After the Los Angeles Kings‘ brutal 6-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild, the team now sits just two points ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights, who have one game in hand on the Kings. A month ago, the Kings looked like a lock for the playoffs, playing good hockey with a nice cushion in second place.
They have now blown that cushion and have found themselves in a close playoff race. They can no longer rely on other teams faltering to save their season and they have to take control of their season. Fans understandably went into panic mode after the Wild game and started to write off the team’s playoff chances, but if they take care of their remaining games, they will get in.
Kings Schedule vs. Vegas’
One of the things that leaves me very confident in the King’s chances of still making the playoffs is their schedule to finish out the season compared to the Knight’s. In the last eight games of the season, the Kings play just one playoff team, the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday. While the Knights play four playoff teams in their last nine games. Of course, this doesn’t mean an automatic win for the Kings, having lost to both the Seattle Kraken and Chicago Blackhawks, who they play twice, just a few weeks ago. It does, however, make their task easier. While not a guaranteed win, the Kings will be far more confident in beating the Blackhawks or Kraken than they would be playing the Calgary Flames.
What Needs to Improve
From the Wild game, it’s easy to say that everything needs improvement and while that’s true, it’s worth diving deeper into what needs to improve.
It’s clear at this point that the forward lines need to be shaken up, there doesn’t need to be massive overhauls, but tweaks are necessary. The one most fans are crying for the loudest is Alex Iafallo being moved off the top line. I discussed this recently and hate to pile criticism onto a player, especially one who I like and think does provide value to the team, but Iafallo absolutely should be moved off the top line and top power-play unit.
His linemates, Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe are pulling their weight right now. After a roughly 10-game dry spell from them, they’ve both turned it on recently. Kempe has 11 points in his last 10 games, while Kopitar has nine in his last 10, with Iafallo posting just four in his last 10. There’s clearly a weak link on that line offensively and the Kings have to address it. His issues on the power play are obvious as well. What’s the solution to this problem? Move Iafallo down to a more suitable third-line role and give one of the kids a shot higher in the lineup. This move could kill two birds with one stone.
The Champagne line has been impressive in many ways, but production has not been one of them. They’ve struggled to impact games on the scoreboard and have continued the theme of poor production from the third line. They have a combined two points in the last five games and 10 in the last 10. Down the stretch, the team will need more depth production, and swapping one of the kids on that line with Iafallo could solve this issue. But who do you move up the lineup?
The obvious answer in my eyes is Rasmus Kupari, his production hasn’t jumped out at you since rejoining the team after his stint in the American Hockey League (AHL) but most people would agree that he’s looked like the best player on that line. He looks like a new player since being moved to the wing, playing with a pace and confidence we haven’t seen from him at the NHL level. He’s also been excellent on the forecheck and looks more effective defensively on the wing. He’d give that top line a level of speed and skill they’re lacking with Iafallo and could bring the spark that line needs. The third line would also benefit from having Iafallo on their line. It would give them an excellent puck hound and one of the best defensive forwards in the league. They could also benefit from having a more veteran presence on the line.
The second line can stay the same, they’ve continued to produce good results, and trying other solutions before breaking up that line makes sense. Brendan Lemieux and Blake Lizotte are back in the lineup and while Lemieux has struggled in his two games, reuniting the fourth line of Lemieux-Lizotte-Arthur Kaliyev would make sense.
Like the forward lines, there is a change that everyone is crying for on defense. The pairing of Tobias Bjornfot and Sean Durzi simply doesn’t work. It’s a mutually detrimental pairing that has harmed both players. They don’t compliment each other at all and both need a more veteran defenseman to play with. Injuries make shuffling the pairings difficult, but there are solutions to this issue. Putting Bjornfot with Troy Stecher and Durzi with Olli Maatta would make sense right now, leaving you with a pairing of Matt Roy and Jordan Spence. You can then reshuffle them when Alex Edler returns to the lineup.
|Alex Edler||Matt Roy|
|Olli Maatta||Sean Durzi|
|Tobias Bjornfot||Troy Stecher|
This should give the team more balance on the backend while allowing Bjornfot and Durzi to play with a more experienced partner who compliments their game better. With the news that Drew Doughty will miss the rest of the season, including the postseason, and no word on Mikey Anderson’s return, the King’s blue line will struggle, but this arrangement could help.
The King’s goaltending hasn’t been diabolical, but it has been that great either. They’ve been fairly average and the team needs more from them. They haven’t lost the team too many games, but haven’t one them any either. Cal Petersen has improved immensely since Jan. 1st, but there are still consistency problems with him and he still struggles to come up with the big save when needed. Despite starting the season out hot, Jonathan Quick has struggled recently and doesn’t inspire too much confidence.
The team needs one of these two to step up and take control of the net. My bet would be on Petersen because he’s posted better numbers of late, but it’s hard to count Quick out, especially during this time of the year. Whoever it is that steps up needs to do so soon. The Kings can’t continue to get average goaltending and expect to win the majority of their remaining eight games. This team is built to limit shot volume but is susceptible to giving up high danger chances, they need to get big saves from their goalies down the stretch.
Kings Control Their Destiny
The Kings have put themselves in a tough spot, but they still control their destiny. If they take care of business and win games at a high rate over the next two weeks, they’ll be in the playoffs. If they can pick up roughly 11 points from the next eight games, they would finish the season on 97 points, a total that should see them make the playoffs. This is a very achievable feat considering their schedule, but things need to change quickly and the players need to step up.
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.