LA Kings: Vegas standing in the way of a playoff spot

LA Kings (Mandatory Credit: Isaac Brekken/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports)
LA Kings (Mandatory Credit: Isaac Brekken/Pool Photo-USA TODAY Sports) /

The LA Kings open a two-game series against Vegas on Friday night, and their playoff fate could be decided over the next 14 games.

At this point in the season, the LA Kings are very much in the mix for a playoff spot in the West Division. Los Angeles sits in fifth place, three points behind the Blues for the final playoff spot in the division. And to no one’s surprise, the Vegas Golden Knights sit atop the division.

Stanley Cup contenders since their inception into the league in the 17-18 season, Vegas has consistently made the big offseason splash, most recently inking defenseman Alex Pietrangelo to a seven-year, $61.6M contract. The 31-year-old has struggled to remain healthy in the shortened 2021 season, but the beat goes on for Vegas.

Things didn’t go too well the last time the LA Kings faced Vegas, falling by 5-2 and 4-3 scores in the two-game series.

“The immediate one is Vegas, and they took it to us last time we were in their building,” head coach Todd McLellan said after Thursday morning’s skate. “But I’d like to think that we can improve in a lot of areas and give them a better game tomorrow.”

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The next 14 games could decide the LA Kings playoff fate, as they are scheduled to play Vegas and San Jose six times each, with a two-game series against Arizona built in there as well. If the Kings can somehow split the six games with Vegas and take most of the games against San Jose, Todd McLellan’s group could find themselves in the driver’s seat of a playoff spot.

As for what went wrong last time around, Vegas was the faster, more skilled team on the ice. That’s the MO. Their position in the standings back that notion up as well. They have so much firepower from everywhere that they can endure Pietrangelo being on the injured reserve right now. If the LA Kings were to switch roles with Drew Doughty, it would be lights out for Los Angeles.

“I think Vegas can play fast or slow,” McLellan explained. “They can grind it out in the corners and in front of the net, but their bread and butter is getting four guys up on the rush and skating through the neutral zone with some pace and then making your pay there, and they defend well. There’s not really a weakness in their game. That’s why they’re a top-win percentage team in the league right now. And it’s a great challenge for us at this time.”

Per our friends at the Action Network, Vegas is heavily favored on Friday, with a -213 money line. It’ll be interesting to see if the Kings elect to give Jonathan Quick a look in net. The 35-year-old future Hall of Fame goaltender hasn’t played since March 6 but served as the team’s backup on Wednesday.

Historically, Quick hasn’t played particularly well against Vegas. In nine tries, he owns a .898 SV% and 3.41 GAA. While it’s a much smaller sample size, Cal Petersen has a .929 SV% and 2.47 GAA in four career games against the Golden Knights.

Three questions to monitor in the LA Kings – Golden Knights series

  1. Will Dustin Brown return? McLellan indicated he was close to returning to the lineup. The former LA Kings captain has three goals and eight points in 15 career games against Vegas.
  2. Will the Kings opt for more physicality on defense with Kurtis MacDermid?
  3. Can the Kings avoid a track meet? The Golden Knights average 3.3 goals-per-game, eight-best in the league, and average just over 30 shots per game. Their powerplay isn’t great, converting at just 18.8 percent but their penalty kill is excellent.

Puck drop is set for 7:00 pm PT from Staples Center.