The LA Kings’ 2019-20 curriculum opened with the early test that Todd McLellan was keen on evaluating. Finally presented with some baseline data, there was a visible array of positives and negatives to work with in a 6-5 regulation loss in which the Kings failed to hold a third period lead and four leads overall. On a quick glance, the first returns were incomplete as a fairly typical season opener elapsed between a pair of teams looking to strengthen their cultural foundation under new coaches – teams that are eschewing catalyzed timelines to make the most out of their concerted rebuilds. These are teams with suspect defenses still implementing their structure and searching for reliable players beyond their established stars to emerge amidst a recalibration of ice time, and as a result the somewhat loose early-season play resembled the type of affair one would have expected between the teams some 30 years earlier. The Kings wanted to avoid a track meet against the Oilers, got into a bit of a track meet, and have now yielded an alarming 14 goals in their last two visits to McDraisaitlville.
If you’re a Kings fan thinking long-term, you should be encouraged by Michael Amadio scoring in his first game of the season. It’s good to see Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown with a few early alley-oops, but you largely know what you’re getting from those two scoring bulwarks. For Amadio, who netted 50 as a 19-year-old junior but hasn’t yet fully adapted the offensive part of his two-way package to the NHL, building off his standout preseason and scoring an alert, net-crashing goal is the type of detail you’d hope to see early in his third campaign. His line was excellent in both the eye-test and the possession and chance metrics, beginning early in the game when Kyle Clifford notably remained in control of his momentum as to not bump Mike Smith behind the net or give him any incentive to hit the deck prior to setting up Trevor Lewis’ goal. Per Natural Stat Trick, the line finished with a 10-2 advantage in 5×5 Corsi-for/against, 5-1 in shots for/against, 5-2 in chances for/against and were on the ice for two goals for and none against. Los Angeles’ center depth has taken a tremendous hit from where it was earlier this decade, and there will be opportunities for Amadio to continue to absorb minutes if he continues to play the way he did on Saturday, in which he logged 10:09 of even strength time, 1:48 of power play time and 2:31 of shorthanded time. Amadio also engineered a noticeably good preseason a year ago and drew some regular notice when it appeared that he’d gained a half-a-step. But it didn’t transfer into cold, hard production at the NHL level, so a few of us laid a bit low on the preseason Amadio content. I’m interested to see what the data looks like after 15 games, but the door is wide open for Amadio to run through this season. He played a confident game Saturday night.
And, of course, there were plenty of things that need maintenance. Beyond the Kopitar and Amadio lines, the rest of the forward group was a jumbled mess at even strength, and the defensive pairs were inconsistent. I liked Adrian Kempe’s two high-grade chances while on the power play – he has been an international menace for Sweden on the man advantage and factored into L.A.’s top unit – but his line was pushed back heavily against the Ryan Nugent-Hopkins-James Neal combination, and in four-on-four play, Gaetan Haas, in his second NHL game, pushed an offensive zone faceoff directly behind Jeff Carter, beat both Carter and Ben Hutton to the puck, and centered it to Joakin Nygard, who scored in his first NHL game. That was a designed play that the Kings were slow to react to and served as an important energy-line goal that allowed the Oilers to erase one of their two third-period deficits. And while there was also an impressive, lightning-quick outlet that began with Sean Walker touching the puck between his legs to free it to Blake Lizotte, who then banked a three-zone pass off the boards to hit Austin Wagner in stride, that line was also inconsistent and was pushed back territorially despite starting two faceoffs in the offensive zone, six in the neutral zone and none in the defensive zone.
Early season! Mixed bag results. Well, the result was a loss, so that’s pretty concrete and not “mixed bag.” But there were inconsistent performances to go around that will serve as the type of baseline from which the team will get to work. Matt Roy was on the ice for the game-tying and game-winning goals against and was beset by an own-goal on his first shift of the season, but he also made an important block in front of an open net in the third period and freed a loose puck to Lizotte, who cleared it. Sean Walker, nabbed for a ticky-tack late penalty in which McDavid leeched on to him before drawing an interference – Walker will not get that call against McDavid – showed good playmaking ability and earned 20 minutes of ice time for the first time in his career while accruing good metrics. And though Jonathan Quick allowed six goals in his season opener, I’m having a hard time finding him exclusively at fault on any of them, really. Goals are rarely ever the fault of one exclusive player, and the only goal I didn’t like for Quick was the first period power play goal in which McDavid shot far-post and Quick knocked down the rebound directly to Neal on the near post. But even at that moment, McDavid’s gravitational pull drew Hutton into no-man’s land, thus leaving Neal unmarked as a fortunate rebound bounced right into his wheelhouse. I didn’t like Darnell Nurse’s third period goal when it was scored, but that’s more on Kempe for allowing a 3-on-3 to develop into a 3-on-2 when he was caught flat and failed to pick up the trailer. There are probably going to be some nights like this, particularly early in the season as the Kings continue to hammer down the details and positioning of their forecheck so that the goalies don’t get blitzed by unimpeded transition again. It got loose at times in Edmonton, and they now have plenty of data with which to get to work.