In another game in which the Los Angeles Kings outshot, vastly out-attempted and narrowly out-chanced their opponents, they again lacked any finishing ability and could not establish or benefit from the convergence of bodies, pucks and chaos in front of the net during a quiet home loss. It’s not easy to make the playoffs with middling home records, and since the start of the Kings’ first seven-game home stand in January, they’re a lukewarm 10-9-1 at Staples Center, with six of those regulation losses and the one shootout loss coming against teams currently outside of the playoff picture. Enter the New York Rangers, who began Saturday as a 26-9-1 road team that had ceded an NHL-low 81 goals over 37 road games, and the storyline was not unlike a handful of other storylines this season. There were chances – maybe a few more rush looks than the typical game – and Los Angeles was not able to capitalize on them.
The Kings’ start was excellent. They embodied the ability to play with pace, if not necessarily benefiting from top-tier individual speed, and were able to make decisions and get to spots on the ice quickly for the first cycle of shifts through the lineup. For the first five or six minutes the team was fast to pucks, forechecked well and moved the puck quickly in the offensive zone, and had they generated a little better luck, could’ve taken an early lead on a deflection earned through some pretty consistent pressure. That mostly ended when Jake Muzzin was whistled for a (questionable?) interference minor, and while the Rangers didn’t score on the man advantage, they turned the momentum of the game around and went on to test Jonathan Quick with the majority of chances and shots through the remainder of the period. While New York also found success doing so – Michael Grabner failed to score on two breakaways – Los Angeles began to find space and sent forwards past the visitors’ defensemen. Nick Holden caught up to Tyler Toffoli to end one scoring chance, and a very good Antti Raanta made saves on Jonny Brodzinski (who was not helped by a rolling puck) and Dustin Brown when the Kings generated their best chances of the night.
This probably will seem like an obvious statement to many and perhaps vague and loopy to some, but there’s just some sort of intangible, ambiguous element or catalyst that this team doesn’t have. There surely are measurable facets of the team’s game that are lacking – shooting percentage in five-on-five play, for one – but this is some hard-to-define abstract that isn’t really measurable. It’s not for a shortage of work or preparation, but this season-long struggle to score, while also related to personnel challenges and the tight-checking potential for offensive suppression, seems to be rooted in something more opaque and cerebral. It’s difficult to define but was again present in Staples Center on Saturday night.