The Los Angeles Kings were unable to keep the momentum of their opening night victory going versus the Minnesota Wild, as they fell 3-2 in their second game of the season. The team came crashing back down to earth after an impressive game against the Vegas Golden Knights to start their season. Not a bad game by any means — there were positives and negatives for the Kings. Here I’ll be discussing both, with three takeaways from the team’s defeat in Game 2.
Kopitar Still Among the Leagues Best
My first takeaway from this game is Anze Kopitar‘s stellar play once again. After Game 1, I touched on his play, alongside Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown, and its pivotal role in their victory over the Knights. He was magnificent once again in this game, despite the team’s loss. He’s always been a slightly underrated player in my eyes, and with the team struggling over the last few seasons, I think it has gotten worse. Some people no longer consider him to be in the upper echelon of centers in the league anymore, but he’s clearly determined to remind them how good he is.
With a goal and a primary assist, Kopitar played a huge role in both Kings’ goals. He also led all forwards in time on ice (TOI) with 22:21 minutes played. It was a nice reminder that he can still be relied upon to produce while eating up huge minutes. It wasn’t just on the stat sheet that he impressed either. He was solid in the faceoff circle, winning 52 percent of his faceoffs, including two huge offensive zone wins near the end of the game. With seven points through two games, he’s looking to repeat the production we saw during the 2017-18 season where he posted 92 points and was a runner-up for the Hart Memorial Trophy. Still fantastic defensively, his increased offensive freedom is paying off huge for the team.
Danault Line Full of Energy
Kopitar was probably the Kings’ best player in this game, but the Alex Iafallo-Phillip Danault-Adrian Kempe line was the team’s best. They were unable to convert their constant pressure into a goal, but they were impressive nonetheless. They never gave the Wild defensemen a moment’s rest, as they were relentless on the forecheck. They were able to create shooting opportunities, with Iafallo, in particular, getting four shots off. I was especially pleased with the aggressiveness he and Kempe showed, both players were constantly throwing their weight around, and weren’t backing down from anyone on the Wild. While we don’t always see it from him, Kempe has always had the potential to play this style with his size, but this is a new side of Iafallo that I like seeing.
Danault played great once again, proving early on why the Kings committed six years and $33 million to the former Montreal Canadien. His defensive work was great, but I think his play with the puck was more impressive. His underlying number has consistently shown him to be a fantastic playmaker, and he passed the eye test in this game. His strength and puck protection were a joy to watch — when he gets his body between the puck and a defender, they aren’t taking it from him. If they can find consistent production, this will be the perfect second line. They’re relentless on the forecheck, responsible defensively, and generate tons of offense.
Third Line Seriously Missing Andersson
I talked a lot about the team’s new-look third line during the preseason, with Lias Andersson-Gabe Vilardi-Vladimir Tkachev making up an impressive, high-skill third line. They looked set to bring secondary scoring to the team’s lineup; unfortunately, Andersson was hurt in the final preseason game and has found his way onto injured reserve. His absence is evident as well. He has been replaced by young forward Arthur Kaliyev, who has failed to gel with this line the way Andersson did. Now, I don’t blame Kaliyev for this, he just doesn’t complement Vilardi and Tkachev well. Every successful line has a puck retriever — someone who can be first in on the forecheck and cause chaos — and this was Andersson for the third line.
His tenacity and puck retrieval skills were huge for Vilardi and Tkachev, as he would often cause a turnover that gave these two the puck in high-danger areas. With Kaliyev replacing him, this line has no one that excels at forechecking and forcing turnovers, making it too easy for opposition teams to break the puck out against them. It was clear that coach Todd McLellan felt this line was working, with Kaliyev playing very little in the third period. I’d like to see Trevor Moore get a chance on this line, as his tenacity and forechecking would be a more natural replacement for Andersson. The Kings need to find a way for this line to start clicking again, with the lack of secondary scoring being so evident in this loss.
Back to Reality for the Kings
This was a nice reminder that the Kings still have plenty of work to do if they want to compete for a playoff spot this season, fortunately, I think the improvements needed are very achievable and should come with time. Coach McLellan seemed disappointed in his bottom six after this game, so I’d expect to see some changes before the next game, someone new with Vilardi and Tkachev, maybe. There should still be plenty of optimism around this Kings team to start the season, and I’ll be interested to see how they respond to their first loss on Tuesday when they face-off against the Nashville Predators.
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.