Steaks and Stakes – The Fourth Period
Los Angeles returned to the playoffs for the first time since 2017 and had the Western Conference runners-up Oilers on the ropes before Connor McDavid did things with Connor McDavid with Edmonton on the brink of elimination to fire them home for a shorter summer than the last four.
Although they didn’t make it out of the first round and tasted the bitter loss of a Game 7, what last season’s team accomplished with stats that bore little resemblance to a qualifier post-season (+3 differential goals, 27th on the power play, 22nd on the shorthanded, last in shooting percentage) is to give confidence to this team in its attempt to take the next step in the progression towards the status of legitimate contender – a Pacific Division title.
Looking at predictions around the league for Los Angeles’ next season, the consensus is regression not progression, but given the consensus from last season (including mine – a non-playoff qualifier), guesses are purely for entertainment. My call will come at the end of this column after listing what should be the key points of the 82 game marathon:
WHAT CANNOT HAPPEN
Pure and simple, this team can’t go back. Los Angeles must make the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. Repeating as a post-season team will be a tougher task than getting there, as head coach Todd McLellan and general manager Rob Blake have admitted their team won’t squeeze through the competition (Hunted vs Hunters).
Improved lower starts like Anaheim and Seattle and faster starts in Vegas and Vancouver will make points harder to grab. If that happens, the winner will have less than 111 points recorded in Calgary to win the Pacific.
The presence of Kevin Fiala may not necessitate a resumption of the career highs of Adrian Kempe and Philip Danault in goals, but they must stay within the range of the 35 and 27 goals they have scored. Could the Kings be a ‘better’ team, record 95 points and miss the playoffs? It is possible, but it would not be a progression.
WHAT SHOULD HAPPEN
More goals. Maybe more goals conceded too.
The caveats still apply when projecting preseason performance over regular season play, but the Kings will be a better offensive team than last season. Fiala is set to break Kopitar’s long streak as the team’s goalscoring leader, Arthur Kaliyev should shoot, shoot and when he’s done shooting, shoot some more, and the special teams that don’t have done nothing to help win games don’t have to improve much to be trumps.
The final games of pre-season were off the character established last season – high scoring, lack of shot suppression and more entertaining. McLellan admitted some things needed to be cleaned up but hinted at unease with the 5-6-7 games in pre-season but also admitted they needed to find more attack if they were planning to play in mid-April.
WHAT COULD HAPPEN
The children appear.
Do you remember “Play The Kids”? It’s a thing of the past. You blinked and Los Angeles became a capped team (about $1.2 million from the cap per Cap Friendly) and with a wall of attack in the top six aged 26-35. But for strikers still classed as “juvenile” – particularly Quinton Byfield, Kaliyev and Gabriel Vilardi – they have the luxury of a veteran presence to take the pressure off production and progression.
Byfield’s time is now. He has a puck catcher in Alex Iafallo and the aforementioned shooter in Kaliyev to start the season. Vilardi seems like a different player on this opening night; his presence in net has led to scoring goals in pre-season and although he hasn’t locked down a position, he could end up being the center point of the second power play unit as the season progresses.
WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN
I disagree with the regression predictions for the Kings. They fashioned a 99-point season despite going 1-5-1 and an injury-plagued defense that pushed service players that weren’t in the plan a year ago. Had Viktor Arvidsson been healthy for the playoffs, there might have been a second round playoff in Alberta.
Fiala is clearly a difference maker, an extra playmaker that the offense badly needs, but here I’m concerned about the goalkeeping tandem – can Jonathan Quick, who turns 37 in January, summon a more season of solid, if not spectacular, guarding. His level of play could have a bigger impact if Cal Petersen can’t shake off the poor playing hat that has dragged on since the end of last season and into this pre-season.
My call will be a progression of “one” – Los Angeles will finish with 100 points (one more than their 99 points and win an inning (the first series win since the 2014 Cup win) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs They can win the Pacific Division as a dark horse (+500 per betonline.ag) but not a legitimate threat to the Colorado Avalanche’s defense of the crown.
A successful season is one that sets the foundation for legitimate conflict for the 2023-24 season and beyond.
When the season opened, we returned to various platforms. Our radio plate is full again – The Hot Stove powered by The Fourth Period began at its usual 11am-1pm ET Saturday spot on Sirius XM NHL Network Radio and I’ll be called in as a regular co-host on The Power Play with Steve Kouleas from 3-6pm EST. My friends Sean Campbell and Mitch Gallo on TSN Radio 690 Montreal set me up Fridays at 11am as part of their “Hockey Heaven at 11”. You will also hear and see me nationally with Scott Ferrall on Sports Grid, with Mitch Moss and Paulie Howard on VSiN, as well as various appearances on radio stations across North America.
The fourth season of Podcast Kings started with my co-host, Mayor John Hoven, with Rob Blake as this week’s guest and look for me as a regular contributor on The Raw Knuckles Podcast with my buddy Chris “Knuckles” Nilan.
But wait, there’s more – David Pagnotta and I will launch a weekly betting show on Wednesday, look for that announcement shortly.
Other than that, not much happens.
See you at the games.