Kings Playing Down to Competition at the Wrong Time

The Los Angeles Kings are in the thick of a heated playoff race. As of Sunday morning, the team is officially on the outside looking in at the second wild-card spot in the Western Conference. This is in spite of recent stellar outings against formidable opponents such as the Washington Capitals, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. It is also in spite of the #WeHartKopitar movement, in which star center, Anze Kopitar, is making a majestic last-second push for the Hart Trophy.

Truth be told, some of the Kings’ performances over the past month have illustrated how dangerous this team could be should they make the playoffs. Alas, then why are the Kings scratching and clawing to make this spring’s tournament? The answer is fairly simple. They are playing down to their competition and, more importantly, doing so at the wrong time.

Feeble Kings Showings

The Kings were likely at their zenith after sweeping a home and home series in late February against the Vegas Golden Knights, the division leader and new fierce rival. Upon executing this daunting task, the boys from L.A. stepped things up yet again and came back from a 2-0 deficit against a strong Columbus Blue Jackets side to the tune of a comfortable 5-2 victory.

With the likes of the free-falling Chicago Blackhawks, perennially atrocious Arizona Coyotes and colossally disappointing Edmonton Oilers on the horizon, the team could realistically buccaneer their way into a top-three placement in their division, right? Wrong. Feeble showings have negated that idea.

Blackhawk Downed

Chicago has had an abysmal year. An aging core, egregious goaltending, and injuries to key players are all contributing factors to the team’s rapid fall from grace. The team had lost seven consecutive road games and 11 of their last 13 overall heading into a Mar. 3 tilt against the silver & black.

Unfortunately for the Kings, the Blackhawks decided to exhibit some semblance of life and L.A. decided to take their foot off the gas and play undisciplined hockey, as they conceded four third period goals that resulted in a 5-3 defeat. The Kings surreptitiously made superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane look like Hart Trophy candidates, as each potted a goal and two assists to dethrone the home team.

Jonathan Toews
Toews had a three-point outing to sink the Kings. (Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports)

Kings head coach John Stevens, expressed his disappointment in a post-game interview with CBS Sports:

“It’s pretty obvious, right? Let’s not deny the elephant in the room. Totally undisciplined play today. We let them back in the hockey game. It’s totally unacceptable. You’re part of a team and everything should have the best interest of the hockey team. We put ourselves in an undisciplined situation in the third period and it ended up costing us.”

Burnt in Arizona

Ten days after the home debacle against Chicago, L.A. made the short trek to the Gila River Arena to take on annual cellar dwellers, the Arizona Coyotes. The game marked a prime opportunity for recently acquired forward Tobias Rieder to stick it to his old team and for the Kings to firmly entrench themselves into a playoff spot.

Things did not exactly start off as planned.

By the midway point of the second period, the Kings had allowed the game’s first three goals and were faced with an uphill climb to leave the state of Arizona with anything other than dismay. The encouraging news is that the team rallied to tie up the game late in the third period. The aforementioned dismay almost turned into euphoria after Drew Doughty ostensibly scored the game-winning goal in overtime. Not so fast. The goal was called back due to everyone’s favorite ruling – goalie interference.

Suffice it to say, coach Stevens was not overly impressed with the call:

“If there was contact I thought it was induced from their player riding Drew (Doughty) into the goalie. That was my take on it, but I don’t know what I’m talking about because I’m still confused on the whole issue. It’s a guessing game for me, but that’s the call they made and we still had an opportunity in overtime and we didn’t take advantage of it.”

McDavid “Out-Harts” Kopitar

The Kings were on cloud nine this past Friday morning after a 7-1 dismantling of playoff hopefuls, the Colorado Avalanche, the night before.  The sweltering hot Kopitar and his Kings teammates headed to Edmonton on Saturday night to register an additional two points against one of the league’s most disappointing teams. The one problem is that Connor McDavid is good. Like, really, really, really good.

In a Hart Trophy showdown between Kopitar and McDavid, only one player showed up. Hint: it was not the Kings captain. Instead, McDavid netted a brace to down the Kings, 3-2.

Perhaps the Kings’ social media team poked the bear with the following tweet posted during the all-star game back in Feb.:

Although Kopitar has been the lifeblood of the Kings from the get-go, his minus-two performance against the Oilers came at the wrong time.

If the Kings do plan on securing a playoff spot, and the all-star center plans on making an intense push for the Hart, a good place to start is registering four points against their upcoming inferior opponents, the Calgary Flames (on Monday) and the Coyotes (on Thursday). Let’s hope that they play their own game and not adjusting to that of the competition (or lack thereof).