Kings Finally Snag a Win

by | Jan 21, 2024

Kings Finally Snag a Win

by | Jan 21, 2024

Los Angeles, CA—Something’s gotta change. That is evident when it comes to the LA Kings, though what that something is, is up for question. Coming into Saturday’s game versus the New York Rangers, the team had lost nine of ten games. More precisely, going back to late December, they won three of four, then lost eight in a row, won one, and then lost two more. The most recent of those came Thursday versus Nashville, a head-scratcher that had Coach McLellan speculating as to both cause and correction.

Following Thursday’s loss, McLellan gave a couple of ideas what changes might be in order. First of all, he said that the staff had been showing “positive video” to the team to support what the players should be doing, but that he thought this was backfiring. “We’ve been promoting offense, and making [the players] feel good about it that way, and maybe that’s what’s leading to some of the frustration too. ‘Look what you were doing before and now you’re struggling to do it.’ We’ll have to think that process through.”

Staying on the positive side, McLellan said he was happy with the play of David Rittich in net and that it was good that the team had scored a power play goal. The trouble was, that was their only goal in the 2-1 loss. The remedy is in the old advice, “Shoot the puck!” He cited one example of a two-on-one where, “We didn’t even think of getting a shot on goal, and the play evolved slowly, so we didn’t have time for a pass. I’d like to see us get it directly to the net.”

McLellan nailed down the problems causing this losing streak: “It’s the lack of production offensively. A lot of it is off the rush where they [his players] are not as confident with the puck making plays. We’re not as relaxed with it . . . . The more we fail to score the tighter we get, so it’s a vicious cycle.”

It’s not that the coaching staff isn’t trying. Versus the Preds, McLellan took Byfield off the top line and put PL DuBois there with Kopitar and Kempe, not as a punitive thing, but to allow Byfield to play center. And, let’s just say it, to get DuBois going. The coach said that he thought DuBois had played a good game after the contest. Stats showed that he recorded three shots and two missed shots, plus a poor one-of-four on faceoffs.

So some lineup tweaks and a renewed commitment to shoot the puck—was anything any different with the New York Rangers the opponent two nights later? To the eye, not so much in period one. The Kings outshot the Rangers 12-2 over twenty minutes, which was good. But they still played a slow game, often getting stalled on the left boards between their left circle and center ice. When they did work the puck in to the offensive zone, they were often stopped before the hash marks, where the Rangers turned the puck back up ice.

New York was no great shakes, obviously, recording just two shots, but one was on a semi-break away by Lafreniere. He chose a low wrist shot, which Rittich used a pad to save. Good play on both parts, and amazing how fast the Rangers forward motored away from the defenseman he had stolen the puck from. There was a gap after two or three strides.

LA scored an additional goal in period two to lead, 2-1. That’s not much of a lead, and the Kings were still passing up shots, inexplicably. For instance, early in period two, a turnover by the Rangers resulted in a three-on-one for the Kings. The winger passed to center, and Trevor Moore had it in the slot with the left of the net open as he looked at it. Instead of shooting there, he passed it back into a crowd that had caught up with the play, and the chance was lost. It was one of two times a similar play happened in period two.

Period three saw no scoring, but chances, particularly for the Rangers, that could have turned the game around. Particularly, this was in the form of a shot-rebound on a late Rangers’ power play. The shot came in low and hard, leg save. Then the rebound went straight towards the open right side of the net, but Rittich somehow got a leg out to make the save.

After the game, the netminder was stoic about his performance, particularly on the save mentioned. “Just battle. That’s kind of their game.  Put it on the net, and it’s game on. I just tried to battle, [not] let that one go in. It was an important time to make that save.

McLellan concurred: “It starts with the goaltender. I thought he made some really good saves when he had to, especially penalty killing near the end.” That’s actually an understatement if you think about it. If the game is tied there, all the worrying conversations that were temporarily  stilled with a win start up again.

To back out to the 30,000 foot view once more, McLellan said he could see the team’s structure consistently and that “everybody found a way to consistently make a contribution in the game. It wasn’t spotty. . . . They were consistent all night.” He was particularly effusive with his praise of Quinton Byfield, who was again playing a center ice position. He also said that PL DuBois, who was moved up to the first line Thursday to displace Byfield on that trio was doing well, though showing a bit of unfamiliarity because he was playing on the wing. Byfield ended up with the winning goal, scoring while crashing the net in search of a rebound.

It’s easy to get carried away analyzing why a one-goal game finally went the Kings’ way. But when asked about this, McLellan said, “We won’t [analyze]. We’ll enjoy the evening. And then tomorrow we’ll get up and watch a football game. And then we’ll come on Monday, and ask me [strategy questions] on Monday. I’m not even going to analyze it right now, because a win’s a win, and probably when I look at that game, we had to win like that. At 7-6, we’d say, ‘Great, we got the offense back,’ but that’s not who we are. We’re a 2-1, 3-2 team.”

Thank you, Mr. Sutter, for that flashback to 2012, but Rittich is not Jonathan Quick, who really could make every night a 2-1 night. The Kings still need to find some offense, or get some offense from the defense, to spread the scores a bit and ensure that the playoff spot that seemed to be so assuredly theirs in November remains theirs into the Spring.


Jonathan Quick was in net for the Rangers, the first time he has played against the Kings  in LA after leading them to two Cups, 2012 and 2014. He also won the Cup with Vegas this past Spring. The Kings had a video tribute for him during one of the breaks in the first period. Quick skated out of his crease and raised his stick arm several times in acknowledgement.

Brian Kennedy is the author of a handful of hockey books including Growing Up Hockey.

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