The Los Angeles Kings have taken advantage of the early part of their schedule, which has been heavily weighted toward games at home. I recently wrote that they needed to rack up wins with another series of home games awaiting them, and they did just that, taking down Anaheim, Florida, and Carolina.
A Rough Start in Dallas
The reason why they needed those wins is because they have struggled away from Staples Center. That increasingly troubling trend continued Saturday night in Dallas, which ironically was the site of the Kings’ only road victory of the season — a 3-1 win back on November 4. Things did not go nearly as well this time. The Kings’ road struggles manifested themselves in a major way late in the first period, after which they headed to the locker room in a 3-0 hole against the Stars.
It was neutral zone turnovers, odd-man rush opportunities given up, poor defensive coverage in transition, and a back-breaking late-period power play goal against that gave LA what was ultimately too much of a hill to climb. They would begin to turn things around in the second period and dominate possession in the third, but Dallas and goaltender Kari Lehtonen (37 saves, including 15 in the final period) hung on for a 5-4 win that worsened the Kings’ road record to a concerning 1-4-3.
The so-far disappointing Stars played fairly well for most of the first two periods, but frankly, the Kings did not play too poorly outside of some critical lapses in a less-than-10-minute span that proved to cost them the game. In that sense, the Kings do have to feel encouraged about how they played for chunks of the game — especially in the third — but these lapses and dips in play have occurred too often for them away from Staples Center. Again, they gave up too many odd-man rushes and didn’t defend well in transition, which is made all the more difficult when teams are in an outnumbered situation to begin with.
A glaring example of the Kings’ sloppy play can be seen with the first goal they yielded to Dallas, and the one that began their first-period downward spiral. The horror show began with a neutral zone turnover by Tyler Toffoli, who has otherwise, for the most part, had a stellar season to this point. That led to an odd-man rush and eventual 2-on-1 the other way, as LA could not get back and get everyone covered in time. Dallas star (no pun intended) Jamie Benn made them pay (as he would again later with less than 2 seconds remaining in the first period), burying a terrific feed from other Dallas star Tyler Seguin.
Late Rally a Reason for Optimism Going Forward?
From there, it got worse before it got better (but not good enough) for the Kings, as they fell behind 3-0 and later 5-2 before they rallied to make it 5-4 on Justin Williams’ second goal of the game with 9:16 remaining in the third. Lehtonen, however, stood on his head the rest of the way, denying Los Angeles what would have been just its second road win all season.
The Kings’ problems away from Staples Center might also get worse before they get better, as their next two road games are in Nashville and Minnesota. As of Sunday night, those two teams have combined to lose just three home games out of 17 (and only two in regulation) all season.
The bright side for LA, though — in addition to Justin Williams scoring twice and showing signs of heating up — is that they can build on the fact that they are coming off some of their strongest road play all season, if one looks at the last 25-30 minutes of the Dallas game. But if they continue to have their alarmingly regular lapses and sloppy play away from home, the Predators and Wild will surely make them pay. For the Kings, this is where the rubber hits the road (that time, the pun was intended).