Just two weeks ago, the Los Angeles Kings were the hottest team in the NHL and could go toe-to-toe with any team. That has quickly changed, and the Kings have lost five straight games after being comfortably beat 6-2 by the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday night. Many hoped they had found their game after a slow start, but they still have issues that need to be worked out. Here are three takeaways from last night’s loss.
Kings Heavily Outplayed
As the score indicates, the Kings were outplayed in this game. Although they looked a bit better in the third period, that had more to do with the Maple Leafs taking their foot off the gas than anything. The only line that posted positive numbers through the first two periods was the Trevor Moore-Rasmus Kupari-Lias Andersson line. They finished the game with a 74% expected goals percentage (XGoals%), a 66.7% Corsi for percentage (CF%), and a 73.3% Fenwick for percentage (FF%). Every other Kings line finished the game at 50% or below in these categories.
However, the Kings have had consistently good underlying numbers this season, even when losing. So, these stats add an extra layer of worry to this loss. Their top six specifically were heavily outplayed in this game, as they couldn’t keep up with the high-powered Maple Leafs’ top six. The lack of production from them at 5v5 has been a big issue during this losing streak, with just one even-strength goal in the last five games. The Kings need to get the top of their lineup to produce if they want to start winning games again.
McLellan Shakes up the Lines
I mentioned that the Kings looked better in the third mainly because Toronto took their foot off the gas. But another factor was head coach Todd McLellan. Things clearly weren’t working in this game, so he decided to blow up the lines and change them from top to bottom.
McLellan tweaking his lines midgame is nothing new, but wholesale changes like this are unusual. While I doubt these changes are permanent after one period, but I wonder if he was trying to give some players a trial higher in the lineup. With the top-six struggling, this might have been a chance for other players to get a look in more elevated roles.
I’m particularly interested to see if Arthur Kaliyev is given an extended look back in the top six. He had two brief cameos on the first line during the team’s seven-game winning streak but wasn’t able to hold down his spot. The top two lines are missing high-end skills right now, and while Kaliyev has deficiencies, skill is not one of them. The Kings have a few days off before their Saturday game against the Ottawa Senators, so we’ll keep an eye on the lines in practice over the next few days.
Durzi & the Power Play Were a Positive
The biggest positive from this game was Sean Durzi’s performance on the power play. I’ve discussed ad-nauseam the problems with the Kings power play and mentioned Durzi as a possible solution. He was finally given a chance on Wednesday, making his NHL debut against the team that drafted him. Matt Roy retained his spot on the first unit to start the game but was quickly replaced by Durzi, who made an immediate impact. He grabbed a primary assist on Viktor Arvidsson’s goal and a goal of his own late in the game.
I’ve mentioned before that he is a more like-for-like replacement for Drew Doughty on the power play, as both players love shooting the puck. He doesn’t have the big, overpowering slap shot that Doughty has, but he possesses a very effective wrist shot. He was considered a goal-scoring blueliner entering his draft year and continued to score goals in the American Hockey League (AHL) because of this wrist shot. He showed it off last night, putting a good shot on goal for Arvidsson to tip. He then found himself in the slot and fired a nice wrist shot past Jack Campbell for his goal. He still needs to work on his 5v5 play, and I’d like to see him play with Alex Edler, but he made an instant improvement to the power play and should stay in the lineup because of this.
Kings Fall Back Into a Losing Streak
The Kings seem to be doing everything in bunches this season, jumping between big losing streaks and big winning streaks. They need to find consistency and quickly. We’ll see if McLellan commits to any of the changes we saw late in this game, as he needs to find a way to get this team winning again.
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.