If the Kings were not frustrated after the weekend’s games, something would have been wrong.
They out-played the Minnesota Wild in nearly every aspect in Friday’s loss, but game-breaking winger Kirill Kaprizov scored two goals off awe-inspiring individual efforts. Then the Kings played thirty-plus minutes of lifeless hockey against a tenacious Arizona Coyotes club that spanked them, 4-0, on Saturday.
“The first thing is to get rid of the frustration, and we’ve tried to deal with that,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “We were a frustrated team, due in large part to how we played, and also due to how well Arizona played.”
Winger Alex Iafallo acknowledged that the team had dealt with a bit of anguish after dropping two crucial games in very different ways during a critical part of its campaign. Iafallo, who signed a four-year contract extension on April 12, said the team could not dwell on any previous contests with just 11 games remaining and their playoff hopes fading by the day.
“We can’t think in the past. We’ve got to keep playing and keep working towards our goal,” Iafallo said. “Obviously we were frustrated, but we’ve got another game tonight to pick us up and move us forward. We’re never out until the last game.”
The Kings, who have had difficulty early in games all year, appeared to have left their disappointment behind them Monday. They opened a two-goal lead and killed an early penalty with aplomb on their way to a 4-1 victory over the Ducks.
The exchange between the back end and the front line was mired by errant passes and iffy decisions Saturday.
“For us, a big part of our game is how we come out of our zone, how well we connect between (defensemen) and forwards, and that wasn’t very good, obviously, against Arizona,” McLellan said.
Breakouts were decidedly stronger in the first period Monday. That led to more speed on the attack for the Kings. But it was another, longer-standing point of emphasis that paid off the Kings early: scoring from defensemen, of which they dressed seven rather than six Monday.
Through 45 games, $88 million-man Drew Doughty racked up a respectable eight goals, which tied him for seventh in the NHL among defensemen. But the rest of the Kings defensemen, nine of them, combined for just five goals. On Monday, Mikey Anderson finally scored his first goal of the season and Sean Walker netted his second, the first time this season the Kings had goals scored by multiple defensemen in the same game.
BYFIELD DEBUT IMMINENT
The Kings moved forwards Lias Andersson and Quinton Byfield to their taxi squad on Monday, and Byfield’s first NHL action might well be around the corner.
Much like Kings captain Anze Kopitar, Byfield is a big center (6-foot-4, 220 pounds) with skill and finesse in his game. The 18-year-old was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 draft after competing for the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves and Canadian junior national team. He surpassed Columbus defenseman Seth Jones and San Jose forward Evander Kane to become the highest-drafted black player in NHL history.
Byfield can participate in up to seven games before a season comes off his entry-level contract, meaning the Kings can take an extended look at him down the stretch if they so desire.
Byfield was a plus player in just one of his first 10 games with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League, and he had an unremarkable three points in his first eight outings. But last month he posted a seven-game point streak that included a three-game stretch in which he scored five points and posted a plus-seven rating. He has become a core player for the Reign, and as his production increased, its fortunes improved.
“He has had a real good run at the American League level, he’s learned a lot about the pro game, the coaches did a tremendous job with him to this point down there, and he’s responded appropriately,” McLellan said. “He’s up here this week, on the taxi squad. It’ll give him a chance to be around our team, the coaching staff, future teammates, and, in particular, Anze, and absorb it all throughout the week. We’ll see as time goes on where he fits in.”
FANS ARE BACK … WELL, SOME OF THEM
The Kings welcomed fans back to Staples Center on April 20 for the first time since March 11, 2020, the last night of the pandemic-shortened 2019-20 regular season.
However county restrictions limited the number of seats the Kings could sell, and distancing guidelines further diminished capacity. Ticket-holders must have been fully vaccinated for two weeks or longer, or show a recent negative COVID-19 test to enter Staples Center.
All that has dampened crowds. In fact, according to The Internet Hockey Database the Kings have averaged the lowest attendance of any team allowing fans into their arena this season.
Still, the change has been a welcome one for the Kings.
“It’s a hundred times better. Nothing against having the animated noise, but it’s hard to emulate the true emotion and the true reaction from the fans,” Anderson said. “Even though we don’t have anywhere near a full barn, there’s enough people in there that when something happens, you can hear them.”