Six seasons removed from making history as the first #8 seed to win the Stanley Cup, the L.A. Kings are in the record books once again. However, this year it’s for their unfortunate demise at the hands of the expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights, as the Kings failed to pick up a single win in their first-round series and become the first team to be swept by an expansion franchise. While only allowing seven goals all series, the squad from Los Angeles only found the scoresheet three times in the four-game sweep. Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was made to look like the second coming of a sturdily-built brick wall or a Shooter Tutor with no holes; he was simply unbeatable. The Kings popgun offence looked atrocious throughout the series, with only four forwards able to scratch the scoresheet.
Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2014, the Kings have gone on a middling run, missing the playoffs twice while bowing out in the first round an equal number of times. After last night’s loss, the Kings are now 0-5 at home over their last two playoff appearances, and an aging core looks to be on the decline rather than contending for a Stanley Cup anytime soon. This, despite having one of the best goaltenders in the NHL and allowing the fewest goals in the league last season.
Can it really be that bad in Los Angeles? Are the Kings really that far removed from their run of dominance? Or, is the first-round elimination a blip on the radar of Rob Blake’s club? Let’s take a look!
Where Did It Go Wrong?
To be blunt, the Kings score about as often as a nun does.
Three goals in four games aren’t going to get it done at any level of hockey, nonetheless against a team riding a wave of momentum as strong as Vegas has all season. L.A. was shut out twice in the four games of the first round, something that head coach stressed after their loss last night that eliminated them from the 2018 playoffs.
“You need to put the puck in the net to move on this time of year, and we obviously didn’t do that enough,” said Stevens, which was a statement that center Anze Kopitar echoed post-game.
“It’s not like we were blown out of the water. [Goaltender Jonathan Quick] gave us a chance every night back there, but we just couldn’t find the back of the net.”
In fact, only seven Kings were able to mark the scoresheet at all, with long-time forward Anze Kopitar the only player on the Californian squad to register more than a point. The line of Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson – who scored over 50 points combined on the Kings last Cup run – collectively put up a stinker throughout the series, registering no points on a combined 36 shots. The bottom six was equally anemic, with center Michael Amadio the only player outside of the top line to pick up a point.
Poor starts were also a factor for the Kings in the first round; throughout the series, the Kings only scored one goal in the first period, and are now 1-8 overall in their past two playoff appearances since winning the Cup in 2014.
The defensive side of the puck wasn’t as much of an issue for the Kings; backstopped by Jennings trophy winner Jonathan Quick, L.A held the high-octane Golden Knights to just under a two goal-per-game average, surrendering only seven goals in the sweep. However, they simply couldn’t match the dominance of Vegas goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who averaged an astounding 0.65 GAA throughout the series, paired with a .977 save percentage. None of that can be placed on the Kings defence, however; it’s hard to drive well when you’re carrying an additional 12 passengers.
All four games in this first-round series were decided by one goal; had L.A found themselves some timely scoring, we could perhaps be talking about them advancing. The bottom line for the Kings is that they were unable to get it done on the offensive side of the puck and find themselves golfing early for the fourth straight year.
Is There a Heartbeat?
There’s a pulse, but barely. The Kings are on the verge of a total need to rebuild, with an aging core complimenting a lack of any offensive depth whatsoever. A lot of problems are solved when you have one of the most dominant goaltenders in the league; however, as evidenced by their first-round loss, goaltending can’t fill this many gaping roster holes. A lack of any offensive output outside their top line proved to be the Kings’ Achilles heel this postseason and should be priority #1 on general manager Rob Blake’s to-do list this offseason.