Reporting from the practice of the NHL-record holding LA Kings.
With yesterday’s comeback win over the Blue Jackets, the Kings tied an NHL record for the most consecutive road victories to open a season. Records are great, sure, but a 10-game record isn’t what the Kings are playing for. Generally speaking, the record is a symbol of a team that’s played quite well, even if last night was perhaps the exception.
For 40 minutes, the Kings looked as if they would fall one game short, as they trailed 3-0 last night in Columbus. The approach we saw early on was not that of the team that’s had so much success in the early goings this season. Pretty clear, though, that a line in the sand was drawn at the second intermission.
Todd McLellan said after last night’s win that he challenged the line of Kevin Fiala, Phillip Danault and Trevor Moore during the second intermission and promptly started them to begin the third period. They responded with a goal on the very next shift and Danault went on to add another goal later in that period to bring the Kings to within 3-2, a gap they would eventually close on the route back.
That line had just one shot on goal at even strength during the first 40 minutes. During the third period? Seven shots on goal at even strength, to lead the way back. A challenge was issued and a challenge was met.
Fiala – We had to be more direct, for sure. Our line is creative, I like that about us, but after the creativity, it has to go to the net. More pucks to the net and we have to be around the net, when the puck gets there. I feel like we were too much outside but in the third period, we did a great job.
Moore – I think it feels like there are plays there, and you want to make the plays and you want to pass it off for a better look, but sometimes it’s just getting it to the net, getting it back and repeating it, over and over. We just got more shots on the net and be more direct than we were.
Accountability is important and for a line that, most nights, is extremely effective, it says something when they’re able to take the feedback they’ve gotten and apply it. The proof was in the pudding.
As the team took the ice today, they did so, as noted, sharing an NHL record.
It’s a cool stat, right? It’s something we’ll talk about here, it’s something we’ll talk about on social media and it’s something that will be in the NHL record books in one way or another until another team surpasses it. The Kings are hopeful their run doesn’t end at 10, with eyes on two more points tomorrow night in Montreal.
For the group themselves, that’s where the focus is – tomorrow.
The Kings are in the middle of a four-game road trip, which sees them play four games in six nights. As McLellan noted with reference to Colorado on Sunday, that’s a tough stretch, no matter who you are. The end of the trip is a back-to-back in New York, with the NHL-leading Rangers on Sunday. In between, it’s two teams playing some solid hockey in Montreal and New York, both of whom are at or above .500 in the early goings. All focus firmly on tomorrow night, though there’s an acknowledgement of last night’s achievement.
“We haven’t at all talked about it as a group, I’m sure the players are aware of it,” Todd McLellan said this morning. “We’re proud of our record to this point, but we take every game as its own entity, we’re not talking about winning streaks or anything like that. Over and above a win or a loss tomorrow, we’ve got some things to clean up. I expect that to happen and we’ll see where it takes us.”
As McLellan indicated, it’s something that the players are in fact aware of, though not something they’re really talking about a ton within the room and certainly not acting on.
“I mean, I think we’ve thought about it, but I don’t think it’s changing anything for how we’re preparing,” Moore said. “It’s cool though and it’s a testament to what we’ve done so far.”
Perhaps within the room, it’s more about what the record represents than the record itself.
Any team in the NHL – in NHL history – would take the start the Kings have had. No matter how tomorrow goes, no team in history has had a better start to the season on the road than this Kings team. That’s great In the moment, though, the Kings are just playing. They’re not approaching games any differently at home or on the road and they’re not trying to play any differently.
The main thing, at this point, is keeping things consistent from a level of play standard. That’s where the focus is heading into tomorrow.
“I don’t think we put that in our mind that much, we just want to play and we just want to win every game,” defenseman Jordan Spence added. “Luckily we’re 10-0 on the road, but we just want to keep it consistent with our play and if the results come, I think it’s showing on the road and hopefully we’ll continue that.”
One game at a time 👑 pic.twitter.com/zP45xFaT5Y
— LA Kings (@LAKings) December 6, 2023
– One more from Trevor Moore, who spoke on the team’s play during third periods this season, with last night being another example of the Kings’ dominance in the third period as of late.
“We’ve talked about our depth, being able to stick with it the whole way through, not feeling like we have to overextend. I think it’s been trying to make the third period our best period and it’s gone well.”
As of this article, no team has a better third-period goal differential than the Kings do. LA turned a 1-1 game into a 4-1 game on Sunday and was +3 again yesterday, as they went from 0-3 to 3-3. The team in second happens to be Colorado, so consider Sunday’s win a six-goal swing. While much of the focus will naturally go towards the offensive end, the Kings have allowed just 14 goals in the third period this season, second-fewest in the NHL. When you consider how much they’ve been leading hockey games late, that means they’re facing teams in a full-on press and holding them off. That’s impressive.
Now, the hope for tomorrow is that the Kings won’t require a multi-goal comeback late in order to win. Earlier this season, we saw that level earlier in games and that’s where the Kings are hopeful to get back to. Having the ability to bring it throughout the final 20 minutes, though, is a terrific trait to have, both when leading and trailing.
– Todd McLellan was asked several questions today about the Kings’ 1-3-1 neutral-zone system. If members of the Montreal media are to be believed, it was a big topic of conversation in the Montreal locker room as something that tomorrow’s hosts are looking to solve.
McLellan certainly acknowledged that the 1-3-1 is a part of how the Kings play, noting “it’s part of our identity” as a group, something that the Kings have bought into as a group. McLellan said that it’s a part of the game that was adapted to fit the group the Kings had, not something that he brought with him from Edmonton to Los Angeles.
What he emphasized most, though, is that it’s just one part of how the Kings play the game, even though it was the only part of the game he was asked about.
“It’s funny, because there’s multiple systems in a game, there’s the forecheck, there’s neutral zone, there’s transition, there’s power play, there’s penalty kill, faceoffs, there’s 4-on-4, 3-on-3, backcheck, sort outs, tracking, I could go on and on and on,” McLellan said. “There’s multiple systems. Most of the focus on our team is obviously what you guys are bringing up and talking about, but we play a bevy of different types of situations.”
He added that the Kings don’t simply target players to fit one facet of their game and if they did, they’d likely find players who were deficient in other areas. The approach here is constantly evolving to fit the personnel in place and the personnel, giving the group the best chance at success.
Both sides of that require evolution. It’s not simply a plug and play thing, even though certain players will naturally fit certain systems better. Lots to it and the Kings are
“Real good players can find things that are wrong with systems, with tactics, and it’s our job as coaches to show them what can be right,” he added. “Convince them it can work and give them an opportunity to be successful. I think, as a staff, we have to take a look at what we have and how we can best maximize our players.”
– Lastly, no formal update on forward Blake Lizotte this afternoon, but he practiced in a regular-contact jersey today in Quebec. It was his first practice day in a full-contact jersey, coming off a morning skate in that capacity yesterday even if it wasn’t necessarily a practice day filled with contact. We’ll see where tomorrow takes us, but would expect him to take part in the morning skate either way tomorrow and we’ll see where he’s at then. He’s definitely close, though.
Game preview to come tomorrow morning here in Montreal, as the Kings prepare for Game 2 of 4 on the East Coast!