Not enough skaters had their legs, and Jonathan Quick had an off-day at the end of a very good month, and those two variables will generally conspire to keep the LA Kings from winning any game in San Jose. The final score was 4-1, and while Los Angeles just didn’t create much at all, this was still a game that with more opportune finishing had some chance to, well, at least be more interesting than it ultimately was. The Kings trailed by two after a low-event first period and began the second with a concerted push that yielded several high-quality looks, but the treasure map back into the game flew out of their hands and into a tempest of San Jose momentum after Noah Gregor shot against his body on a one-on-one rush to score his first career goal and widen the lead to three. But hypothetically, say they’d scored early in the second. They were still fighting from behind and had trailed by two after one even though they’d set out to dictate the play early and transfer what they’d demonstrated at home to the road. It happens. The Kings haven’t won a grand sum of games, but these types of games in second gear have been fewer and farther between than their typically committed and driven performances.
Momentum doesn’t really transfer from game-to-game and the minutes were capped and managed, so Saturday’s game shouldn’t have much of an effect on what Los Angeles will look to do against a Winnipeg team streaking into Staples Center 9-2-1 in their last 12 and 10-4-0 on the road. Lines were essentially rolled in third period shorthanded play; Anze Kopitar (1:22), Tyler Toffoli (0:45) and Jeff Carter (0:04) didn’t see as much time as Blake Lizotte (2:24) or Austin Wagner (1:29) among the forwards. Dustin Brown wasn’t used at all. This seems to align with the team taking stock of what they have and, as McLellan hinted at earlier this month, planting seeds across the land of opportunity. “The back end, the forwards, it’s going to be in and out, moving around all season,” he said on November 14. “Guys are going to experience different roles, different minute levels, just so we get to know, and they get to experience.” It was also a 4-0 game during a pair of San Jose power plays on the first night of a back-to-back, and while there’s always a chance to win, if there was a time you were going to not send Kopitar out to block shots on a PK, that would be it. More importantly, the Kings have killed off all six power plays in the two games since Alec Martinez (1:58 PKTOI/GP) was felled by injury, and they should have plenty of juice left with minutes spread more evenly and having arrived home before dinnertime.
Friday’s game opened a stretch through February 18 in which Los Angeles plays 24 of 35 games on the road. As they look to improve their 2-9-1 road record, they’ll need to bank on their depth and their checking. There’s still plenty of room for improvement within their personnel. Matt Roy has been among those to show improvement in his play this month, something he’ll have to carry over onto the road with the rest of the team. Blake Lizotte has seen a nice crescendo in his own play, posting a +2.8 CF%Rel since November 1, a span in which he’s been on the ice for just one goal against (and only two for) over 146 minutes of five-on-five play. Should his game continue to stabilize on the road, and should Jeff Carter continue to show the same jump, quickness and fight as of late, the Kings should be able to bank on improved center depth to sharpen up their all-situational play away from home.