Happy Fourth of July to my fellow Americans, and happy belated Canada Day to my friends up north! Welcome to the 38th and final Weekly Lost & Found of the 2021-22 NHL season. First and foremost, thank you to everyone at The Hockey Writers for allowing me to build this idea into a weekly column. Past and present, editor and writer, this is an incredible team to be a part of. Thank you to everyone who’s read from the start, I’m very excited to see what next season will bring. However, we’re not there yet!
Today, I’ll be taking a look at two teams after analyzing their season as a whole. I’ll be basing this, in part, on the THW 2021-22 Season Predictions article we dropped ahead of the season. The team I dub “Lost” will be the New York Islanders, while the team I have “Found” will be the Los Angeles Kings.
Obviously, the Colorado Avalanche are the Stanley Cup champions and therefore are naturally “Found.” However, they’re right where they were expected by many to be. We even had them in the Stanley Cup Final in our predictions, defeating the Islanders. That same argument could be made for the Montreal Canadiens, who ended up with the first-overall pick. In this edition, I will be looking at a team that I felt severely failed to meet expectations and one that exceeded them.
There could be many arguments for teams to land in either category, but these are my picks. Here we go, the final Weekly Lost & Found of the season, let’s kick it.
Lost: New York Islanders Can’t Overcome Early Season Struggles To Meet Expectations
Personally, I had the Islanders as my Stanley Cup champions before the season started. The THW consensus was similar as we had them getting over the hump after two straight Eastern Conference Final losses. However, they’d end up losing to the Avalanche by our estimations. Despite returning a very similar roster to the 2020-21 season, they struggled out of the gate.
It started with a 13-game road trip to start the year as their new home, UBS Arena, wasn’t going to be finished until the season was already underway. While they finished their initial road trip with a 5-6-2 record, they opened their new arena in the midst of what became an 11-game winless skid. While they put up a fight near the end, it wasn’t enough, as a five-game losing streak down the stretch effectively sealed their fate.
The Islanders were still decent defensively, as their 231 goals-against were seventh in the NHL as were their 2.82 goals-against per game (GA/GP). They also saw outstanding goaltending from rising star Ilya Sorokin, who finished with a 26-18-8 record, a 2.40 goals-against average (GAA), .925 save percentage (SV%), and seven shutouts in 52 games. He earned a lone first-place Vezina vote and finished sixth in the voting. Backup Semyon Varlamov struggled a little behind him and lost more games than he won, and their penalty kill was fourth in the NHL with an 84.2 penalty kill percentage (PK%).
A major problem was that the team struggled to score, which isn’t super out of the ordinary. They were 23rd with 2.79 goals-for per game (GF/GP) and scored 229, also 23rd. Their power play was a bit of a bright spot as it was 12th, converting 22.1% of the time. Despite the power play being decent, they only had two players score more than 18 goals as Brock Nelson exploded for 37 while Anders Lee finished with 28. Mat Barzal could’ve benefitted from having Jordan Eberle around, however, he still tied for the team lead with Nelson and tallied 59 points, and led them with 44 assists.
With how teams like the Canadiens, Seattle Kraken and Philadelphia Flyers performed, why did I pick the Islanders? They were expected to be a lot better. In fact, they were supposed to contend for the Cup, as they were the eighth-favored team at plus-2000, tied with the Florida Panthers, ahead of the season. While their defense made up for the lack of scoring in the past, they’ve made it extremely close in both the past two seasons and it caught up to them. It all culminated in head coach Barry Trotz getting the ax after the season in a controversial move.
We predicted that they’d end up first in the Metropolitan Division, and they ended the season fifth and 16 points out of a playoff spot. We also had them winning the Eastern Conference, and they didn’t even get into the dance. Predicting the future is a difficult endeavor. In terms of the Weekly Lost & Found, they were “Lost” twice and “Found” once, not counting this edition.
To me, such an extreme drop-off from expectations and what they’ve achieved the past few years, plus firing their head coach puts them as my biggest “Lost” team this season.
Found: Los Angeles Kings Make Playoffs for First Time Since 2017-18
Since defeating the New York Rangers in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final, the Kings hit a bit of a dry spell. They made the playoffs just twice ahead of this past season and lost in the first round both times. It had been three straight years without a playoff appearance until they met the Edmonton Oilers in Round 1 this year, ultimately losing in seven games. Something that’s even more impressive is that they played a little over half of the season without longtime defenseman Drew Doughty, as he ended up playing only 39 games and scored 31 points, but missed the playoffs due to injury.
They made the Weekly Lost & Found four times prior to this edition, including the inaugural edition, all as a “Found” team. The THW team had the Kings finishing in fifth place, and missing the playoffs again. While a lateral step and another lottery pick would’ve helped their rebuilding, they decided to take steps forward instead.
It’s interesting because their numbers didn’t really turn many heads. They nearly broke even on goals scored and allowed; 235 scored and 232 allowed. That turned into a 2.87 GF/GP (20th) and 2.83 GA/GP (10th). Additionally, they did it with sub-par special teams, as their 16.1% power play was 27th, and 76.7% penalty kill was 22nd.
Captain Anže Kopitar received three first-place votes for the Frank J. Selke Trophy and finished sixth in the voting, as he led the team with 48 assists and 67 points at 34 years old. Recently added Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson also finished third and fourth on the team in scoring, respectively, though Arvidsson missed the playoffs. A tremendous bright spot was 25-year-old Adrian Kempe. His previous career-high was 16 goals, scored during the 2017-18 season which was his first full NHL season. He smashed that and scored 35 this year, while also landing second on the team with 54 points, another career-high.
Despite his age, 36-year-old Jonathan Quick turned back the clock and had a great year for the team, and his best since the 2017-18 season. Do you see a theme here? He played 46 games and won 23 of them, his first 20-win season since the aforementioned year and finished the season with two shutouts, a 2.59 GAA, and .910 SV%. Cal Petersen had three shutouts and 20 wins in 37 games, but his numbers were slightly worse at a 2.89 GAA and .895 SV%.
The Kings were a younger team that was missing one of their longtime core players and managed to push a two-headed offensive juggernaut in the Edmonton Oilers to seven games in the playoffs. They even held a 3-2 series lead through five games. Additionally, they finished with a win and five more points than the Vegas Golden Knights, who especially with Jack Eichel, were expected to be far above them, and four wins and seven points over the Vancouver Canucks despite their own late push.
Offseason moves paid off, and their younger players took steps forward to make this happen. In addition, older players were able to contribute at a level that allowed them to keep moving forward and not plateau. An example of this could be the Anaheim Ducks who ended up finishing seventh in the Pacific Division despite some decent stretches and steps from some of their younger players and a respectable performance by longtime captain Ryan Getzlaf.
The Kings have a handful of restricted-free agents (RFA), several with arbitration rights, to attend to this offseason, but have already signaled they’re ready to take another step forward, as they traded defensive prospect Brock Faber and the 19th-overall pick in this year’s draft to the Minnesota Wild for Kevin Fiala and locked him up long-term. All in all, this could be the start of a bright future for the Kings.
The End…For Now
Thank you again to everyone who’s taken the time to read. I may pop in over the summer if something earth-shattering happens, but if not, I’m as excited as everyone to get back at it when the 2022-23 season begins! For now, be sure to stick with The Hockey Writers for any and all regarding this wonderful sport we all love.
The 2022 NHL Draft is this week! Check out our FREE Draft Guide where we have everything from prospect profiles and mock drafts, to features, rankings, and more. Have a great and safe summer, everyone!
Sean Raggio lives for hockey. He will be covering the Seattle Kraken, and is a co-host of “What’s Kraken” for THW. Sean gained experience in writing for television, print and radio while studying journalism at Quinnipiac University and being an active member in the student media organizations there. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to reach out on Twitter! A link can be found at the bottom of his articles, such as this one.