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Game Day Preview #9, Los Angeles Kings @ Dallas Stars

Will the Kings find the cure for what ails them in Texas?

NHL: Dallas Stars at Los Angeles Kings Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

HOW TO WATCH

Game Time: 5:30 PM Pacific
TV: KCOP-13
Radio: iHeart Radio
The Opposition: Defending Big D

Los Angeles Kings Leading Scorer … Alex Iafallo?

We’re only eight games in, but there’s a different name atop the Kings’ score sheet, and it’s second-year forward Alex Iafallo. Famously snakebitten last season, Iafallo didn’t record his first NHL goal until November 4. Currently sitting at seven points in eight games, Iafallo needed 18 games to hit that same mark last season.

Is Iafallo the answer to the Kings’ scoring woes? No, not quite. But after an at-times painful season last year where he could get to the net but just not finish, it’s encouraging to see Iafallo grow into a more well-rounded player. Watching Iafallo has been one of the bright spots of this young but already challenging season. While the rest of the team struggles, watching Iafallo develop in his role alongside Anze Kopitar shows that at least one of our young players is stepping up.

Where’s Your Passion?

All sorts of phrases have been used to describe the Kings’ play lately. Disjointed. A lack of passion. No energy. Lifeless. Not ready. Not tough enough. Easy to play against.

Alec Martinez admitted that they know what happens to losing teams: players get sold off as spare parts. In a recent piece for The Athletic, Lisa Dillman quoted Martinez as saying, “We’re all disposable at the end of the day … replaceable would be a better word.” John Stevens said the team had no ability to “fight back”. Jake Muzzin said the team doesn’t have “enough fire and emotion and passion to win games right now”.

These statements are only useful if you find the vague, bland honesty of hockey players to be of comfort. While at least it’s nice that no one on the team is trying to fool onlookers into thinking that they have everything under control, what would be really nice would be if the team finally came out ready to make a statement in the first period. Or the second. Or the third. Or really any time at all. The team that battled back from deficits in the third period last season (97 goals for in the third period, second only to the Pittsburgh Penguin’s 101) now looks deflated after being down one early in the game.

What’s it take to get a team’s mojo back? There’s been plenty of time for soul searching, that’s for sure. It’s a time for action now. And regardless as to whether John Stevens is or is not the right man for this job — whether he’d be better with a different roster, whether different players would be able to work in his system — the fan base at least is calling for him to be the sacrifice for a bad season. (Not a peep about the assistant coaches, who run the penalty kill and power play, both of which are struggling mightily, but that’s an idea for a whole different thought piece, probably.) If this team likes John Stevens as much as they profess to, they’re probably the only ones who can save him. The coach might be an almost preternaturally calm human being, but that doesn’t mean the team on the ice has to emulate his demeanor.

The Opposition

You’d think a team with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, oft-overlooked-but-really-good defenseman John Klingberg, and a handful of promising young players seeing NHL ice time wouldn’t have too much to worry about. But Defending Big D described their last game, 3-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild, with the following headline: “Stars Win Moral Victory in Dominant Second Period, Lose Actual Game in Third.” And that about sums up the Stars’ season so far.

They’ve got three wins in seven games and while they have been known as one of the league’s higher scoring teams, they’re anything but that this season. Their 19 goals for have them sitting at 26th in the league. (We won’t address where the Kings are in the standings; this section is about Dallas. Dallas thoughts only here. Thanks.) They’re getting scoring from the top — for the forward corps, Alex Radulov (currently injured) and Jamie Benn have four goals each — and not much from anywhere else. Only eight players on the Stars roster have chipped in goals so far. The Stars have scored two goals total in their last three games. Some of that will correct itself in due time, probably — Tyler Seguin probably isn’t going to shoot at 7% for the season.

But as the Stars adjust to new players on the roster and a coach who’s never coached in the NHL before, the team has vulnerabilities that would be easy for opponents to exploit.

Of course, when those opponents are dealing with their own on-ice identity issues, well. We’ll see.

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