Two games, two more losses for an LA Kings team that had a closed-door meeting last Saturday and delivered a pair of road performances in which they sharpened their competitive level – as well as the clarity that this is going to be one tough slog of a year. In a game that didn’t see any real surplus of scoring chances either way – missed you, Kings-Wild – Los Angeles got off to a solid start but wasn’t able to beat Devan Dubnyk in their three best chances of the game, all of which came three minutes in. Dubnyk’s stop on Pearson’s mini-break, and some slick Mikael Granlund stick work that appeared to affect Ilya Kovalchuk’s release on the rebound kept the game scoreless early and allowed Minnesota the ability to settle in and eventually find their game. Right now, it’s almost farcical for the Kings. This was a solid road period, but they allowed a first period goal for the sixth straight game when a puck deflected in off Eric Fehr’s glove – but without being deliberately directed, unlike Jeff Carter’s waved-off goal in Dallas – and still haven’t led at any point since their win at Montreal. Role players continued to put points on the scoreboard, and though the Kings were brought back into the game by Kyle Clifford, the depth scoring yield has heavily favored the opposition to this point. And, familiarly, this was another night in which they were essentially done in by a power play that’s now 3-for-34. In the second period, trailing 2-0 and with a chance to get back in the game, they didn’t set their power play up until there were 12 seconds remaining. They virtually spent six straight minutes on the man advantage in the third period, took four shots from an average distance of 46 and a half feet, and per Natural Stat Trick, registered one scoring chance in 6:22 of 5×4 time. These are details that make it very difficult to win hockey games.
Ilya Kovalchuk has gotten around the ice well and largely hasn’t contributed to the team’s myriad of problems through the first 10 games, but has he been a part of the solution? He hasn’t yet. Apart from their challenges in generating speed in transition to set up their man advantage, they haven’t yet been able to find the right spot on the ice for Kovalchuk to fire off that one-time blast idealized over the summer. That finishing ability is there, and perhaps Dustin Brown’s return sparks a rise in greasy goals and second and third-chance efforts from all who play around him, given his effective trenchwork. Right now, they’ve scored one goal in five of their 10 games and Anze Kopitar is yet to record an assist despite very capable snipers to his right and left.
These next seven games at home are immensely important – obviously never something you want to hear three weeks into the season – just as the past two road games were important, and the two home games before them. If the Kings have any hope of making something out of this mess and turning their season around, they’re going to need to get Jonathan Quick going again. Given their scoring challenges, there’s no happy endgame here in which Quick struggles and cedes important starts to Jack Campbell, even if Campbell has been one of those players who has been a part of the solution like Alex Iafallo and maybe one or two others. While they’d benefit from Quick stringing together a few wins, anything short of an entire team effort will result in an ugly and continued slog. It’s a term that’s sometimes derided on here, but that structured and detailed “team game” is going to have to flex its muscles and buck up as opposed to the disparate parts that to this point have worked awkwardly in concert.
-Lead photo via Bruce Kluckhohn/NHLI