LA Kings: Todd McLellan evaluates season at the 20-game mark

LA Kings (Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
LA Kings (Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports) /

Back on the ice since returning home from the road trip, LA Kings head coach shed light on where the team stands at the 20-game mark.

Following a 4-1-1 road trip, one that saw the LA Kings extend their winning streak to a season-high six games, Todd McLellan’s group returned home for a week’s worth of games. Three games at home against the Coyotes and Blues and a two-game set in Anaheim stand between a critical matchup against the Colorado Avalanche.

The Kings split the two-game series early in the season, with Adrian Kempe scoring the decisive goal to secure a 4-2 victory. If you recall, Los Angeles was down 2-0 in that game and showed remarkable resilience. That’s been the buzzword when comparing this year’s team to last.

They showed the same fight last weekend, falling behind 3-0 against Minnesota in both games. In Friday’s contest, the Kings fought hard but could only muster a Jeff Carter goal to break up the shutout bid. The following night, the Kings came all the way back before heartbreak hit them again in overtime. Still, the 2021 season compared to last, there’s a lot to like in terms of where this team is headed.

“We didn’t roll over and play dead and night one, although I thought we were better at night two,” McLellan said, reflecting on the Wild series. “You know, so those are positive signs. I’ve been back around the rink here, and you know, talking to people that have watched the game and others that have called just to see how we’re doing. There is that resilience factor that people are recognizing, and we’re happy about that.”

The seven-game win streak to close out the shortened 19-20 campaign had many thinking playoffs this season, especially with most of the group returning in 2021. The Kings are in the thick of the West Division, sitting in fifth place and only five points out of first place as of Tuesday evening.

The first 20 games of the 2021 season have certainly gone better than last season, where the LA Kings owned an 8-12 record. Twenty games over this shortened season represent just over one-third of the schedule, and a 9-7-4 record is a step in the right direction.

“I’m not gonna lie, we spent part of yesterday breaking down where we were last year at the 10-game mark and this year at the 20-game mark and talked about the changes, the growth in the team, not only from a numbers perspective, because that can be a little deceiving, but also from individual and collective player growth,” a very transparent McLellan said. “The transition of the team from still some of the older veterans that were here last year at this time to the youth and how they’re impacting the game on a nightly basis, certainly the plan is falling into place.”

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Two steps forward, one step back. Baby steps, if you will. The recent six-game road trip was a microcosm of the team’s rebuild. The prominent storyline surrounding the wins and losses has been how the LA Kings have started games. If their forecheck is on point and they’re playing aggressively, they can compete with any team in the league.

If not, games like Friday and Saturday night happen where the Kings find themselves in an early hole. The primary difference between this year and last is the team is figuring out ways to get out of those holes. Look at some of the losses in the first twenty games last year: 2-0 against Carolina, 3-0 against Buffalo, 5-2 against St. Louis, 5-1 against the Wild, 5-1 against the Blackhawks. Just lopsided scores all across the schedule.

Those losses have rarely occurred this season, with the only one standing out being the first game against Vegas in early February. The LA Kings have been competitive in nearly every game this season. The five veterans have led the way, but the younger players on this roster are taking that next step developmentally.

“We’ll hit some roadblocks and pitfalls as we go forward,” McLellan said. “We always do. But the slow, ever-moving, evolving retool, rebuild – whatever you want to call it – is taking place. The older players are playing very well, and the younger players are buying into how we need to do things, and they’re contributing. So at the 20-game mark, we’re probably where we want to be. We’d always like to be a little higher in the standings, of course.”