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New Jersey Devils @ Los Angeles Kings Game #29 Recap: The Rebuild Has Arrived.

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“It’s pathetic. It’s embarrassing. It’s frustrating.” — Drew Doughty

NHL: New Jersey Devils at Los Angeles Kings Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

Tonight, a different kind of recap…

The game 29 recap was supposed to be one of my tongue-in-cheek running diaries designed to bring a few moments of levity in the middle of a soon-to-be lost season. Sure, sure, the Kings are only 12 points out of a playoff spot and survived long losing streaks last year to be thisclose to second in the Pacific Division, but the season seems to get worse with each game.

After Tuesday’s 2-1 lost to the Arizona Coyotes, I took to The Twitter to find some resolve. To find solidarity with fellow fans. To gain some strength in the double talk that reasons away everything we see on the ice. What I found was this simple twelve-word tweet from the great Helene Elliott (of the Los Angeles Times and the 2005 Elmer Ferguson Hockey Hall of Fame honoree):

Since I have been on my high horse for the last dozen games calling for the Kings to wake up and see the light about Willie D., this Tweet particularly hit home. That set off 44 straight hours of thinking that led me to abandon the running diary and just watch the game.

Tonight was the proverbial stoppable force meeting a movable object. How bad are the Kings and the Devils? The Kings sit in 31st place, while the Devils are in 28th. Coming into the game the Devils were riding a six-game losing streak (0-3-3) and the Kings had lost four of its last five games (1-4-0) and had only won twice in their last eight home games.

Before fast forwarding to the third period, a fast overview of the first forty minutes…

This game was oddly entertaining. There was a bit of everything, including the pre-requisite power play goal surrendered by the Kings, a fiery wrister by newcomer Brendan Leipsic, a misplayed puck by Jonathan Quick that immediately led to a Devils goal, a great net crash goal from Drew Doughty to Adrian Kempe, two fast Devils tallies, followed by a waived off Jack Muzzin goal, and an unassisted Kyle Clifford gem. Somehow, some way, the Kings trailed only by a goal to end the period, 4-3.

We go all of the way to the 7:52 mark of the third period when Taylor Hall clips Muzzin with a high stick sending the Kings to the man advantage. All year, I’ve been advocating declining penalties NFL-style considering the Kings’ penchant for looking more than terrible on the power play.

Here was a case where that strategy might have paid off.

Have you ever been spinning through the premium channels late at night and tripped into one of those low-budget thriller movies on Starzz or Cinemax? You know the ones where the lighting is substandard, the production quality is equivalent to public access, and there’s no plot, no stars, no resemblance of hope, no chemistry, nothing…

Well, that’s the Los Angeles Kings on the power play this year. They’re a five-man car wreck. I wish I could sufficiently describe the feeling of watching a game wondering, “Hey, who are the Kings going to send out on this man advantage?”, hopefully imagining a timely goal... and seeing every second pass be tipped into the corner and then being cleared as two minutes fly by and another power play is botched. It’s the sports equivalent of getting kicked straight in the teeth.

At 4-3 in the third, I was pumped with hope believing that the Kings could somehow tie this up and manufacture an overtime win. And, just like that, I became Charlie Brown as he readied to kick that football. The power play, with its evil heart yanked the hope away as the Kings followed the 2018-19 special teams playbook and failed once again.

For those of you keeping track, over the last 14 games the Kings have gone 4-for-38 (10.5%) on the power play and 29-for-45 (64.4%) on the penalty kill. That’s the stuff that makes last place finishes a reality. Yet, I digress...

...Anyway...

...as time expired on the power play at 9:52 left in the game, you could actually hear the collective air leave everyone’s lungs at Staples Center. Hope had dissipated, belief left the building, and Lucy Van Pelt pulled that football away once again. Good grief!

Within 74 seconds, the Devils’ Nico Hischier redirected a Sami Vatanen slap shot past Quick and the Kings trailed 5-3, en route to a 6-3 loss.

Here’s the thing about the Helene Elliott tweet that stood out following the game. The players see it one way while the coaching staff sees it another way. Case in point, this from Doughty:

”We’re obviously super frustrated. It’s another game that we didn’t perform well enough. It’s frustrating. It’s embarrassing. It’s a lot of things… you see some guys playing physical and the bottom line is that the Kings have to be a physical hockey team. We’re not as skilled as the other teams, that’s just the bottom line. We have to be physical team. We have to be a hard team to play against. We have to have teams come in here and be like, ‘Oh no, we’ve got to play the LA Kings again in their arena,’ you know? I don’t see enough physicality from our team.”

Meanwhile we get this passive, spin zone analysis from interim head coach Desjardins:

“…yeah, it seems like every night that’s happening to us. Like, our five-on-five game hasn’t been awful. It can be better, but it hasn’t been awful. We still have to find a way to our specialty teams. They got probably three that usually don’t go in. Saying that, that was a game like the last game that we felt like we had a good chance to win.”

Herein lies the rub. Player leadership is embarrassed, perhaps horrified by the recent performances, while the interim coach shakes it off lackadaisically. All of this leads me to my Game 29 Obituary…

Most of us aren’t even sure if the coach is even awake behind the bench. We aren’t sure why the four forward-one defenseman power play is stubbornly rolled out with each man advantage since it doesn’t work. We don’t know which lines will be jumbled up from shift to shift. We don’t know which of our favorite players will be traded tomorrow. We are censured when we rationalize that at least we might be playing for the third coming of Wayne Gretzky (Jack Hughes) come draft time. We wonder what happened to that 98-point team that was in front of us just 33 games ago. We are scared that 2018-19 season will snowball into a run that resembles the years leading up to the Drew Doughty draft. What we see is on the ice is terrifying and no one is making us feel better about it. The rebuild is upon us. We just weren’t ready for it to begin this fast.

And then, depression set in.

NEXT: The Kings host the Vegas Golden Knights on Saturday.

HIGHLIGHTS:

Brendan Leipsic’s first goal as a King. Kings 1. Devils 1.

The ole Doughty to Kempe net crash. Kings 2. Devils 2.

Clifford’s opportunistic unassisted gem. Devils 4. Kings 3.

Jeanie Buss drops the ceremonial puck.