The Los Angeles Kings finished off their four-game road trip on Monday with a 3-0 loss against the St. Louis Blues. It was a disastrous road trip, where the team went 0-3-1 and lost two key defensemen. The team didn’t play too bad on Monday, but an inability to finish saw them fall to the Blues for the second game in a row. Here are three takeaways from the game.
Walker Suffers an Injury
Late in the first period, defensemen Sean Walker got tangled up with Blues forward David Perron, which ended with Perron falling on Walker’s leg, which was in an unnatural position. There has been no announcement from the team on the extent of Walker’s injury, but it looked very bad on replay. With Drew Doughty leaving the Dallas Stars game with a knee injury, this leaves the Kings very light on the right side of defense. After the Doughty injury, there was increased responsibility on Walker to generate offense as the only natural point producer on the Kings’ blueline, meaning this injury could be devastating for the team. Alex Edler’s two points are now the most amongst available defensemen for the foreseeable future, with no other blueliner registering a single point.
As a team that already desperately struggles for offense, they need someone to step up and carry the offensive load left by Doughty and Walker. Austin Strand, who was called up after Doughty’s injury, should help, he’s a solid puck-mover who has put up decent numbers in the AHL and looked good against the Blues. Tobias Bjornfot has been jumping into the play more recently and he’s a player who I think has more offensive upside to his game than we’ve seen in his young career, so I’d expect him to step up. He won’t turn into an offensive defenseman, but I think we’ll see him get more involved offensively with these injuries. Olli Maatta might also get a chance in the lineup, but I wouldn’t expect him to provide much offense.
There are also options for the team in the American Hockey League (AHL). I think there are three realistic options for call-ups. The first is Sean Durzi, he seems like the most natural fit, as the Reigns’ current number one right defenseman. After coming over in the Jake Muzzin trade, he has failed to break into the team’s lineup, however, this could be the chance he needs. He’s also solid offensively, leading the Reign in points last season, meaning he’ll be able to help replace the offense lost by these injuries. The second option is Kale Clague, a natural left-side defenseman, he has proven capable of playing on the right side in the past and is a natural offensive defenseman. He also has more experience than Durzi, after playing 18 games with the Kings last season.
The final option is Jacob Moverare, he’s started off the season very hot in Ontario, grabbing five points in the first five games. As a left-shot defenseman, he wouldn’t be a natural fit as someone would have to shift over to the right side. But he’s playing some great hockey and the organization might feel like he’s done enough to earn a call-up. Regardless of who is called up, this injury is devastating for a struggling Kings team, who now have five players out with injuries.
Kings Still Can’t Score
An all too familiar theme for the Kings recently has been an inability to score. They have ranked bottom five in the league for goals scored in each of the previous three seasons, and the early signs from this season don’t look much better. After a promising first game where they scored six goals, the team has only scored more than twice in one game and has gotten almost no offense outside of their top line.
Coach Todd McLellan tried switching around the line combinations for this game, hoping to spark some offense, but it had a negative effect, as the team was shut out for the first time this season. Getting shots hasn’t been a problem, posting 30 or more shots in all but one game, but the team’s finishing has been non-existent. There was hope that bringing in Viktor Arvidsson and the introduction of Arthur Kaliyev would improve the team’s finishing, but with just one goal between the two players, they need to find another solution.
Kupari and Quick Played Well
There were a few positives to come from this game, and I think the play of Rasmus Kupari and Jonathan Quick were the two biggest. Kupari was moved back to center after spending his first three games on the wing and looked good in his more natural position. He has played well recently and was promoted to the third line for this game and might keep his spot after another solid performance. I still see his future at wing, with his 2-7 performance in the faceoff circle helping that opinion, but his versatility to play through the middle is nice. He was playing fast and controlled the puck well, he also produced one of the teams’ best opportunities, burning down the wing, he slammed on the brakes with a curl and drag move before putting the puck on net.
I’m hoping his move back to center facilitates Gabe Vilardi being moved to right-wing, at least until Quinton Byfield returns from injury, at which point Kupari and Vilardi can both stay on the wing. Quick was also solid, letting up just two goals on 34 shots, ending the game with a .941 save percentage. Neither goal was his fault, as Vladimir Tarasenko was presented a partial, and full, breakaway to score both goals. Quick stood on his head in the first period particularly, facing 18 shots during the first 20 minutes, letting in zero goals. With performances like this, he isn’t going to give Cal Petersen the full-time starting job without a fight.
An Important Home Stand
The Kings will return home to Los Angeles on Thursday, where they kick off a five-game homestand against the Winnipeg Jets. After losing all four games on this road trip, it’s pivotal that the Kings return to winning ways during this five-game stretch, as early stumbles can kill a season before it gets going. Fortunately for the Kings, the season is only six games in and there’s plenty of time to recover. But they must figure out how to generate more offense, or it will be another year of lottery picks for them.
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.