Kings finally put it all together in victory over Flames
Anze Kopitar sat stone-faced at his locker Thursday night, dazed by the Kings' latest disappointing result. After his team's loss to the Buffalo Sabres, Kopitar didn't want to talk about the Kings' incremental improvements, subtle early-season growth, or occasional moments of promising play.
None of that mattered. Not with the Kings - despite having a new coach, approach and mentality - still struggling to find wins.
"We might be playing a little bit better, yeah, sure," the Kings' captain said. "Make no mistake. Nobody likes losing in here."
Two nights later, the Kings snapped a three-game losing streak with a dominant 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Saturday at Staples Center. This time, they were rewarded for a complete effort. Tyler Toffoli scored in the opening two minutes. Jeff Carter tallied his first goal. Kopitar netted a short-handed breakaway. The Kings' power-play converted for the first time in six games. Goalie Jonathan Quick made 23 saves in his best performance of the year. The Flames' lone goal came on a late penalty shot by Mikael Backlund.
Finally, after a week of squandered chances and frustrating setbacks, the Kings put together all the pieces in the finale of their five-game homestand. It was arguably their most complete game all season.
Yet, at 3-5-0, the Kings remain in last place in the Pacific Division. They've made small strides, but still seem somewhat stuck in place. Like a group grinding on the treadmill, tangible gains have come slowly. The best word to describe their opening eight games: enigmatic.
Entering Saturday, the Kings led the NHL in shot differential and Corsi-For percentage, which measures the number of shot attempts a team creates during 5-on-5 play relative to its opponent. They largely passed the eye test too, showing progress from last season's 71-point season.
But much was missing too, magnifying the foundational cracks that coach Todd McLellan and his team still have to fix.
"The whole group has been good," McLellan said. "Analytically - and I'm not a true, true believer in analytics - there's a lot of positive things with our team. But the page you look at first is always the standings, and we're not where we'd like to be."
Special teams have been the most obvious impediment. On the power-play, the Kings had been mired in an 0-for-19 slump before Ilya Kovalchuk buried a one-timer in the second period Saturday. The penalty-kill has been equally inconsistent, making the Kings the only team that ranked in the bottom five in the NHL in both special-teams situations entering Saturday.
"There's too much pause [in our special teams]," McLellan said. "There's not enough free-flowing in both of them."
But even during even-strength play, where the Kings have started to grasp the basics of McLellan's high-pressure system, they still have layers of lessons to unravel. "Long opportunities," as McLellan describes them, have been a recurring issue. Too often, the Kings had let opponents break out of their own end with little resistance and generate dangerous full-ice rushes.
Of the 21 five-on-five goals the Kings had surrendered in their first seven games, eight came on such plays.
"They're just breakdowns," Kopitar said, specifically bemoaning the several such lapses that cost the Kings on Thursday. "You're playing a system where, yeah it's on the aggressive side of things, but you still have to be responsible defensively."
Most of all, the Kings hadn't been capitalizing on chances or overcoming breakdowns. Despite their volume of shots, their 7.5% shooting percentage entering Saturday was more than two points below league average. Their goalies' 84.5% save percentage was a distant last. In the most critical areas, they were coming up short.
"We need to get rewarded for the things we're doing well," McLellan said. "And we've got to fix the things we aren't."
They did on Saturday, providing a glimpse of the type of future McLellan is hoping to create by blowing out the Flames.
"There is a clear plan," McLellan said. "The team has to be restructured. It's trying to catch up with the modern game right now, if you will ... the youthfulness and creativity and the pace of the game, we're trying to catch up in that area."
CALGARY -- Drew Doughty scored a power-play goal 50 seconds into overtime to give the Los Angeles Kings their first win of the season, 4-3 against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on Tuesday. Doughty won
First Period_1, Los Angeles, Toffoli 1 (Kovalchuk, Doughty), 2:53. 2, Los Angeles, Walker 1 (Lizotte, Toffoli), 17:26. Second Period_3, Los Angeles, Kovalchuk 1 (Kempe, Doughty), 3:46. 4, Calgary, Tkachuk 1, 10:51. 5, Calgary, Hanifin 1
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