I think Gabriel Vilardi put it best last night – “This one kind of sucks, honestly.”
The Kings were on the high end of a heavily-tilted shots on goal count, a heavily tilted Corsi, and led in almost every category you can quantify except for one – goals scored.
The Arizona Coyotes won the game 3-2, capitalizing on the power play, as well as one of what turned out to be a slew of defensive zone mistakes by the Kings. Arizona converted twice with the Kings on the penalty kill, and once off of a mistimed breakout pass, and held on for the victory in the third period.
Beginning with the PK……
The first goal came off of a defensive zone win, and a failed clearance up the right wall. That led to puck possession for the Coyotes, and eventually Clayton Keller’s goal. The Kings nearly atoned for the failed clearance, as Alex Iafallo got a stick on the pass to Keller, but in the end, it really just disrupted the play enough to throw off Jonathan Quick’s positioning.
On the second goal, Drew Doughty took responsibility for not blocking the shot, because that’s what leaders do. But it was what happened before the shot that was probably more at fault goal. The Kings got the puck out of their zone twice, but did not get a full-ice clear, and that trapped tired bodies on the ice. Seconds later, Nick Schmaltz put the Coyotes back in front.
“Obviously, our penalty kill let us down tonight,” Todd McLellan said, after last night’s game. “We made two critical mistakes and they capitalized on the mistakes that we saw last year in our penalty kill. We think we’ve corrected them and they creep back in, so we’ve got work to do there. Our inability to get clears was something we were really disappointed in. We couldn’t get fresh bodies out because we didn’t get the puck all the way down. We won faceoffs, they kept pucks alive when it’s coming off of our tape, so our overall quarterback rating would be very poor tonight. Whether it’s the passing part of it, or just the clearing part, just to a man we were poor.”
The individual turnovers aspect went beyond the third goal. That failed exchange directly led to the puck in the Kings net, but several others in the defensive zone gave Arizona some good scoring opportunities, and nearly led to goals. Though the puck possession metrics were lopsided in favor of the home team, the high-danger opportunities were closer to even, with many of those Arizona chances coming off of individual mistakes by the Kings in their own zone.
“If you think of the opportunities they had, even before they scored the first goal, coming off of our tape, opportunities to move the puck out of our zone, advance it even 10 or 15 feet and get the momentum going the other way, we were just slow again with pucks,” McLellan said. “We spent the last two days in practice trying to pick the pace up with puck movement, and coming out clean, and it bit us again tonight.”
It was those specific individual errors that make last night’s game tougher to swallow for the Kings. If you watched the first period, or the third period, you’d have been pretty impressed with this team, the way they skated and the way they seemed to get pucks towards the goal. You might’ve put last night’s loss on Antti Raanta, and his under-the-radar career success against the Kings (6-0-1, 957 save percentage from seven games played).
If you only watched the second period, you’d have likely wondered how this team recently won six straight games. And, if you watched the full 60 minutes, you’d have seen the combination. Long stretches of puck possession, lots of chances, but also lots of turnovers that led to quality opportunities, and goals against.
It’s those ups and downs, within a game and within a season, that will ultimately define what this Kings team can be.
Doughty said after last night’s game that when the team is able to roll lines, play at 5-on-5, the Kings are a team that has lots of energy and can be hard to play against. You saw that for most of the first and third periods.
The second period, though, was an example of what happens when the Kings don’t do those things. They conceded two power plays, had two of their own, and the middle stanza became a choppy, special-teams battle, which was won by Arizona. As McLellan has said, on several occasions this season, that’s not how the Kings will win most of their hockey games.
Looking at the game as a whole, Vilardi felt the group played decently well.
“If you look at the shots, it was like wow, we were all over them, and then there’s that 13-second span, that goal ends up killing us,” he said. “Overall, I thought we played pretty well, but we’ve got to find ways to score goals here, you can’t expect to win every game scoring two goals.”
I think that’s how I saw last night’s game too, but perhaps that puts too much of a focus on the positives, and not enough of a focus on the result. Neither McLellan nor Doughty seemed particularly pleased, despite some of the totals that were lopsided in favor of the Kings. The overall, broader stretches were good, but it was the smaller details – the penalties, the giveaways, the chances and the goals against that ultimately defined last night’s game, not the stretches of positive play.
And that, as Vilardi put it, sucks.
Looking ahead, the Kings have a fast and furious stretch of games upcoming. and will need to fine-tune those smaller details in order to get back on track. In the midst of three consecutive losses, Los Angeles hosts the St. Louis Blues for a back-to-back this weekend, followed by trips to Anaheim and Colorado. With 12 games in 18 days, there will be little time for practice. These mistakes are things that will, mostly, need to be sorted out via trial by fire, by making better plays in those same scenarios in upcoming games. How quickly and effectively the Kings can do that will be crucial over what is an important stretch of games to come.