LA Kings: For younger players, no charity in a playoff race

Approaching the April 12 trade deadline, the LA Kings are in a critical stretch in terms of their postseason push, especially with several younger players.

Last week when the LA Kings lost two frustrating games against the San Jose Sharks, it seemed like their playoff hopes were fading fast. In the two-game set, the Kings former goalie, Martin Jones, kept the offense at bay despite consistent scoring opportunities.  However, after a recent skid by the St. Louis Blues, the LA Kings are still very much alive for the fourth playoff spot in the West.

After earning a huge split against the Vegas Golden Knights, the door is wide open, and the Kings now enter a stretch of games they simply need to win a majority of in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. LA’s next six games are against either the Sharks or the Arizona Coyotes, two teams who are also in the mix for that coveted fourth spot.

The Kings, however, will be at a distinct disadvantage along the blueline after a flagrant hit on rookie defenseman Tobias Bjornfot by Vegas’ Chandler Stephenson during the second game against the Golden Knights. That illegal elbow to the face/head of Bjornfot will sideline him for at least a few games, and as a result, it will be a greater challenge to secure the defensive zone.

Another problem for the Kings is that they are now a combined 2-3-2 against the teams that are below the .500 mark. Consistency in the LA Kings’ level of play is the key to a potential playoff spot despite their opposition. So far, ironically, this year, the Kings have done a pretty solid job of hanging with the big boys in their division. It is when they play teams at their level or below that they have struggled the most.

However, navigating these crucial games is not just important for the team this season, but it is also a valuable experience for the younger players on the Kings’ roster. Basically, they are now in a playoff game every time they step on the ice. As head coach Todd McLellan described, “There is no charity in a playoff race. Down the stretch last year, we were able to use the time for younger players productively. This year… it’s very much playoff-like.”

At the end of last year, the Kings were able to rattle off a seven-game win streak, but the wins came a little too late since they were already out of the playoff picture. This year is a different story, though, since postseason play is actually within reach.

The chance for a playoff spot is huge for a team in transition and shows the determination and grit of both veterans and youngsters alike. The importance of playing in these types of games cannot be overstated and is essential to the team’s development moving forward.

Regardless of whether the Kings ultimately make the playoffs or not, these types of games help shape the attitude needed in future winners. Younger players need to learn from the veterans to meet the physical and psychological pressures of critical games so that in the future, they can step up, unfazed by the magnitude of the moment.