I was today years old when I learned that gambit and gamut were different words. I was going to title this article “The Kings Gambit”, until a vocabulary lesson on the flight home educated me on the different. In terms of a gamut though, we saw just about every angle of the LA Kings on this four-game road trip. The Kings Gamut? So close……
We saw perhaps the best and the worst in the first two games, with the loss to Calgary being on the wrong end of the scale and the win over Edmonton being on the right end. The loss against the Flames was among the lowest we’ve seen from this team this season, while Wednesday’s win over the Oilers was perhaps the best win of the young season. The back-to-back against Vancouver and Seattle fell somewhere in between, with an effort that didn’t include everyone versus the Canucks and a hard-fought battle in Seattle, which saw the Kings force overtime, showing some guts in the process, but fall short while running on fumes in the 3-on-3.
Alex Edler dismissed the notion of fatigue when asked after the Seattle game, noting that every team goes through these stretches, both in the short term when factoring in 3-in-4’s and back-to-backs, as well as in the long run. Todd McLellan admitted that he believes elements of fatigue are showing up in the team’s game right now, but gave it the “what goes around comes around” line. In that regard he is obviously correct. Every team finishes the regular season with 82 games played, so a compact schedule early means an open schedule later on. It’s gotta even out somewhere, right? If teams are taking advantage of that when playing the Kings right now, they’ll need to return the favor later in the season when other teams hit congested stretches.
I chose to interview Edler last night specifically after what was a vintage Edler performance against Seattle. He didn’t do anything flashy, but that’s what you’ve come to expect. Edler and Matt Roy were one of the NHL’s best defensive pairs last season when looking at possession metrics. In just over 280 minutes together, the duo ranked in the NHL’s Top-3 in percentage of shot attempts, scoring chances and high-danger chances controlled. They were the only pair in the Top-3 in all three categories. Last night in Seattle, the pairing was reunited for the first time this season, as the Kings shuffled their personnel around after the lower-body injury to Sean Durzi. Last night, the Edler/Roy duo were on the ice for 26 shot attempts for as opposed to just 12 against. They won the scoring chances battle 10-3 and high-danger chances 5-1, not to mention a goal for and none against. Over the course of the four games, no defenseman on the Kings had higher percentages when it came to shot attempts and scoring chances controlled than Edler did, while only Roy edged him out in high-danger metrics. If you can appreciate the quiet game that Edler brings, you were likely happy on this trip.
As a group, I thought the Kings played with a lot of battle and a lot of fight in Seattle last night. They didn’t exactly lack those things in Vancouver either. There some gameflow similarities between the two games, but the Kings were a step better against the Kraken. On both nights, perhaps longer-term fatigue impacted the output more than the team would admit. Back-to-backs are one thing and especially on the West Coast, you’re going to have those on the road, they’re nothing new at this level. Looking bigger picture though, the Kings have played 21 games from 40 days to begin the season. That’s the most in the league. 12 of those games have come on the road, tied for the most in the league. I don’t think the NHL tracks time-zone changes, but the Kings might just lead the league in that department as well.
Perhaps that’s just an excuse though, and one that’s not necessarily relevant. Games against Vancouver and Seattle were outwardly disjointed throughout large stretches of the game, even if the Kings generated more than enough chances to get the results they wanted to. McLellan has used similar phrasing after both of the last two games. Chances created were good, chances finished were not enough. Lots of ways you could spin or address that and the Kings attempted to do the latter with changes to the forward lines both heading into and during the game against Seattle. McLellan felt that those changes gave the Kings a bit more of what they were looking for, though they know that two 5-on-5 goals from 120 minutes won’t be enough moving forward. For a team that seemed to both score and concede at will in October, November has brought a different style thus far.
Heck, if fatigue isn’t an excuse for the Kings, it’s pretty impressive. This was the first trip, personally, that started to feel the wear and tear a bit. Pretty gassed myself by the Vancouver and Seattle games and I don’t play professional hockey each and every day. Good on them if they don’t feel it. Doesn’t it feel like Opening Night was a couple of weeks ago? We’re already more than a quarter of the way through the season and it’s mid-November. Bananaland. A bit of reprieve in terms of travel is upcoming, however, with the next six games played in California. Only Friday’s game in San Jose is on the road, and it’s a quick trip up North.
A day off today for the Kings, before practice tomorrow and game day on Tuesday versus the Rangers. The Kings have a rare “lull” in the schedule, with one game sandwiched in between two sets of two days off. That’s not to say it’ll be an easy week, however, with today’s off day coming off of a 2 AM arrival and Thursday serving as a travel day to San Jose, despite the Thanksgiving holiday. It’s a week to get a bit of that energy back, but still a week with three games, as tilts with the Sharks and Senators follow Tuesday’s pre-turkey day showdown.
That’ll be all for me today, Insiders. Signing off and locking up the computer. The first true off day in two full weeks and Elton John at Dodger Stadium awaits! Hope that everyone enjoys their Sunday, talk tomorrow.
*Roster Note – The Kings have assigned forwards Lias Andersson and Rasmus Kupari, as well as defenseman Jacob Moverare, to Ontario. None are expected to play at 3 PM today for the Reign. With a day off for the Kings, and no game until Tuesday, wait to see what happens between now and then before considering these to be permanent moves!