Christmas is less than a week away, and now is the time to get in your last-minute wishes. The Los Angeles Kings have a few wishes to make and will be hoping to have them fulfilled come Dec. 25. With Christmas just around the corner, Kings fans should have a few items at the top of their list.
No More Injuries to Kings Defensemen
Of course, you never want any players to get hurt, but the Kings cannot afford any more serious injuries to defensemen. They already lost Drew Doughty for a lengthy period due to injury, Sean Walker’s season ended very early because of a serious knee injury, and veteran Alex Edler will be out for a long time with his recent ankle fracture. The organization is testing the depth of its blue line right now, having to call up several players from the American Hockey League (AHL). The stellar play of young defensemen Sean Durzi could be seen as an early Christmas gift, but not many players can seamlessly step into the NHL as he has.
We’ve already seen the team reach deep into their prospect pool, calling up Jacob Moverare during their latest road trip, and another injury could see them reach even deeper. Not only is this difficult for the Kings, but it also complicates things for the Ontario Reign, too. In their most recent game against the Tucson Roadrunners, they had three defensemen playing who were on professional tryouts and aren’t actually signed to the team. The team is fortunate to have a very deep prospect pool, but it won’t want to test it any further.
Kings Need Improved Special Teams
A common theme during the season for the Kings has been their dismal special teams. While a lot of focus goes to their struggling power play, the penalty kill has been just as bad. The power play is ticking at just 17.4%, placing them 23rd in the league, while their 77.4% penalty kill places them in 25th. The power play looks much worse after some digging though. Of their 17 goals with the man advantage, eight of them have come in just three games, against the Vegas Golden Knights, the Edmonton Oilers, and the Montreal Canadiens. Simply put, 47% of their power-play goals have come in just 10% of their games. This is absolutely atrocious and needs to be fixed, high functioning special teams could put them in, or very near, the playoff picture.
Perhaps my biggest issue with the power play is the lack of a clear plan. While I understand trying to change up a system that isn’t working, often times the changes made contradict each other. I’d also like to see young players given more of a chance with the man advantage, it makes no sense that Arthur Kaliyev was taken off the top unit, and Dustin Brown with zero power-play points should not be on either unit. The power-play struggles could be an article alone though so I’ll leave it there.
Their struggles on the penalty kill have been a big surprise. They have three forwards in Phillip Danault, Anze Kopitar, and Alex Iafallo who all have been nominated for a Selke Trophy and have supplementary forwards like Trevor Moore and Blake Lizotte who excel on the penalty kill. Add in defensemen like Matt Roy and Mikey Anderson who play a style of hockey that should translate well to playing a man down, and it’s surprising how poor they’ve been. The big injuries to key defensemen I mentioned earlier would have had an effect, but this team should still be much better while down a man.
Quinton Byfield in the NHL
Before the season started, it was clear that 2020 second overall pick Quinton Byfield was ready to become a full-time NHLer. Unfortunately, an ankle fracture during preseason saw him miss the first two months of the season. He came back recently and played four games in the AHL, as he gets back up to speed. Despite zero points in those four games, he’s played some great hockey, excelling in his defensive game and playdriving. With Phillip Danault added to the COVID list, he was called up to the Kings before their games through Christmas were postponed. Byfield’s impressive two-way performances in Ontario, made him a prime candidate to replace Danault on the second line.
Unfortunately, Byfield was also added to the COVID protocol list on Tuesday, so we will have to wait a little while longer for his season debut. He is the future number one center for the Kings, so fans have been desperate to see him get an extended run in the NHL all season. The 6-foot-4 center will be a star in this league before long and it will be great to see the beginning of that journey start after Christmas.
Christmas at Crypto.com Arena
The Kings play their next home game on Dec. 28, the first hockey game to be played at Crypto.com Arena, as they usher in the post-Staples Center era. They’ll be hoping to finish off the month of December strong, as they look to climb their way back into the playoff picture and if Santa comes through with these gifts, it is certainly possible. Good health and improved special teams would make a perfect Christmas for the Kings.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.