The less said about this one the better. (I could probably just end the recap there and no one would be too upset, right?)
After five months of regular season play, we’re well aware that this is a different Kings team than the ones we saw under Darryl Sutter. Games like this still have the capacity to surprise, but it’s certainly less surprising with this year’s iteration. To wit:
- LA has given up seven goals in regulation twice this season. The last time LA did that even once before 2017-18? The infamous Game 2 against San Jose in 2014, another 7-2 loss. The last time they did it in the regular season was more than five years ago.
- Each team had 35+ shots on goal. That’s the eighth time that has happened in a Kings game this season. That had only happened to the Kings eight times in the previous three seasons combined.
- It goes further: both teams had 40+ shots on goal. The last time this happened in a regular season Kings game which ended in regulation? December 9, 1995, also against the Blues. Grant Fuhr and Kelly Hrudey were the goaltenders.
- The last time LA lost a home game by 5+ goals? March 29, 2008, against the Dallas Stars. That Kings team was really bad. This one isn’t bad... just... different.
Strange losses like this still are not par for the course, which is encouraging. The Kings are blowing out teams a lot more than they’re getting blown out, largely due to their penchant for closing gaps in the third period; they have 15 wins by three or more goals, with only 7 losses by three or more goals.
The larger picture hasn’t changed much either. The team is almost perfectly average in terms of shot attempt differential, and after Jeff Carter’s return, the Kings have remained middle-of-the-pack as far as scoring chance numbers go. In the first six games since Carter came back on February 24, the Kings were shooting 9% at even strength and posting a .924 save percentage at even strength; maybe an off-night at both ends was to be expected.
It was how it occurred that was so infuriating, though. First things first: getting scored on first. One season after being scored on first more than all but two teams (the two worst teams in the NHL, the Colorado Avalanche and Vancouver Canucks), LA is outdoing themselves. Last year the Kings gave up the first goal in 51 of 82 games, and they’ve gotten WORSE in that department, going down 1-0 in 44 of 68 games. That’s #31 out of 31 teams.
The rest was familiar too; the Kings giving up another goal in the first, then experiencing a letdown near the end of the second with every opportunity to make it a tight third period. Ivan Barbashev’s goal with 26 seconds remaining in the frame was especially demoralizing, as he worked his way through Drew Doughty and Derek Forbort before beating Jonathan Quick.
So that’s all well and good. I mean, it’s not good, but it’s more or less expected from this team at this point. Less expected? Starting the third period like this:
The most important takeaway from this game shouldn’t be that LA gave two points to St. Louis, or even that the Kings momentarily dropped out of the playoff race. This team very much controls their own destiny, and as far as points percentage goes, they still lead Anaheim for third place in the Pacific Division. The most important takeaway should be that third period. LA has had a penchant for making games close, or at least making them interesting, in the final 20 minutes. Granted, they’ve only played two overtime games in 2018, so maybe they’re not closing the deal like you’d hope. But they’ve looked a hell of a lot better with their backs against the wall than they did yesterday.
If LA folds like they did with Jack Campbell in net on Saturday, getting outshot 14-9 and outscored 3-0 until the final seconds, they’re going to drop in the standings. Quickly. If they decide that the trend they want to break is “falling behind early” and not “coming back late,” they’ll be fine. They have a month left to figure that out.
At least we got a dog race out of it.