Much to the chagrin of Los Angeles Kings fans, their team’s power outage will have to wait until October for restoration. On Tuesday night, the Vegas Golden Knights stifled the Kings offense in Game 4 of their first round Playoff series, to the tune of a 1-0 suffocation. The loss completed a four-game sweep in favor of the Nevada-based expansion team.
Although every one of the four games was decided by a single goal, the Golden Knights were undoubtedly the superior side. As a result, the Knights’ historic inaugural season continues with their sights firmly set on an unfathomable Stanley Cup run, while the Kings are left with questions to answer.
What Went Wrong?
Despite being clear underdogs, the Kings were the choice of many, yours truly included, to administer a first round upset. It just made too much sense.
L.A. played the best hockey of their season down the stretch and were laden with celebrated playoff performers, with the hardware to prove it, while Vegas was a well constructed, mishmash of overachievers that would inevitably come back down to reality. The Playoffs are an entirely different game that was tailored to the silver and black’s style of play.
Not so much.
Moving at a Leisurely Pace
Admittedly, the current edition of the Kings should never be labeled as one that is blessed with a great deal of speed. In general manager Rob Blake’s defense, he did attempt to enhance this area with the trade deadline addition of speedy winger, Tobias Rieder. However, the issue still remains that speed kills in the ‘new NHL’ and the Kings lack thereof killed them.
Case in point — veteran forwards Kyle Clifford, Tanner Pearson and Trevor Lewis, among others, routinely lumbered down the ice only to be stymied by a well-structured defensive core anchored by young stallions, Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt. On the opposite end of the ice, the blistering pace of forwards Erik Haula, Reilly Smith and Alex Tuch, among others, posed serious headaches for the likes of Dion Phaneuf and Oscar Fantenberg.
L.A. Kings Insider, Jon Rosen also observed this undeniable lack of pace from the home side during last night’s game:
Kings not getting a ton going right now. Not entering the zone with speed or possession. Three chances or so thus far in the third by VGK.
— LA Kings Insider (@lakingsinsider) April 18, 2018
A Royal Lack of Creativity
Outside of the perpetual brilliance of Hart Trophy candidate Anze Kopitar, the Kings were severely lacking the creativity required to muster good scoring opportunities throughout the series. Despite only being out-shot by their opponents 131 to 130, the large majority of the team’s attempts were non-threatening in nature.
A good example would that of forward Tyler Toffoli, who led the team with 17 shots in total, but the issue was that most were of the long-distanced, unobstructed variety. This resulted in Toffoli being held off the score sheet. Not ideal production from a second-line winger.
Toffoli was not alone in his lack of imagination and production. Has anyone heard from Adrian Kempe in the last month and a half? The rookie filled in admirably for Jeff Carter while the center was recovering from a lengthy injury, but has become offensively sterile since being moved to the club’s third line.
This futility persisted against the Golden Knights, where Kempe, much like most of the team, was also held off the scoresheet. Call it hitting a rookie wall or not being able to prosper with inferior linemates, the Swede’s recent lack of production is definitely noteworthy and played a part in the Kings’ early Playoff exit.
What Went Right?
The immediate answer to this question is “not much”. That said, the Kings were able to keep each and every game close and could have, in reality, pulled out a win or two with a lucky bounce or fortuitous deflection. In addition, the series also served as great experience for youngsters like Kempe, Paul LaDue and Alex Iafallo.
However, the most prominent saving grace by far was the outstanding play of their superstar goalie.
Quick Stands on His Head
Jonathan Quick was the predominant reason why this series remained a tightly contested one throughout. The Kings legend routinely thwarted off Golden Knight attacks with superior positioning and timely, highlight-reel saves. Furthermore, his .947 save percentage marked the best of Quick’s storied NHL Playoff career. It is quite apparent that nobody told Quick that he is 32-years old and should, in theory, be on the decline.
Quick’s stellar play offers encouragement for Kings fans, who are undoubtedly hanging their heads in disappointment today. Should the team clean up their act in front of the perennial Vezina Trophy candidate, brighter days may still very well be ahead. Until then, the series sweep definitely puts a damper on a relatively successful season.