Two teams who defied expectations to get into the playoffs: the Kings, who were predicted to miss the post-season with their aging core and years of declining returns, and the Golden Knights, who were predicted to follow the same mold of all past expansion teams and be a bottom-feeder in the league.
Both of those teams started the season as pleasant surprises to onlookers. The Kings started the season on an 8-1-1 tear (or 11-2-2 if you want to take it out further) before some of the cracks started to show. The Golden Knights wowed the hockey world with an 8-2-0 start and despite injuries necessitating an absurd carousel of goalies, including 19-year old Dylan Ferguson, emergency recalled from his juniors team, Vegas kept rolling all season long.
One team walked into the playoffs on a tear and never quite looked back. That team wasn’t the Kings.
There will be time for post mortems later — what went wrong, what went right, how to improve for next year — and no one wants to read a true minute-by-minute recap of an elimination game, particularly at the hands of an expansion team and, congratulations, our newest, most bitter rival. It is, if you’ll allow me to make assumptions for many of you, still a little too raw.
Instead, let’s talk numbers real quick for a second.
- 1.00%: The Kings’ full-team shooting percentage over this series. Tyler Toffoli led the team with 17 shots, including three tonight. Dustin Brown had 15, including six tonight. Jeff Carter had 11, with three tonight. None were rewarded at any point in the series.
- 42.4%: The number of one-goal games the Kings won during the regular season. That’s 22nd in the league. Sitting in the top ten? The Vegas Golden Knights.
- 0.953: The Kings’ PDO through this series. The only teams lower than them? Anaheim (zero wins), Washington and Philadelphia (one win each).
- 130: Number of shots the Kings took over four games. They scored three goals.
Jonathan Quick played some of the finest hockey of his career in this series. Particularly in Las Vegas, he withstood a barrage of shots from the Golden Knights and kept the Kings in the game, every single night. He absolutely deserved a better performance from the team in front of him. And yet every night, his team was absolutely unable to provide him with any goal support whatsoever.
The first period tonight seemed like it was going to be different. The Kings dominated the Golden Knights in shots (14 to eight) and possession (80.49% at 5v5 play) and yet couldn’t solve Marc Andre Fleury. They tried, but Vegas was strong on their sticks, deflecting most pucks out of play before they even got to Fleury. The ones that did — well, he came up with a few big glove saves, but very rarely seemed to have to make desperation saves on challenging shots.
The second period saw a Kopitar chance on one end get denied, only to send play flying up the other end. With Kopitar still chasing up the ice, the Golden Knights executed a perfect passing play between William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and, yes, Brayden McNabb:
Answer: 6. In 201 games.— Jewels from the Crown (@JFTC_Kings) April 18, 2018
From there, the Golden Knights did a masterful job of shutting down the Kings’ chances, just like they’d done for three previous games. Sticks in passing lanes, disrupting plays, keeping the Kings to the outside. It was everything we’ve already seen, and the Kings had no answers for it.
Every game’s had at least one how did that not go in moment, and Anze Kopitar had his fair share of them, including this one that’s probably going to haunt him for a while.
The Kings’ star players needed to step up, and though the top two lines had their chances tonight, no one could finish. It was the same story, all series. Pucks into Fleury’s chest. Passes not connecting. Goals, very conspicuously absent. Additions like Tobias Rieder, Nate Thompson, and Torrey Mitchell weren’t able to match the superior depth of Vegas and couldn’t make up for the top lines not scoring.
At the end of the night, the clock ticks down, and a former King, lost in the expansion draft, scored the only goal in the deciding game. It was a tight series, there’s no doubt about that. But the Kings had no answer for Vegas’ depth scoring. No ability to figure out how to compensate and adapt to the style of game Vegas plays. No ability to tilt the ice in their own favor, dictate the terms of play themselves.
The Kings had a chance to write their own redemption arc, starting with this game. Instead, they’re going home to spend another long summer contemplating exactly what went wrong.