Stock: Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon (29)

Late Spark Too Little

Like many teams, the LA Kings have some questions to answer as this season cranks up. Some have already hinted at being resolved. One of those is, “How will Andreas Athanasiou, late of Detroit and Edmonton, fit in? First two games, excellent. Third game, versus Colorado on Tuesday night, excellent again. Not only did he score the team’s first goal in an eventual 3-2 loss, but he was all over the ice. He even made a goalie-style save on a puck that was headed towards the empty net with the LA goalie pulled late.

He, Jeff Carter, and Blake Lizotte have formed the team’s second line, and they’ve outpaced  the top trio of Kopitar centering Brown and Alec Iafallo, by miles. That first line, then suggests another query: Can the team have faith in this two-veterans-and-a-kid line? Against Colorado, that trio did not show much. Their stats partly tell the tale: two assists for Kopitar and no other offense. Brown also took a neutral-zone penalty on which PP the Avs scored in the second period.

But the umbrella question is this: How do the Kings stack up against the rest of the West? Most onlookers think the playoffs are a possibility, but that LA is amongst a group of squads—maybe as many as five—trying for the last of four playoff spots, with Colorado, St. Louis, and Las Vegas being assured as the top three.

So one way to ensure that things work out in their favor would be for the Kings to defeat those top three teams and thus make their case. Against the Avs, they didn’t come up to the test, though they finished the game strong.

Colorado came blasting out of the gate, outpacing the Kings and driving them deep into their own zone. They scored at around the three-minute mark on a play where they just outhustled the Kings. The puck was deep in Kings’ territory. Trevor Moore stood on the blueline and waited for it to come out to him, but Nathan MacKinnon didn’t wait. He grabbed the puck, put it into the slot for Calvert, and it went in after lying on the ice in the crease. Brandon Saad swept it in.

The Avs then didn’t have to try, because the Kings marched to the penalty box in the second period on a series of calls which  all occurred in the neutral zone. All together, they were whistled four times, added to one penalty in period one. They would end up taking one more in the third. Colorado scored twice with the extra man. Maybe it says something that the calls were interference and holding (twice and once, respectively), indicating a slower team trying to corral a faster one.

The second Avs goal, off a drop pass and slapshot by Devon Toews, was from the point. There were bodies in front, but Cal Petersen in the LA goal seemed to be shading to his left, and the puck went into the open right side of the cage.

“The pass went up and I lost it, through the traffic of bodies, and looked onto the wrong side of bodies. By that time the puck was already headed into the net. One of those goals where I need to step in and make that save, too, no matter the traffic,” the goaltender said after the game.

Add that to his loss of the rebound that led to goal one, and you have another answer to take into account. The question, this time, is this: Will Petersen continue his strong play from last year?  And if so, what will happen to the game allocation between him and Quick? As of now, Quick still has the net, it would appear.

Still, to the good, the Kings scored the last two goals of the game, and they pressed through the third period. Athanasiou almost put one in near the end, the puck sailing just past the post. And they did contain the Colorado pace—not by slowing it down, but by playing with the Colorado team.

The formula was simple: “We started playing at their pace. . . . Instead of sitting back and letting them come to us, we took it to them,” said Petersen after the game.

Athanasiou also mentioned the team’s third-period push: “Obviously we made a good push  near the end, but we have to just keep  getting better day by day.” He added later that he thought the bench perked up after his goal. “We came close for the tie and fell a little bit short. Anytime you get that first one on the board it opens up a little bit and gets everyone going.”

The Coach, Todd McLellan, was not as disappointed as he had been in games one and two, in each of which the Kings blew a two-goal lead. But neither did he have anything to celebrate. He focused on the penalties, saying they took his team out of the game.

“It’s really hard to create any type of rhythm in a game when you’re killing six penalties off a night, and we’ve gone six, five, and six. Until we really keep it to two or three . . . . I’d like to see our team when we can roll four lines and there’s a bit of a rhythm for every player. Until it gets fixed, it’s going to be that way.”

He added that Athanasiou’s goal was key. “It gave us a chance. It gave us a sense of belief, because before that we had limited Grade-A chances . . . . When he scored, the bench perked up a little bit more.” He added, “Andreas’s goal did allow us to wade our way back into the game, and it did give us a spark.”

“Our whole game needs to improve. We’ve got a lot of work to do in a lot of areas,” he said. The Kings must now carry on right from this point on Thursday when they face the Avalanche again. It hardly needs to be said that the formula is two-fold:  start fast, and stay out of the box.

 

Note

Brian Kennedy is a credentialed NHL media member and a member of the Professional Hockey Writers Association. During the pandemic, he is reporting from his SoCal home using information provided by  the LA Kings.