After spending the first week of the 2019-20 season in Canada, the Los Angeles Kings are set to welcome the Nashville Predators Saturday night for Staples Center’s 20thOpening Night. The team went 1-2-0 during the road trip in which they displayed positive components, but also issues that need to be addressed, specifically on defense.
Defense Struggles on First Road Trip
Seventeen – that’s the number of goals the Kings allowed in its first three contests. This and the team’s 5.67 goals against average (GAA) led the league heading into Thursday. Although the offense has managed to keep the Kings alive in games, the defense has been unpleasant.
The first sign came in the season opener against the Edmonton Oilers – within the first minute to be precise. As shown above, Connor McDavid scored his second goal of the season with ease. His speed barreled through the defense, specifically Matt Roy.
McDavid looked to set up Zack Kassian but found Roy instead, who deflected the pass off his skate and behind Jonathan Quick. It’s not the ideal way to start the new season and team captain Anze Kopitar indicated the defensive mistakes played a huge factor in the 6-5 loss.
“You can’t give up six goals and expect to win the game, that’s not going to happen very often. Obviously, scoring five goals, that’s encouraging, but at the same time, we have to clean up on the defensive side of things and make sure that six was just a case of first game of the season.”— Anze Kopitar to NHL.com’s Derek Van Diest
Although the Kings grabbed their first win of the season against the Calgary Flames Tuesday night, the defense showed its flaws again. The team jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second period, then allowed three unanswered goals.
Calgary’s first was unassisted from Matthew Tkachuk – but if an assist had to be awarded to someone, it would be Kopitar. His inability to clear the puck allowed a great scoring opportunity for Tkachuk, to which he took full advantage of against Jack Campbell.
The three-goal surge led to overtime hockey, which didn’t last long as Drew Doughty sealed the game for the Kings with a power play goal 50 seconds in. Despite the fact that it was an ugly victory, Todd McLellan secured his first win as Los Angeles’ head coach.
“It was a tremendous effort, a great start in a tough building to play in,” McLellan told NHL.com’s Aaron Vickers in a post-game interview. “We needed that. It healed the wounds of the Edmonton game, I thought, real quick and gave us confidence. They pushed back, yet we had some resolve to continue on and find a way to win it.”
The defensive inconsistency continued in a harsh way during Wednesday’s contest against the Vancouver Canucks. The Kings allowed eight goals in the game for only the second time in the last eight seasons. The third period was the worst for the Kings as the Canucks scored half of their goals in a little over eight minutes.
Quick stopped only 17 of 25 shots while the team committed 14 giveaways. To cap off the rout, 12 Kings registered minus ratings with Adrian Kempe leading the pack at minus-4. Sean Walker was the only player to tally a plus rating above zero (plus-2).
After the 8-2 blowout, McLellan’s post-game message stood out and hinted that no one’s job is safe.
“There’s the mind and then there’s the skill set and there’s the systematic play and the ability to get involved in the right position, and I thought as the game wore on and it got away on us, that just crumbled. So, it tells me that our group’s got a long, long way to go. Some of the players we’ve counted on or we need to count on have to play a lot better or they don’t belong in the league, and we’ll have to look at some individuals.”— Todd McLellan to LAKingsInsider’s Jon Rosen
Is it Time to Worry About Quick?
The young 2019-20 season hasn’t treated Kings goaltending very well so far. As mentioned above, the team has allowed 17 goals in their first three contests – 14 of which are credited to Quick. His 7.18 GAA and .750 save percentage (SV%) are the worst among all goalies.
After the loss to Vancouver, the team has allowed at least seven goals in three of Quick’s last six starts dating back to the end of last season, according to LAKingsInsider. He got beat on multiple unscreened shots and registered a .680 SV%. Strictly based on his performance in two appearances, does it call for panic?
No…at least not yet. Quick has almost mirrored his slow start from last season but ended up turning things around after the first month of play. The 33-year-old may look as if his age is getting the best of him, but it’s too early to tell. Returning home to Staples Center for a five-game home stand should also help boost Quick’s and the team’s confidence.
Overall, both the defense and goaltending need to adjust to McLellan’s process before it’s too late.
Sara Biela is a Los Angeles Kings contributor for The Hockey Writers. Biela graduated from San Jose State University in 2019 with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She covered SJSU Athletics and the San Jose Sharks through the college’s student-run sports-media publication, The Spear.