For the first time this season, the Los Angeles Kings have won two games in a row. After defeating the Buffalo Sabres 3-2, the Kings have now improved to 3-5-1 and are trending in the right direction. It was an impressive performance from the Kings, coming back from 2-0 down to win the game. It’s exactly the kind of victory a struggling team needs to regain some confidence. Here are four takeaways from the victory.
Grundstrom Capitilizes on Unfortunate Situation
Carl Grundstrom was a late addition to the Kings lineup, as he replaced Viktor Arvidsson, who was placed in COVID-19 protocol just before the game started. He was placed on the third line with Trevor Moore and Rasmus Kupari, with Arthur Kaliyev moving up to the first line. Grundstrom made the most of this opportunity burying his second goal of the season and kickstarting the Kings’ comeback.
It was a nice individual effort, pulling the puck between his legs before burning Rasmus Dahlin to the net, where he put home his own rebound. Was it a dominating performance from him? No, but he played well and grabbed a goal in a game he wasn’t supposed to be in. If he can build upon this game, maybe he can help answer the Kings search for production out of the bottom six.
Kopitar Continues to Dominate
I said this at the beginning of the season and I’ll say it again. Anze Kopitar is the best player in the Pacific Division not wearing an Edmonton Oilers jersey. His two points against the Sabres moved him back into fourth for points in the league, as he continues to take over games for the Kings. When the team needs a spark, Kopitar delivers, picking up a primary assist on the team’s first goal, and scoring the game-tying goal.
His goal was magnificent as well, ripping the puck past Dustin Tokarski on the power play. His willingness and desire to shoot the puck have been great to see this season. He’s always been a pass-first player, but this season he’s putting more emphasis on shooting the puck. It’s paying off well for him, and the Kings as well, with him currently in a six-way tie for the league lead in goals. His shooting percentage of 25% is obviously unsustainable, but there’s a good chance he puts together his fourth career 30-goal season.
Bjornfot Stepping up
I discussed Tobias Bjornfot and Mikey Anderson’s play after the last game, as I felt both of them have stepped up in the absence of Drew Doughty and Sean Walker. While I’m still impressed with Anderson, it’s Bjornfot who stole the show against the Sabres. It’s not only his stellar defensive play, which we’ve come to expect from him, but his ability to generate offense. I’ve thought for a while that there’s more to his game offensively than we’ve seen in his young career, and he’s proving that to be very true.
Much like his defensive play, Bjornfot’s offensive contributions aren’t flashy. He doesn’t have the big point shot or go for home run passes to spring forwards on breakaways. Instead, he uses his great skating and high hockey IQ to make plays.
Bjornfot picked up two assists on Sunday doing exactly that, blocking a shot before advancing the puck for Kopitar on the first goal. Then, picking the right time to activate, arriving as a trailer for Adrian Kempe, before drawing two defensemen to him, and hitting Alex Iafallo back door for the eventual game-winning goal. This is exactly what the Kings needed when both Walker and Doughty went down long-term, they needed one of the young defensemen to step up and add a new element to their game. Bjornfot is doing exactly that, making Kings general manager Rob Blake’s job much easier as a result. I’d also like to give Matt Roy a shoutout, who has led Kings defensemen in ice time in four of the last five games, he’s also stepping up massively.
Kempe & Iafallo Finding Production
The Kings’ second line has been, analytically, one of the best lines in hockey, as they lead the league in Corsi for Percentage (CF%) at 66.7%, and have the seventh-best expected goals percentage in the league, according to MoneyPuck.com. But these numbers have been without real production for most of the season. That changed this weekend, with the line exploding offensively, especially Iafallo who ended the weekend with three goals and one assist. Kempe led the line in points on Sunday with two assists. It’s fair to point out that the majority of these points came on the powerplay and not five on five, but it’s still nice to see these players find the production their play has deserved.
I was especially happy for Iafallo and Kempe, who have both been heavily criticized in the past for their lack of production. Plenty of fans, myself included, view them as third-line players who don’t produce enough to warrant a top-six spot, but this weekend they proved that to be untrue. If they can continue to play their analytically dominant game 5v5, while also picking up plenty of points on the powerplay, this line will still be a huge contributor for the Kings. If the Kings are to continue winning games, they need this line to consistently keep up this offense. The prospects will be coming for Iafallo and Kempe’s jobs soon, but with performances like this, it’ll be difficult to displace them off the top six.
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.