In this edition of Los Angeles Kings News & Rumors, I’ll be discussing coach Todd McLellan reaching his 500th win as an NHL head coach, Quinton Byfield’s game-winning goal in Ontario, and Alex Turcotte’s NHL debut.
McLellan Grabs 500th Win
Saturday’s big 6-3 win over the Philadelphia Flyers marked win No. 500 for McLellan, making him the 27th coach in league history to reach that mark. The win also brought the Kings to four games over .500, 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. The team looks to be finding their feet after an inconsistent start to the season.
Fan opinion is still somewhat split on McLellan, though, with some fans worried about his ability to utilize the team’s deep pool of prospects. Regardless of opinion, the Kings have improved this season and he is getting this team to play winning hockey. It was reported before the season that management was firmly behind McLellan and sees him as the coach to navigate them through the latter stages of this rebuild. The team’s current success will only reaffirm that opinion.
Byfield Calls Game
In his second game back from his stint on the COVID protocol list, Byfield grabbed his first point of the season, a silky overtime game-winner that completed the Ontario Reign’s comeback over the Bakersfield Condors on Sunday. After struggling to find offense upon his return from a broken ankle he suffered in preseason, this goal will hopefully open the flood gates for Byfield as he looks to gain conditioning before joining the Kings. Since his return, he has done everything but register points, showing off huge improvements in his defensive game, and an ability to affect the game in all three zones.
Before he entered COVID protocol, the plan was for Byfield to join the Kings while second-line center Phillip Danault was out with COVID, so he should join the team soon. He will most likely take on the center spot Turcotte is occupying, with Turcotte either returning to the Reign or moving to wing. It’s been a tough year for the Kings’ star prospect with injuries and COVID causing him to play just six games up to this point, but he is trending up right now and should be in the NHL soon.
Turcotte Makes NHL Debut
With Danault out of the lineup upon the Kings’ return to play against the Vegas Golden Knights, Turcotte made his NHL debut on the team’s second line. It was asking a lot of him to come in and debut, replacing Danault, and matching up against a very good Golden Knights team, but he played a solid game, all things considered. His zero points, minus-1, and two penalty minutes painted a far worse picture than the reality of his debut. He was defensively responsible, good on the forecheck, and created a few chances for his linemates. He also did enough to retain his spot in the lineup for the next two games.
He saw his ice time reduced in the next two games, moving down to what would essentially be the fourth line, with the supposed fourth line earning themselves more ice time. His reduced usage on Thursday against the Vancouver Canucks was frustrating to watch, as his line was one of the team’s most effective through two periods, yet they were barely used in the third period. The reduced ice time on Saturday against the Flyers made more sense, as the team’s other three lines were playing great hockey and made it difficult for him to find shifts.
With players returning from COVID and injuries, and Byfield likely earning a call-up soon, who knows how long he’ll be in the lineup. Regardless, he’s proved the last three games that he’s more than capable of playing in the NHL and just needs to develop offensively a little bit more before he’s ready for a big role on this team.
Kings Re-Enter the Playoff Picture
After a strong month of December, the Kings are now just one point out of a wild card place, with five more games played than the Colorado Avalanche and one more played than the Edmonton Oilers. While the playoffs are still far from a guarantee, they have a 47.1 percent chance of making the postseason according to moneypuck.com and if they keep up their play, and the Oilers continue to slide, they have a good shot of sneaking in. I think this roster would need some bolstering at the deadline — specifically on defense — if they’re serious about making the postseason, so watching general manager Rob Blake’s moves over the next 12 weeks or so will be interesting.
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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.