The Los Angeles Kings kicked off the season’s first Freeway Face-Off with an exciting 5-4 shootout loss to the Anaheim Ducks. The game was a rollercoaster, with the Kings scoring three goals in the last eight minutes to force overtime. Despite the loss, the young team showed a lot of character. After conceding two goals in 29 seconds, it would’ve been easy for them to lie down and accept defeat. Instead, they fought back and earned a point. Here are three takeaways from the loss.
Doughty Thrown Back Into the Fire
The big headline coming into this game was the return of Drew Doughty after being sidelined for 16 games with a knee injury. As the leader in average ice time last season, many wondered how the team would manage his minutes in his return. Head coach Todd McLellan wasn’t too worried about it, though. Doughty led all players in ice time, finishing the game with 27:55 TOI. It was great for the Kings to have their star defenseman back, someone they can rely on for heavy minutes, and Doughty looked solid.
Doughty had some rust to shake off, and he was less mobile than usual. But, considering he was out with a knee injury, it isn’t that surprising. The power play also looked better with him out there. The Kings couldn’t convert on their one chance, but they looked more comfortable. Finally, Doughty’s return allowed Sean Durzi to move down to the second unit, and he had an instant impact, as well. This Kings’ blue line survived without him, but Doughty’s return is huge for them.
Kings’ Top Six Found the Goals
The team’s recent slide has largely been due to a lack of production from their top six, with just one goal in their last six games at even strength. That changed on Tuesday. All four Kings goals came from the top six at 5v5. It would be huge for the team if this group can find their groove, especially if they can continue to get production from their bottom six. Alex Iafallo grabbed two goals in the game, which were huge since he was scoreless in his previous seven games. Since moving Viktor Arvidsson down to the second line a few games ago, that line has looked very dangerous but has been unable to produce goals. It was great to see their play rewarded, and this will hopefully spark some more offense from them.
Dustin Brown was also in desperate need of a goal. He was scoreless in his last 15 games but grabbed the all-important game-tying goal late in the third. After being moved off the first line halfway through the Ottawa Senators game, some people were surprised to see him back with Anze Kopitar for this game. But he made the opportunity count and potted his third goal of the season. Adrian Kempe continued his solid season, grabbing his eighth goal of the campaign. Both Kempe and Iafallo are tied with Kopitar for the team lead in goals, and both players are on pace for their first career 30-goal season. I’d be shocked if they both hit the mark, but at this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of them do it. Kempe will be desperate to hit 30-goals in a contract season, but consistency has never been his strong suit.
Durzi on the Board Again
What a revelation Durzi has been over the last three games. Despite being involved in two Kings losses in three games, he’s had a major impact on the team. Has he been perfect? No. But he’s added a new element to the Kings’ blue line and is filling the offensive void left by the Sean Walker injury. He’s also been better offensively than Walker. Not only that but he’s grown in confidence and looked very comfortable on both sides of the puck against the Ducks. Like Walker, he gets the puck up ice quickly and helps the team transition from defense to offense in an instant, but he also offers more production.
I’m not saying that I’d rather have him than a healthy Walker. But he’s doing a great job filling the hole. He still needs work on his defensive positioning, but he’s getting better with every game. He grabbed the primary assist on Iafallo’s second goal and now has four points in three games. He’s quickly cementing his spot on the roster, and if this play continues, he won’t be seen in the American Hockey League again.
Kings’ Important Month Ahead
December will almost certainly determine the Kings’ season. They have a brutal schedule, facing just two teams with records below .500, and a losing record could effectively end their season early. A win against the Ducks would’ve been a great way to start a hot streak, but the Kings can still take positives from the late comeback. Their next game is on Thursday against the Calgary Flames and will be Darryl Sutter’s return to Los Angeles. This will be a huge test against the division leaders and should serve as a measuring stick 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.