance to steal one the other day. Today, we played a better game, but we’re not at their level yet, but he was what we thought he could be, and what he has been all year. He was outstanding.”
Petersen’s performance came with Jonathan Quick still out of the lineup. In his first opportunity to show that he can carry the load between the pipes, Petersen earns passing marks. When Quick does return, having both goaltenders firing will be crucial, as they were during the six-game winning streak earlier this season.
Looking ahead, there initially appeared to be little rest for the weary, but outside circumstances have dictated a bit of reprieve in the schedule.
A massive snowstorm here in Denver kept the team in Colorado overnight, and what was originally slated to be a game tonight against St. Louis was postponed, to be rescheduled at a later date. The Kings were staring down five games in the next seven games and will now be off from games until Wednesday evening against St. Louis.
The Blues sit one place above the Kings in the standings, five points ahead but with one more game played. An important head-to-head matchup, with just two remaining this season.