Sunday Thoughts – Kempe’s leadership growth a positive, but a tough night all around in Calgary

Two storylines to touch on this Easter Sunday. One up, one down.

For a positive storyline, I think it’s worth talking about Adrian Kempe.

Kempe has grown as a leader each and every year he’s been in the league and with Phillip Danault out of the lineup last night with an upper-body injury, Kempe was selected by Jim Hiller to be the team’s second alternate captain, alongside Drew Doughty. The trio of Anze Kopitar, Doughty and Danault are well-established, three guys who have earned the letters they wear. For Kempe, though, he’s one of a few guys who have elevated themselves as leaders within the room as they’ve grown professionallt. You don’t have to wear a letter to be a leader, but Kopitar expressed a ton of respect for Kempe’s growth in that area.

“It’s me, Drew and Phil that are wearing letters, but he could have it just as easily,” Kopitar said. “I think it was a nice boost for him too and yeah, he’s been a leader, a quiet leader, but in these last few years, he’s evolved. It’s great to see him grow and be a big part of this team.”

For Jim Hiller, who ultimately made the decision to put the letter on Kempe’s jersey, he echoed similar sentiments.

Kopitar has been around Kempe for the latter’s entire career, so he’s seen the trajectory from a quiet 20-year-old to the guy who leads in the way that he does today. Hiller, though, has only seen the version of Kempe that we have over the last two years, the player and person who has been a part of the leadership group. Still, he’s seen Kempe continue to grow and continue to become more comfortable in that area, while delivering the same level of compete and desire on the ice.

“I’ve been here for two years and I’ve seen a guy that competes hard, that’s taken his game to the next level, that wants to win,” Hiller said. “I wasn’t here prior, but certainly in my time, we’ve seen him elevate his leadership, the respect that his teammates have for him, all those things make him a pretty easy candidate on a night like tonight.”

For Kempe, the main takeaway from that part of last night was pride.

Pride for a player who had never wore a letter in an NHL regular-season game before. Pride that the team believed in him not just as a player, but as a leader within the room and on the ice. Pride in the strides he’s taken to be more vocal, as he’s really worked on helping out his teammates day in and day out.

Special moment for Kempe and I doubt you’d find anyone who wouldn’t consider it to be well-deserved.

On the other side of it, though, I think we can all share in the frustration of last night’s game.

Players, coaches, writers, Insiders. Everyone saw it, lived it, felt it.

In a lot of ways, I think last night’s game was one of the team’s most disappointing nights of the season to date. The Kings were under 10 shots on goal through 40 minutes of play as they were a step behind the Flames for most of the night, as they just didn’t match the level of a team that sits out of playoff contention. With the San Jose Sharks throwing a gift to their inner-state rivals with a 4-0 win over the Blues, and Nashville losing as well, last night was a missed opportunity across the board for the Kings. No doubt about it.

For Jim Hiller’s part, perhaps the angriest he’s seemed in a post-game media scrum.

Hiller used the phrase “not good enough” several times after the game. He posed a rhetorical question, asking why the Kings were a step behind throughout the night. There wasn’t much to suggest coming in that there would be a letdown from an energy perspective, but after a decent start, Calgary was a step ahead throughout the bulk of the night. From the way the rest of the conversation went, it was being a step behind that led to pretty much everything else that went sideways. The number of penalties, the lack of connected passes, the shortage of scoring chances. At this time of the year, not the game for those things to come out.

From the perspective of the players, Anze Kopitar put it pretty bluntly after the game, as he referenced the disparity in shots on goal after two periods. A result, in his mind, of how the team passed the puck. In his words, Kings did not pass the puck crisply, which impacted exits and entries, which led to the dearth of offensive opportunities. Adrian Kempe felt the Kings didn’t go hard enough to the inside, which led to not enough pucks getting through. He felt like the Kings had the energy but “didn’t use it well”, which is fair. Heard the cliché about a fast player who just gets to the wrong place faster. Perhaps that all ties together for last night’s game.

While it was a missed opportunity to likely see playoff odds rise over 99 percent, the Kings did get those couple of results around the league.

Vegas and Nashville each now have 90 points from 74 games played, sitting three points ahead of the Kings with one more game played. Vegas leads LA in the Pacific Division, Nashville in the first wild card position. The Kings still lead St. Louis by five points for that second wild card spot, with both teams losing, and the Blues also playing one more game than the Kings.

Magic Number to clinch is now 13, between Kings points earned and Blues points dropped. Lots of playoff scenarios still in play, though the Kings will head back to Los Angeles as the WC2 no matter how the results go over the next two days, currently slated to play against Dallas in Round 1.

Priority numero uno tomorrow is Kings at Jets, but other games to look out for include Anaheim at Vancouver earlier on today, Edmonton at St. Louis tomorrow, as well as Colorado at Columbus. There was a time in the year when standings watching felt like it would be relatively unimportant. Feels pretty relevant right now, though.

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