“There were a lot of positives in that game, but it’s only a moral victory, the two-point victories are what really counts at this time of the year, and we’ve got to find a way to get a few more.”
If we were looking for moral victories, we could point to the way that the UCLA Men’s Basketball team lost to Gonzaga last night and say that hey, it could’ve gone down like that. But, as Todd McLellan stated above, it’s the two-point victories that matter at this point in the season, not the moral ones.
The last 48 hours presented a pair of opportunities for the Kings to grab at least one of those two-point victories, against a like opponent in San Jose, but it didn’t come together on home ice, with the Sharks taking both games. McLellan admitted after Saturday’s game that it’s a cliché, but it comes down to finding a way to win at this stage in the season.
“We just have to find ways here,” he said. “It’s an old cliché, any time a coach is saying we have to find ways, it’s used too often, but it is what it is. We’ve got to go out and win a few games coming up.”
Unfortunately for the Kings, while there were spells of good play in both games, they did not find that way to win, in either contest.
Friday evening was a difficult one. You could point to certain chances in the game, where getting one to go might’ve changed the game, but when you don’t score, you can’t win. And the Kings were unable to get a puck past Martin Jones. They allowed a goal on a deflection, a goal that was reviewed for goaltender interference, and an empty-net tally in a 3-0 loss.
Saturday showed better signs, with the Kings storming out of the gates with a clear shooting mentality, both at 5-on-5 and on the power play. Though they held an 18-5 advantage in shots on goal in the opening 20 minutes, the scoreboard read 1-1. After the two teams traded goals in the third period, a tough break late in the game behind the Kings net led to the San Jose game winner. And that’s just how it went for the Kings this weekend.
“They earned an opportunity at an open net that we had a couple of ourselves, but we didn’t quite put it in,” McLellan said after the game.
That’s really what these games came down to. San Jose took advantage of their looks, and their chances, while the Kings did not. It would be unfair to look at Saturday’s game and lay the blame on one play, looking at the third goal. You could point to Quick’s turnover behind the net, but that overlooks what the bigger problem was.
Saturday’s loss had similar elements to the recent two defeats at SAP Center in late-March, something that McLellan agreed with after the game. The Kings largely controlled the shots on goal, but came up on the wrong side of the scoreboard.
The bigger problem has been a lack of offense, and that’s not something that a goaltender can correct. Over their last 11 games, the Kings have scored just 20 total goals, averaging less than two goals per game in total, and just 1.55 goals-per-game at 5-on-5. That’s not necessarily that much lower than the full season totals (1.64 goals-per-game), but the difference has been on the man advantage.
In the best of times earlier this season, the Kings weren’t lighting up the scoresheet at even strength, but one of the league’s most potent power plays provided enough offense to win hockey games. With the man advantage unit now struggling – the Kings have gone six straight games without a power-play goal, and have nearly as many shorthanded tallies (1) as power-play goals (2) in that 11-game stretch – the team’s lack of 5-on-5 scoring has become more of a factor.
The bright spot in it all has been the penalty kill, which has been perfect in 12 of the last 13 games played. As a result, the Kings aren’t losing the battle on special teams, they just aren’t winning it quite as regularly as they were earlier on. And that’s put more pressure on the team at 5-on-5.
No player has more than three goals in the last 11 games, with only Alex Iafallo scoring three at even strength in that span. Whether it’s the right line combinations, the right strategies, or simply bearing down and burying chances, the Kings are still in search of that working formula playing even strength, with little time to find it.
At 3-8-0 in the 11-game stretch referenced above, in some seasons, that might’ve been enough to knock a team out of the playoff hunt. This isn’t some seasons though.
Through it all, the Kings have a shot. They sit just five points behind fourth-placed Arizona, with a game in hand, and two games against the Coyotes coming up at home on Monday and Wednesday. The Coyotes are in Anaheim later today, meaning that the Kings have an off day today, resting, while the Coyotes will play on Monday as the second game of a back-to-back set, with light travel in between. A big opportunity to right the ship against an opponent the Kings have won 2-of-3 against to date.
A rare full off day today, in a month that features 16 games in the span of 29 days. To all who celebrate, Happy Easter! To those who don’t, Happy Sunday. Back in action tomorrow, morning skate at 10:30 AM in El Segundo.