LA Kings Monthly: Lemieux Addition Brings Much-Needed Grit & Grind

LA Kings Monthly is a series that analyzes the Los Angeles Kings and how they performed throughout the previous month. Each article discusses what went right for the team, what didn’t, as well as the best highlights, player, and game from the month.

LA Kings Monthly Anze Kopitar Drew Doughty

Each edition also takes a peek at what the next month looks like for the Kings, with the top player and game to watch in the coming weeks. The team kicked off the month with two consecutive home losses, one to the Arizona Coyotes and one to the St. Louis Blues. They followed that up, though, with a big comeback win in their second game versus the Blues. The team went on to split games in Anaheim, but they got swept in the two following games versus the Colorado Avalanche. LA headed back home halfway through the month for a win over the Blues and a split versus the Vegas Golden Knights. The team finished the month losing both games in San Jose and splitting the two contests in Vegas.

The Kings finished March with a record of 5-7-2, totaling 12 points, a .429 points percentage. This brings the team’s season record to 14-16-6, totaling 34 points, a .472 points percentage. Though the team had a down month, they are not going away. They currently sit five points out of the last playoff spot in the Honda West Division with a game in hand.

What Went Right in March: Kings Made Small Yet Useful Additions to the Team

The Kings made their first trades of the 2020-21 season during March. Though there were no blockbuster deals, Rob Blake, the general manager of the Kings, made two trades that satisfied some of the team’s needs. The first trade came on March 27 when Brendan Lemieux was acquired from the New York Rangers in exchange for the Kings’ 2021 fourth-round pick.

Brendan Lemieux
Brendan Lemieux, Former New York Ranger (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Lemieux adds some much-needed grit to the lineup. Prior to the trade, Kurtis MacDermid was the tough guy on the team, and while he will continue to fill that role, he is not always in the lineup. With so many young, skilled players on the team, it will be nice to have Lemieux out there to take on the physical game, letting the up-and-comers do what they do best.

Though Lemieux doesn’t have a ton of offensive upside, he can put up points considering what his primary role is. Last season, he put up 18 points in 59 games, and seven points in 31 games this season. While the Kings sent a draft pick the other way, they still have a fourth-round pick which they acquired from the Calgary Flames last season.

The Kings made another trade just two days later when they sent Michael Amadio to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Christian Wolanin. Earlier in March, Blake said that he was looking for a young, left-shot, dynamic defenseman. Though Wolanin’s age is close to being in the range of what Blake is looking for, and he is a left-shot defenseman, there may still be another trade coming.

Ottawa Senators Christian Wolanin
Former Ottawa Senator Christian Wolanin (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand)

Blake is looking for someone that can contribute in the NHL, and Wolanin is likely not that player. He has only put up three points in 15 games this season, and he bounces back and forth between the NHL and AHL, where he will start once he is released from COVID-19 protocol.

I think this trade is more about what the Kings are giving up. Amadio plays center, and the team has a long list of current players and prospects at the position. Trading Amadio clears up some space for younger players to get into the lineup every so often.

What Went Wrong in March: Kings Struggled to Convert on Scoring Chances

One theme for the Kings throughout the season thus far has been their struggles when it comes to 5v5 offense. At the beginning of the campaign, the team’s expected goals for (xGF) showed to be much lower than the number of goals they actually scored, but further into the season, LA’s scoring corrected itself, becoming just as poor as their xGF.

Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty Anze Kopitar Dustin Brown
Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

During March, though, the Kings experienced a scoring trend that the team had yet to see this season; their xGF surpassed their goals for (GF) by a significant margin. The Kings’ 5v5 expected goals for per 60 rate (xGF/60) during March was 2.63, fifth-best in the league. Their 5v5 goals for per 60 rate (GF/60), on the other hand, was just 2.21, 21st in the league.

The Kings got their chances, but they had trouble finishing on those plays. Last month, LA had an eighth-best 5v5 scoring chances for per 60 rate (SCF/60) of 27.3, yet they ranked 16th in the league for their 5v5 scoring chances goals for per 60 rate (SCGF/60) of 2.03.

This is where the addition of Lemieux comes into play. A lot of hockey fans talk about “grit” as something every championship team needs. We saw it last season with the Tamp Bay Lightning and their acquisitions, but what does “grit” really mean? In this case, Lemieux should help the Kings when it comes not only to getting to the dirty areas to get scoring chances but also when it comes to finishing on those chances.

Lemieux’s shot chart shows that he has taken nine 5v5 shots from “the house” so far this season. He has finished on two of those chances, showing a conversion rate of about 22 percent. The Kings’ conversion rate on their 5v5 scoring chances from March was just 7.4 percent.

Brendan Lemieux
Brendan Lemieux 2020-21 (NYR) Shot Chart (Evolving-Hockey)

Once Lemieux steps into the lineup, the Kings should hopefully see some better numbers when it comes to benefiting off of the hard work it takes to get scoring chances. While many think his only role with the Kings will be as an enforcer, I think there is much more that he could be used for, as demonstrated by his play in front of the net.

The Best of March

Goal of the Month: Andreas Athanasiou – Mar 8 at Anaheim Ducks

At the time of the goal, the Kings found themselves down 5-3 with almost a full period to play. Considering how crazy of a game it was already, it was not surprising that LA was able to find their way back into the contest. Athanasiou’s goal did not only show incredible skill, but it kicked off the comeback that earned the team one point in the standings. The goal can be found at 3:48 of the game highlights.

Athanasiou first hugged the boards to keep the puck in the zone before picking it up and splitting through Ben Hutton and Isac Lundestrom. He then turned veteran defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk inside out with a beautiful toe drag and deposited the puck inside the back post.

Save of the Month: Calvin Petersen – Mar 31 at Vegas Golden Knights

Heading into the game versus the Golden Knights, one of the keys for the Kings was their steady goaltending from Petersen. He has been great all season, but he needed to be especially good to stop the elite offense of the Knights. He did just that, finishing the game with an outstanding .952 save percentage (SV%) and an equally impressive 1.47 goals saved above expected (GSAx). His best save of the night can be found at 3:01 of the game highlights.

On the save, Shea Theodore took what seemed to be a harmless shot from the point, but after it hit the stick of Alex Iafallo, the shot completely changed its trajectory, forcing Petersen to stretch across the entire crease. He was able to cover the puck after several additional attempts by Max Pacioretty. Petersen’s stellar goaltending throughout the game allowed the Kings to force a big two points from one of the top teams in the league.

Player of the Month: Gabriel Vilardi

Though Vilardi was not the best during March as far as production goes, tallying a sixth-best six points in 14 games, he played an overall solid few weeks. He posted very good possession statistics, showing a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 53.7 percent, third on the team.

Gabriel Vilardi LA Kings
Gabriel Vilardi, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

Vilardi also kept his expected goals for percentage (xGF%) above 50 percent, posting a 52.18 xGF%. He has struggled this season in all areas of the game from scoring to possession, so hopefully, his month of great play can continue for the rest of the season.

Game of the Month: Mar 6 vs. Blues

After losing the first two games of March, the Kings needed a win to turn things around. The game got off to a poor start for LA, though. The Blues came out flying, scoring the first three goals of the game, all in the first period. David Perron scored just 25 seconds into the game before Nathan Walker and Ryan O’Reilly each added a goal of their own. Anze Kopitar was able to swing the momentum for the Kings with just under seven minutes to go in the first period, bringing the score to 3-1.

The second period was a quiet one on the scoresheet until Kopitar put in his second of the game with about two minutes to play in the period. Matt Luff then scored his first goal of the season just about a minute later, and just like that, the Kings found themselves in a tie game.

The game was sent to overtime, still tied 3-3. Adrian Kempe finished off the comeback with his sixth goal of the season, winning the game for the Kings. In what looked like it was going to be a blowout in favor of St. Louis, LA was able to recompose and get the win.

The Month Ahead

The Kings have already played two games this month in a back-to-back home series versus the San Jose Sharks, losing both contests. LA will try to turn things around with two more home games versus the Coyotes. The team then hits the road for the first time this month for a quick set in San Jose, where they will try to crack Martin Jones.

The Kings will follow up their trip to San Jose with a very difficult week of hockey featuring a set of home games versus the Golden Knights and a set on the road versus the Avalanche. The team will then head back home for an unusual set of three games versus three different teams. They will first play the Ducks followed by their third back-to-back of the month versus the Minnesota Wild and Coyotes. LA will end the month with two home games and one road game all versus the Ducks.

Player to Watch in the Month Ahead: Blake Lizotte

Lizotte had a very interesting March. He has been struggling as far as points this season; he has put up just four points in 30 games, compared to his 23 points in 65 games last season. These issues carried into last month, as he only had two points to show for after playing 14 games.

Blake Lizotte LA Kings
Blake Lizotte, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)

When looking at Lizotte’s advanced stats from last month, though, one would have expected him to have found the scoresheet much more often. He impressively posted the team’s best CF% and xGF% during March. He posted a CF% of 54.58 percent and an xGF% of 56.47%. He even outplayed his xGF% by a significant margin, putting up a goals for percentage (GF%) of 71.43%, which led the team by far. If he continues to play like this throughout the rest of the season, it is only a matter of time before he finds the back of the net.

Game to Watch in the Month Ahead: Apr 30 at Ducks

The Kings and Ducks are longtime rivals that have already had exciting, back-and-forth games this season. MacDermid and Nicolas Deslauriers have had some bad blood, which is to be expected, considering their history with one another. They were once roommates, but the two heavyweights have fought several times, and we can expect to see more of that if they are both in the lineup.

The game should be especially heated, given that this will be the third game in a row between the two teams, and the fourth meeting in under two weeks. In fact, the Kings’ first game of May is also against the Ducks, the fifth meeting in under three weeks. Picking up the majority of the ten points available in the series versus Anaheim could go a long way toward LA’s playoff push.

Advanced Stats per Evolving-Hockey and Natural Stat Trick

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