It’s been right around a month since the LA Kings surrendered six goals in the third period in Buffalo, as a 0-0 game quickly spiraled into a 6-0 defeat. The team has frequently referenced that point in the season as where things started to turn around, with the Kings coming from two goals down to defeat the NHL-leading Boston Bruins the next time out and away they’ve gone from there.
Since that game in Western New York, the Kings have posted a 10-3-1 record from the 14 games that have followed, good for a winning percentage of .750 that trails only the Bruins. They’ve committed overall to playing a certain style of hockey and much of that has coincided with doing the things that player don’t necessarily enjoy doing, but things that help win hockey games.
Perhaps the easiest area to quantify that statistic comes via blocked shots.
From Boston game on, the Kings have blocked an average of 17.9 shots per/60 at all strengths, the highest total in the NHL in that span. The Kings were one of the NHL’s leaders up until that point, ranking eighth in the league, but they’ve averaged more than two additional blocked shots per game in that span, one part of the commitment to the process of a certain approach towards winning hockey games.
“For teams to have success and win, you have to do some of the things that you don’t really want to do, and shot blocking is one of them,” Todd McLellan said. “The more committed the group is towards doing things that they probably don’t want to do, on a regular basis, nobody wants to do it, but you have to do those things to win.”
A big point of emphasis for McLellan and his staff is the acknowledgement aspect of those things.
As he was quick to admit, it’s far from the sexiest part of playing the game. A blocked shot with your foot doesn’t show up on too many highlight reels or pad too many statistical totals……though it might show up on your foot the next day. It does help to pad the win column, though, as the Kings have seen and shown firsthand via six one-goal victories from the past 14 games played, the second-highest total in the league in that span.
When the players do those things the right way, the staff is sure to make note of it and express their appreciation of it. After all, if the coaches are asking the players to do something, they sure better acknowledge it when they do.
“We have to be the first to recognize it, because we’re asking them to do it,” McLellan said. “When the players are all up and jumping around, because Gabe Vilardi just jumped in front of the shot the other day, we’re also barking out emotion there, they’ve got to know that we’re tied to it, especially since we’re for asking it. In the post event review, when we catch them doing it this way, and good things happen, we make sure they see that.”
Now, it’s one thing to say it, but it’s another to actually do it.
A coach can say something all day long, but they players are the ones who are actually on the ice and executing. Whether it’s Sean Durzi, who leads the Kings with 32 blocked shots over that 14-game stretch, or it’s say or Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who had a big one in the final 30 seconds of a win over San Jose, everyone is committing and everyone is chipping in. It’s not just blocked shots too. It could be forward Alex Iafallo taking a hit to make a play in Vegas or even Phillip Danault standing up for his linemate against Edmonton. They all add up and it’s been prevalent around this group over their successful stretch of wins.
“I think we have a lot of high-character guys, it’s something we’ve always had,” defenseman Mikey Anderson said. “Over the last stretch of games, we’ve played some really good teams and we’ve trusted that we need to do it a certain way and we’ve proven that it works. As a whole, you see a guy take a hit to make a play, block a big shot, the whole bench is getting up and it creates energy. As a whole, it brings us together and it’s something we have to keep doing to have success.”
As Anderson noted, the team is quick to show a player what their sacrifice means to the group.
After a play of that nature, you frequently see the entire bench standing up, kicking or tapping the boards in support. It probably doesn’t make a foot or a leg feel better, but it shows that the 19 guys you’re playing for appreciate what you’re doing and that when they’re in the same position two shifts later, they’re going to try and do the same thing.
“It’s huge, that’s so important and it’s maybe a little bit underrated,” forward Kevin Fiala said. “Blocking shots, fights, sacrificing the body for the team to win a game, it’s huge for us. We always get pumped for the guy who did it, let him know he did a great job and when you’re out there, you’re going to try and do the same thing, do whatever it takes to win a game.”
What’s been perhaps the best part of it is the contagious element.
That was the word that Anderson-Dolan used, contagious. When one guy does it, it becomes contagious throughout the whole group. It starts at the top too – Phillip Danault and Anze Kopitar rank first and second on the team in blocks amongst forwards since Buffalo. Hearing from forward Blake Lizotte, he believes that blocked shots are the output of an overall commitment to the system and structure. When you commit in that way, good things happen.
“I think there’s a lot of buy-in from guys right now,” he said. “Over the last 10-15 games, guys have started to have a belief system that it does work and the willingness to do things like block shots and basically commit to defense over offense at times. It’s been there and it’s starting to grow for our group, with more guys willing to do things they don’t want to do.”
The results of commitment have been five wins over teams currently sitting in playoff positions, emphasizing that when the Kings play a certain way, and commit to that approach, they can play with anyone in the NHL.
The Kings are doing those things right now as well as any team in the NHL and it’s showing up in the standings.
“There are good teams that never go anywhere because they don’t quite get everybody willing to do the things they don’t want to do and sometimes average teams go a little bit further along because they do get players to do things they don’t want to do,” McLellan said. “That could be giving up ice time, it could be blocking a shot, it could be a scrap, taking care of a teammate, sacrificing offense to check at certain times, game management. All of those things that you throw into a bucket and you take for granted…..[doing those things] can point you in the right direction at least.”
The Kings essentially have a seven-game trip coming up to close out their pre All-Star break schedule, the first stop just happens to be Los Angeles. Beginning on Thursday against Dallas, the Kings will play seven games in seven cities across 13 days, including a pair of back-to-backs. On the other side of it, there will be less than 30 games remaining on the regular-season slate, so we’ll have a good sense of what will be needed from the stretch run when we hit the break on February 1. A continued commitment to this style of hockey will go a long way towards being where they need to at that point.
Back on the ice tomorrow, Insiders, as they Kings will practice on Tuesday and Wednesday before that Dallas game. Full coverage to follow on both skates!