LA Kings: Three things to watch in Colorado Avalanche series

LA Kings (Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)
LA Kings (Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports) /

As the LA Kings open up a critical two-game set against the Avalanche on Friday, we’ll be keeping tabs on these three items in the series.

The LA Kings are about to enter a crucial part of the 2021 schedule, a six-game stretch that could be one to look back on, both positively or negatively. The Kings will face Colorado, then St. Louis for two, then Vegas for two. Entering Friday’s series opener against the Avs, Los Angeles is in fifth place in the West Division with 28 points, only two points out of the fourth playoff spot in the West and five points out of first place.

Needless to say, the LA Kings need to show up in all six games. Slow starts have been the mantra surrounding this team. They can’t afford to be sluggish in the opening frame against Colorado. Here are three things to keep an eye on during this series with the Avalanche.

1. Kings Goaltending vs. Avalanche Offensive Firepower

The LA Kings are at a severe disadvantage in the goaltending department. If Cal Petersen or Jonathan Quick were playing in either game, I’d feel much better going up against the likes of Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog. However, Troy Grosenick is likely to make his second consecutive start in net after earning his first win in over six years on Wednesday evening.

There’s no question the Avs are dealing with a number of injuries, including Cale Makar, Bowen Byram, and J.T. Compher, among others. Still, Colorado is averaging 33.3 shots-per-contest, third-most in the league. Grosenick came up big on Wednesday as the defensive unit tightened up to support the 31-year-old. I’d play the same way on Friday, given how well the offense is scoring right now. That said, Grosenick figures to see a lot of pucks headed his way.

UPDATE [10:00 AM PT]

2. Kings Powerplay versus Avalanche Penalty Kill

When was the last time the LA Kings had a special teams unit ranked in the top ten for both powerplay and penalty kill? The powerplay has been dynamite this season, converting 27.5 percent of the time, good for sixth-best in the NHL. Dustin Brown leads the way with seven goals on the man advantage, and Doughty is not far behind with four. The former Norris Trophy winner leads the team with 10 assists on the powerplay, so it will be critical for the powerplay to have continued success.

However, they are going up against an Avalanche penalty kill ranked fifth-best in the league, killing off 85.9 percent of penalties. It’ll be interesting to see the dynamic of their penalty kill with all the injuries they have right now. Makar is likely out for this series, and Byram could be as well, as the latter was placed on injured reserve back on March 6.

3. Yo, Adrian – can Kempe prove consistency?

Perhaps the biggest X-factor offensively in this series. Can Adrian Kempe continue his hot streak? The 24-year-old has six goals in his last three games, responding well to head coach Todd McLellan’s critical comments. But the theme of Kempe’s time in the NHL has been inconsistency, disappearing from the scoresheet for several games at a time.

He’s fourth in the team with 19 points, and the LA Kings will need Kempe to continue being around the net if they want to potentially win one or both games this weekend. For what it’s worth, Kempe has two goals and four points in 12 career games against the Avs. If you recall, he had the game-winning goal against Colorado back on January 21.

Puck drop is set for 6 pm PT.