Saturday’s post-game vibes didn’t exactly resemble those of a team that is 8-3-3 to begin the season. A team that sits firmly in third place in the Pacific Division, firmly in fourth place in the Western Conference and firmly tied for sixth place in the NHL.
The Kings have obviously struggled at home this season, with a 1-3-3 record at Crypto.com Arena, compared to the statement they’ve made on the road, with a 7-0-0 record out of the gates. Away from home, the Kings became the eighth team in NHL history to win their first seven away games to start a season. At home, the Kings sit tied for last in the NHL with one victory. For a team that won 26 games at home last season, tied for the fifth-most in the NHL, it’s a notable difference.
It’s a staggering split in the early goings, though hard-fought points, earned large in part through resilience, have given the team at least one point in four of seven games at home. Still though, Todd McLellan admitted after Saturday’s game that he had some concern for the first time this season, specifically about the team’s play on home ice. Until that point, it was explainable, game-by-game and situation-by-situation. After two straight defeats against the state of Pennsylvania, however, McLellan indicated that he’s at the point now of being a bit concerned with the team’s play in Los Angeles.
Now, while the Flyers and Penguins play in the same state, the two losses were quite different.
On Thursday against Pittsburgh, the word of the day was “sharpness”. The Kings were on the second half of a back-to-back, against a Pittsburgh team that was waiting for them in their building. Energy was good right from the opening puck drop and the Kings were dominant in terms of puck possession and shot attempts, but in terms of having the necessary polish to turn those opportunities into goals, it just wasn’t quite there against the Penguins.
“Some might say, well you out-chanced them, or you had 40 shots on goal, but we weren’t real sharp,” McLellan said of Thursday’s game.
He pointed to areas such as faceoff wins and losses, missed assignments and game management situations as defining characteristics of “sharpness”. The Kings, if you looked at the numbers, were pretty firmly in control of that game. In watching it, you saw a team that had every opportunity to grind out two points, despite not having the sharpness, because the effort and energy was clearly there. In the end though, it was simply a good effort that was not sharp. Those will happen throughout the course of a season and on the second half of a back-to-back, you take the point and move on, with hopes of a stronger showing the next time out.
I think that’s part of why McLellan was so disappointed in Saturday’s game.
I can’t think of a time – certainly not this season – when we’ve heard words like “outworked” or “out-committed” after a game. Sure, there have been moments within games, and games as a whole, that haven’t been good enough over the last few years. There were nights when the Kings simply didn’t have it, nights that included a fair bit of disappointment. But, the specific phrase, “out-committed” is not one I can recall hearing for a long time after a Kings game.
In speaking with forward Phillip Danault in the locker room, he said that Philadelphia “wanted it more” on Saturday than the Kings did. He routinely points to the little details in the Kings game as a sign towards success. When the Kings are on top of the little details, they’re a hell of a team. When they aren’t, they’re good enough to keep themselves in a game like Saturday, but they didn’t really threaten to get something from it. While they used different phrases, Danault and McLellan essentially said the same thing. Both know how good this team can be and both know that the overall performance on Saturday was not up to the standard that this group has set for itself.
Now, it’s about the response.
Within games, the 2023-24 Kings have shown resilience when coming back in games. We saw it in Arizona earlier this season, we saw it even on Thursday against Pittsburgh. We’ve seen it countless times over the last two seasons. The Kings bounce back well during games and they have a track record in recent memory of bouncing back between games as well. Last year’s team only lost three consecutive games on three occasions and they never lost four in a row, even as times got tight in November and December. The outlook here is substantially brighter – as noted, this is an 8-3-3 team – and there should be confidence in this team bouncing back the right way, even if the home record to date has been subpar.
The schedule to come has five of the next seven games played on home ice. Of those seven teams, not one is below .500 as of this writing. While five of the seven teams missed the 2023 postseason, each of the upcoming opponents is off to a solid start this season. The next seven opponents have a combined record of 53-36-7. The five teams the Kings will play at home are 38-24-6, good for a .603 winning percentage. The road is not necessarily easy, but it’s winnable for the Kings. No better time to get back on track than now, the Kings enter the slowest part of their schedule all season long. Six games in 21 days, with ample time to rest and ample time to sort out anything that needs to be sorted.
Back on the ice for practice tomorrow, Insiders! The Kings will hit the ice at 11 AM in El Segundo, their first of two skates this week before hosting Florida on Thursday. Coverage from both days to follow!