The Los Angeles Kings‘ record dropped to 1-2 after Tuesday night’s loss to the Nashville Predators. It’s been a tough start to their four-game road trip. This game had familiar issues, as the Kings continue to rely too heavily on Anze Kopitar and lack secondary scoring. Cal Petersen was a real positive, as he kept the game close despite that they were heavily outplayed.
Kings Overreliant on Kopitar
The good news is, Kopitar scored again to continue his fantastic start to the season. The bad news is, he’s the only one scoring for the Kings. He buried his fifth of the season, a nice snapshot after using his big frame to protect the puck. It’s an all too familiar issue. Kopitar has significantly outscored his teammates too often over the last few seasons and earned a point on eight of the team’s nine goals this season, scoring five himself. Drew Doughty is providing offense, with seven points, but there’s a massive drop-off after that, to Dustin Brown’s three points.
The only five-on-five goal not scored by Kopitar’s line was Phillip Danault’s deflection in game one. While the second line has played well defensively and performed their role well, the Kings need more from them offensively. The third line was again disappointing, but I’ll get to them later. The fourth line of Carl Grundstrom-Blake Lizotte-Rasmus Kupari created a few chances and looked good at times, but if your fourth line is creating the second most offense, there’s a problem. Fortunately, it’s only been three games, so there’s plenty of time for players to step up, but it needs to happen soon.
Petersen Strong in Net
The one big positive from this game has to be Petersen. After signing his three-year, $15 million extension, expectations are high for him to make the starting job his own this season. Despite the loss, he looked like a number one goalie against the Predators. With 29 saves and a .935 save percentage (SV%), he kept the team in the game throughout. It wasn’t just the number of saves, either. He made big saves at key moments, something you need from your starter. He stopped several breakaways and came up with a huge penalty shot save against Filip Forsberg with less than a minute left in the second period.
It was nice to see signs that Petersen is ready to take on the starting role, but he should be disappointed with how the team played in front of him. His extension doesn’t kick in until next season, and his $858,333 cap hit will be a bargain if his play continues. With more performances like this, he might even be a steal at $5 million per season. It was a promising game, and hopefully, the team can give him more help in the future.
Kings’ Third Line Sees Same Issues
It might be an exaggeration to call this a “new third line” since Trevor Moore is the only new member, but there was an attempted change from coach Todd McLellan. After struggling in the first two games, Arthur Kaliyev was scratched against the Predators, and Moore was intended to be the puck retriever instead of Lias Andersson, who played that role during the preseason. It looked great on paper, and I mentioned it after the Minnesota Wild game, but it had little effect. The line was unable to create any offense, with just two shots. Unfortunately, the struggles didn’t end there; Gabe Vilardi was dominated in the faceoff circle, going 0/5 in the game.
Yes, it’s only three games into the season, so it’s not time to hit the panic button yet, but this line needs to improve soon. I thought adding a puck retriever would fix their issues, and it might still, but after one game, it seems there might be bigger issues here. One positive was Vilardi’s improved skating. I’ve mentioned it before, but he made big improvements to his skating this summer, specifically his edgework and acceleration. He’s a good player, but the team needs more from him on this line; he needs to be the best player of the three and start taking on more of a play-driving role. I’m still confident that he will figure it out and put together a good season, even if he has started slow.
It’s not time to start chopping and changing yet, and I’d like to see Moore get another chance with this line, but there are changes McLellan could make. I don’t want to see Kaliyev back on this line, not because he isn’t good enough, but because he just doesn’t fit in at all. Instead, I’d like to see Kupari get a chance if Moore can’t develop the right chemistry. While he doesn’t have the forechecking or puck retrieval skills of Andersson or Moore, his speed and creativity could provide a much-needed spark.
Kings Must Bounce Back Against Stars
The Kings’ next game is on Friday against the Dallas Stars, and they need to get back on track with a win here. Starting a four-game road trip with two losses is recipe for disaster, and they don’t want an early stumble to cripple their season. There are still positives, even if old issues are still present. McLellan will need to find a way to boost secondary scoring, and I’m interested to see if he continues to split starts in net or if Petersen will play two in a row.
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.