In a season filled with obstacles and letdowns, the 2018-19 Los Angeles Kings finished last in the Pacific Division (30th in the league) and missed the playoffs for the third time in five seasons.
Even with additional help from a high-scoring winger in Ilya Kovalchuk, the team could not find more ways to cash in. The Kings concluded the campaign second to last in scoring with 202 goals – only edging the Anaheim Ducks (199).
Many players lacked in overall performance, and even saw career-low numbers. Shockingly, among them was team captain Anze Kopitar. After recording career-highs in 2017-18, Kopitar went downhill instead of up.
Comparing Kopitar’s 2017-18 to 2018-19
The difference in numbers between Kopitar’s last two seasons is uncanny.
The 2017-18 campaign turned out to be Kopitar’s best season to date. In his first 10 games, he scored seven times and tallied points in six of them. He still made an impact by creating scoring opportunities when he wasn’t doing the scoring himself.
Kopitar recorded career-highs in goals (35), assists (57) and points (92), while registering an impressive plus-21 rating.
He would help the Kings clinch a playoff spot, but their run didn’t last long as they were eliminated in a four-game sweep by the Vegas Golden Knights. To cap off a productive season, Kopitar added more hardware and won his second Frank J. Selke Trophy.
He has been the team’s leading scorer in 12 out of the last 13 seasons and the league’s top scorer in 2012 and 2014. So, what happened in 2018-19?
Kopitar got off to a good start and scored in his first two games, but after that, he went on multiple scoreless streaks that reached as high as seven games before the end of the calendar year. In the team’s last 10 contests, the captain only registered two goals.
In 81 games played, Kopitar and Dustin Brown led the team in scoring at 22. He also led the Kings in assists (38) and points (60), while having a minus-20 rating. The 2015-16 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy recipient did manage to tie a career-high in shorthanded goals (2), but only netted a lone power-play goal.
To add to one of the worst offensive seasons in his career, Kopitar racked up 30 penalty minutes, second-highest since his debut, and was on the ice for 113 goals against.
He saw a 32-point decrease as Los Angeles finished ahead of only the Ottawa Senators in the league standings. By looking at just statistics, whenever Kopitar has a solid season, the Kings are the real deal. When he’s bad, so is Los Angeles.
It was a disappointment of a season altogether for the Kings, but to not have the captain perform at his best is a huge blow. Kopitar has become one of the most dynamic players in Kings history, so to not have a player of his caliber contribute consistently is unfortunate.
The dysfunctional management of John Stevens and Willie Desjardins added to the downfall. Stevens was relieved of his duties after starting the season 4-8-1. Desjardins completed the rest of the season and went 27-34-8.
It may seem as if the lack of chemistry with the coaching staff was the lone reason why the Kings didn’t perform well. Nonetheless, the team needed to overcome the hurdles and find ways to win. That wasn’t the case.
If history repeats itself, the odds are in Kopitar’s favor heading into the 2019-20 season. Under newly-acquired head coach Todd McLellan, only time will tell if Kopitar, and the Kings, will soar or fall.
Final Grade: C-minus
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.