The Los Angeles Kings have won two straight and have picked up at least one point in eight of their last nine games. Although the team lost their first game back from a two-week break, they have since picked up right where they left off. Their last two outings, back-to-back road games against the Vegas Golden Knights and Arizona Coyotes, resulting in comeback victories are a testament to the improvements the team has made this season. Here are four takeaways from these two games.
Special Teams Success
The Kings’ special teams woes have been a trend throughout the season. Nevertheless, the small sample size of the past two games shows that there may finally be a light at the end of the tunnel. Against Vegas, each team had three power-play opportunities, and each team scored once. While the Kings would have liked to kill off Drew Doughty’s interference penalty, Vegas’ Max Pacioretty scored on a perfect play while the Kings’ best penalty killer was in the box. It was a completely forgivable goal, and, more importantly, the Kings were able to recover from it.
While the power play looked better going into the Kings’ extended All-Star break, its lack of success became a focal point when the team returned to practice. Going one-for-three on the power in an important divisional game is exactly where the Kings wanted to be, especially considering they used their opportunity on the man advantage to tie the game at two. This set the tone for the rest of the game and into the second half of the back-to-back against Arizona.
Special teams were the differentiating factor against Arizona. The Kings went two-for-four on the power play and killed all three penalties they took. The power-play goals came at key moments: Doughty’s well-timed one-timer cut the Coyotes’ lead to one, and Adrian Kempe’s perfectly placed shot gave the Kings a much-appreciated insurance goal.
Even in the power-play opportunities where the team failed to convert, the team looked purposeful. They have clearly altered their strategy on the power play and it has resulted in crisp passing, good puck movement, scoring opportunities, and, finally, some actual goals. If the team is able to maintain this and make their power play a threat, it will be a key step for an organization that wants to contend in the playoffs.
Kempe Continues to Wow
Adrian Kempe did not skip a beat after coming off the All-Star game where he represented the Kings. In what has been his breakout season, the 25-year-old forward scored four goals, two in each game. His wrist shot has become a lethal weapon and he is always finding ways to score. He picked up his 20th goal of the season against Vegas, marking the first time he has crossed the 20 goal threshold in his career.
Kempe’s success has also greatly contributed to the team’s recent success, especially on the power play. A part of the Kings’ new strategy is simply finding ways to set up their hottest shooter. In each game, one of his goals was scored on a power-play one-timer, and he also set up Doughty’s power-play tally against Arizona. Kempe, somehow, is playing even better than he was going into the break, and he is showing no signs of cooling down.
Kings Show Grit and Determination
The Kings got off to a rocky start on this road trip. They allowed two goals in the first and immediately needed a momentum shift. Andreas Athanasiou created an opportunity for himself and had a beautiful finish on a breakaway opportunity, putting the Kings right back into the game. Kempe’s power-play tally tied it up in the second, but the Kings would, once again, fall behind. Phillip Danault, who is having a career year offensively, scored on a feed from Viktor Arvidsson to tie the game up going into the third. Although the Kings dominated in the third, the game would not be decided until overtime when Kempe scored off of a perfect pass from defenseman Sean Durzi.
The Vegas game was an emotional night for the team: fighting back against a division rival and winning in overtime felt amazing. It would have been easy for the team to revel in that win and not show up against the bottom-dwelling Coyotes. When they went down early, they immediately struck back when Kempe tied it 12 seconds later. The Kings lacked focus for the majority of the second period, allowing two goals, but showed up when they needed to when Doughty scored on a late power play. They finished their back-to-back with a strong third period, scoring the tying goal, the eventual game-winner, and an insurance goal.
It is hard to pull off one comeback, let alone two in consecutive nights. Nevertheless, the Kings have shown that they are a team that will find a way to win games. If the Kings had been down by two goals at most points over the last several seasons, most would have counted the team out. They have taken a huge stride as, now, the team has proven that they can keep coming back. This is reminiscent of the team’s identity going back to their Stanley Cup runs which is interesting to see as, for the first time in years, they have a legitimate shot at the postseason.
4 Key Points in the Pacific Division
While the Kings are certainly in a good position to make the playoffs, they still need to pick up all of the points they can get, especially if they want to be in the top three of the Pacific Division. The Kings need to be winning important four point games, like the one against Vegas, and, when the standings are this close, they simply cannot lose in matchups where they are objectively better than the other team, as with Arizona. The Kings did what they needed to do in these back-to-back games in dramatic fashion and have some momentum to build off as they continue their push for the playoffs.
As a native Angeleno, Katie Nash is a life-long Kings fan and experienced amateur hockey journalist. She is excited to provide her perspective through covering the Kings for The Hockey Writers.
Follow her on instagram @la.kings.hockey.