The LA Kings nipped at the heels of the Vegas Golden Knights and the Western Conference lead for most of March. They went on a dominant 10-0-2 run in March and looked like the top challenger out of the West. Since that run, the Kings have been slipping. Their defensive structure remains intact, but offensively have lost a step or two. They have lost their positioning in the Pacific Division and shades of fragility are starting to appear to a team that once looked like a machine.
Ides of 2016 are happening, when the Kings built a final juggernaut team to compete in a championship window under then General Manager Dean Lombardi. They occupied the top spot in the West for a short time around the All-Star break, however, they limped into the playoffs only to be dispatched in the first round by the San Jose Sharks.
When healthy they showed that they could compete with anyone. They have now lost their last three: two of them being against divisional foes in Vegas and Edmonton (who has leapfrogged), and the other Colorado, who now ties Dallas for the Central lead with a game in hand.
The Kings outshot the Avalanche 18-4 in the first period, the most the Avs have allowed in a first period this season Even though they pounded the Avs on shots, both teams entered the second period 0-0. Denis Malgin opened the scoring almost 90 seconds into the second stanza with a fortuitous bounce off the top of the net that may end up being one of the strangest goals of the year. A minute later, Sean Walker blows a tire to allow Alex Newhook to come in on a clean-cut breakaway to go up 2-0.
Despite the playmaking of Anze Kopitar (3-0-3), and the two-goal performance by Adrian Kempe (2-1-3), the Kings were ultimately edged out in this one. Kempe scored a highlight reel goal to get the Kings back into this game, and a lassiez-faire wrister to get the Kings again back within one late into the game. The top line clearly came to play for Los Angeles, and even saw Quinton Byfield get back to playing at a high level. The other scorer for LA was Viktor Arvidsson, who cashed in on a fortunate bounce off an Avalanche skate to cash in on a Kings powerplay.
The Kings had a scary moment in the final ten seconds of the game, when Andrew Cogliano left his feet to hit Adrian Kempe up high. The Kings had their goalie pulled and Kempe was attempting to reach for a puck that was flung high. Cogliano threw himself while leaving his feet at a vulnerable Kempe. The league is going to take a look at this one, and a few years back, Cogliano was suspended for two games for doing something very similar to Kempe as well. Cogliano has dished out some more damage to the Kings this year, with his knee on knee on Kevin Fiala during the Kings dominant 5-2 victory in Denver.
Luckily for the Kings, Kempe appears to be fine, for they can’t afford to lose their top goal scorer during their rough stretch of injuries.
The Kings are now 2-4-0 without Mikey Anderson, who has been out due to the boarding he received from Connor McDavid. Mikey Anderson has proven to be one of the best shutdown defensemen in the league, playing on the top D pairing with Drew Doughty.
Also hurting has been their powerplay, barely treading water since it became the second ranked powerplay in the league; it is now fourth. This is largely due to the absence of powerplay regulars Kevin Fiala and Gabriel Vilardi. The Kings are without their leading point producer in Fiala and their best depth offensive threat in Vilardi, who started this year off with a bang. The Kings have also lost veteran Alex Edler who has anchored the third D pair. The balance and offensive potency are not there, and without Anderson, the young Sean Durzi, a high event Kings defenseman is now back to playing his offside.
The three games they have lost were arguably the most important to win home ice and now are only two points ahead of a resurgent Seattle Kraken team. If the Kings don’t win out, the Kraken could possibly leapfrog them for third in the Pacific. The Kings would have to then work through Central division foes come playoff time. The Kings must play Vancouver at home Tuesday, who has fared extremely well against the Kings going back five years. Fortunately for the Kings, the final game of the year is against the Anaheim Ducks, who have been historically bad.
Mikey Anderson has been seen in a red no-contact jersey, and Jim Fox mentioned during last night’s broadcast that the expectation is at a minimum, two players come back for the playoffs. If the Kings get some of the injured players back, there is still a window of hope to win a playoff series for the first time since the cup winning 2014 Kings.