Sluggish Kings need a revival against Vancouver
The Kings will need marked improvements in their defensive play and special teams following a 6-3 loss on Tuesday and head for a quick turnaround to welcome the expanding Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.
Coach Todd McLellan had said his club’s two training sessions ahead of their return from the extended break showed signs of sluggishness and lack of commitment. These manifested themselves in a lopsided loss to the Vegas Golden Knights in which the Kings were porous defensively, gave up two power play goals and went 0 to 4 with the extra man.
“My instinct was pretty darn good after two practices,” said McLellan.
If the Kings are looking for a steep about-face, Vancouver could serve as an example. After missing an 8-15-2 start, the Canucks hired former Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. In their first game behind the bench, they smothered the Kings 4-0 and, heading into Monday’s game in Anaheim, they hadn’t lost since. Vancouver’s six-game winning streak was behind Nashville and Pittsburgh, each with seven in a row, for the NHL’s longest active winning streak.
“We have the attention of (our players) now. I think we can go back to who we are, ”said McLellan. “The team we’re going to play on Thursday is a very good hockey club right now.
McLellan said he was pleased with the debut of 2019 fifth overall pick Alex Turcotte, although it was difficult to take firm positions for a rookie given the Kings ended up 5-1 down under 23 minutes of the match.
Also overshadowed by the team’s poor performance against Vegas, it was a milestone for center and team captain Anze Kopitar. His first-period assist put him in exclusive possession of second in the Kings franchise standings for career assists, passing Wayne Gretzky and behind Marcel Dionne 84 for the lead. Kopitar achieved the feat in 1,160 games, while Gretzky racked up his 672 assists in 539 games, less than half the games.
The Kings offense was also a bit brighter than usual on Tuesday, eschewing courage for skill on two extended passes that led to some nice breakaways and a late tally that combined persistence, one pass. perfectly weighted and precise shot from Alex Iafallo.
The Kings were without eight players due to injuries or COVID protocols, although Vegas had even more absences, including its top scorer, top defenseman and starting goalie.
Goalkeeper Cal Petersen officially left COVID protocol on Wednesday after watching Tuesday’s game from the press box. The NHL has announced protocol changes that could cut the time vaccinated asymptomatic players spend in the protocol in half, from 10 days to five days, depending on health circumstances and local government regulations.
Petersen may give the Kings another option in net, but the Canucks hardly look away from starter Thatcher Demko. Of their six straight wins, he has five wins in which he allowed just seven goals while posting a save percentage of .959.
After a terrible start to the season, Vancouver center Elias Pettersson tinkered with a three-game streak with at least one point and had his best game of the season in the face-off circle, winning 11 of 16 draws against San Jose on December 16.
Defenseman Quinn Hughes racked up six points during the six-game wave, including a three-point explosion against Columbus. He only follows forward JT Miller for the lead in team scoring. Miller has 32 points in 31 games, including nine since Boudreau took over and 13 in his last nine outings. He skates on a line with former Kings winger Tanner Pearson, who has three points in as many games.
Vancouver at Kings
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Or: Crypto.com Arena
Television / Radio: Bally Sports West / iHeartRadio