The Twitterverse and spoiled fans are really getting to me this year. I’ve never seen so many frustrated fans. It’s annoying. It’s unnecessary. Doubling down on the spoilage I see the daily articles mapping out Jonathan Quick’s exit path from the Kings. Every goal given up is his fault because he’s lost it. Every goal is one that Jack Campbell and even Cal Petersen could have stopped in their sleep. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Maybe you missed this trio of games: 5-2 home loss to Vegas; 5-2 road loss to St. Louis; 5-3 home loss to Vancouver. I didn’t. Those games could have easily been at least 10 goals against if not for Quick. He’s not the problem, don’t trick yourselves folks. The problem is the special teams play. My abacus can’t add up how many goals the Kings have given up this year (15 actually). The numbers are alarming—the power play converts 9.8 per cent of the time (5th worst) and kills off 68.8 per cent of opponents’ man advantages (2nd worst). That’s a combined 78.6 per cent. That’s ugly. That’s the reason.
Anyone remember when Darryl Sutter was being run out of town by the Kings on-ice leadership corps at the end of the 2016-17? Remember how everyone said Coach Sutter lost the room and the players wanted to have fun again? Remember how Rob Blake hired vanilla John Stevens and the Kings collapsed in the 2017-18 regular season finale, the playoffs and the start of the following season? Remember when Blake hired Willie Desjardins over the phone without an in-person meeting and ole Willie D. turned out to be the worst coach of the last 45 seasons? Yeah, it could be a lot worse and may well be by the time game 82 rolls around on April 4th.
Willie D. aside, the problem is the players on the ice. Once this team falls behind there’s no fight. There’s not a single player out there who puts the team on his back and carries it to a comeback. The famous structure that Todd McLellan preaches game after game falls apart like the end of a 15-minute Jenga game. You can see the collective wilting occur on the ice after another penalty kill goes awry. The fight is gone in seconds and never recovers. That’s a shame because I still believe in core of this team, and, the Kings finally have a real coach.
Just a couple of weeks ago, I advised you to embrace the learning curve and you’ll be happier. Despite the high readership of this particular column, I still see many of the Kings faithful in full road rage with goals given up to start periods, the amount of goals the D puts into their own net, and Doughty screening or blocking Quick on seemingly every scramble in front of the net.
So, I’m back again to say chill out! And, to help with that, here are some of the reasons to continue to watch the Los Angeles Kings this season.
One of the greatest defending forwards in the last decade and future hall of famer. Throughout the last five years you could make the argument he was the best player on the ice every game. Depending upon how you view the game, Kopitar was basically robbed of the 2018 Hart Trophy, has won a couple of Selkes, and continues to the bamboo that bends and never breaks. With all due respect, he’s done all of this on a top line with Alex Iafallo and Dustin Brown (both of whom are probably better suited on a third line on a contending team). I mean look at the King of the Selke, Patrice Bergeron. He centers David Pastrnák and Brad Marchand. Now that’s a top line. I think McLellan understands this too because he’s starting to move Kopitar around with different linemates. That alone might be fun to watch.
Todd McLellan’s Postgame Scrums
Outside of John Tortorella’s epic pressers, no one keeps it real like McLellan does. A play is stupid? He’ll tell you exactly how it happened multiple times tonight. Thinly veiled benching threats? Check. Breaking down accountability in painful detail? It’s there. Saying a losing streak may prove that some players don’t belong in the NHL? Yep. Actually benching fan favorites to prove a point? That’s there too. Outside of Sutter’s mumbling rants, no other recent Kings coach has mastered the dress down after a game.
He took the pre-season by storm. Had a few of my favorite assists that don’t count in the regular season ever. He was an undrafted collegian. He grinds and has streams of ice water in his veins and it never ceases. It’s kind of wild to me that he looks 15 and makes you believe in the little guy. I’m rooting for you Blake (and you should too).
The Missed the Net Drinking Game
Warning: Don’t try this game at a bar or at the game. You are sure to get liver damage inside of one period. This is highly recommended for home viewing only. Every time the Kings miss a shot wide left, wide right, or over the crossbar, take a sip of your beer or take your own shot in a thimble-sized glass. I was at the 3-0 loss to Buffalo and despite the score it was quite a fun game to be at once you wrapped your mind around the fact that Carter Hutton was going to show Staples Center why he’s a Vezina candidate. There was a point in the game when the Kings seemed stuck on 42 shots and kept missing the net. I think they missed on thirtysomething shot attempts that night. It was comical. I haven’t laughed that much since the Kings lost to the Rangers 3-0 in late season 2017 game and the New York razzing finally stopped once the Champion Spark Plug Moment chronicled the 2014 Finals win.
Nobody’s going to tell you this, but be careful how much you trash the Cheetah. If I weren’t courageous, I would stay silent. Fortunately I’m brave enough to say that no matter how many times he gives away the puck in his own zone or how many breakaways he doesn’t convert, he’s here and glorious to watch. He’s like a poor man’s Pavel Bure. One second there’s a scramble for the puck and next he’s breezing by some hapless defender leaving us to handslap our collective foreheads when he doesn’t convert again. Imagine if you started a job and you were the faster worker in the department but your supervisor read notes off a clipboard and slept in his office all day. That was the Cheetah under Willie D. last season. This season, the forward whisperer is coaching him. Todd will show him the way. I think at some point this year, Wagner is going to show people of the monster that he can be.
The Alexis Lafrenière Watch
At 4-9-0 it’s never too early to start looking at who the Kings will get in the 2020 June Entry Draft. Sure, the Kings always seems to get stomach punched during the ping pong ball lottery, but with the starts Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are off to and the upside of Alex Turcotte, perhaps the real chosen one is Alexis Lafreniere. The 6’1”, 200 pound left winger is currently eating up the QMJHL with 43 points (12G, 31A) through 14 games. Kopitar always wanted a great winger on his left. We all can dream about that for a while.