Now that the LA Kings are officially eliminated from playoff contention, Todd McLellan is using the last few games as a test for next season.
It may not have come as much of a shock to many but after Friday’s loss to Colorado, the LA Kings were officially eliminated from playoff contention. Yet, while they may not have been expected to qualify for the postseason, the end result is nonetheless disappointing for the Kings. The silver lining is that the remaining few games on the schedule will serve as an unofficial audition for next season for the Kings’ youngsters.
While the regularly scheduled season is officially complete, the Kings have four remaining games — all rescheduled contests due to COVID-related illnesses. Yet, while the playoffs are no longer a possibility this season, that isn’t to suggest that the Kings have nothing to play for from here on out.
Quite the contrary, actually.
It would be an understatement to say that this season has been an up-and-down one for the Kings. But, like any rebuilding team, growing pains are inevitable. That was just the case this season as the Kings struggled to string together wins and play many full 60-minute efforts, to name just two issues. For Todd McLellan, though, the opportunity for next season will not start at training camp in the fall but rather right now.
Following Saturday night’s loss, the Kings head coach spoke to the media about these auditions and what to expect moving forward, in addition to the main trait he and his staff will be looking for most out of their players.
“Well, we’re looking for for the character part,” McLellan noted without hesitation. “That, I think, is important right now at this time of year as structure and passing and skills and all those types of things, and we passed that test tonight.”
McLellan’s approach, however, comes with more specifics.
“We plan on giving [the players] a few things to focus on each night,” he elaborated. “Tonight was forecheck and a few adjustments to see if we need to change the way we play a little bit. I liked our forecheck tonight. First time in a long time, I thought we were more aggressive, so we’ll give them assignments that way. There [are] some targets that we need to hit — power play, penalty kill, some five-on-five goals that we want to achieve down the stretch. So, there’s a lot of things.”
The Kings head coach wasn’t done there, though. In fact, he made a conscious effort to light a fire under his players, especially those who are hoping to don the silver-and-black again next season.
“The pure organizational evaluation of individuals right now: If you haven’t already won a job or lost a job, this is when it’s beginning to really happen,” McLellan added. “We’ll probably remember the last five games a lot more than we’ll remember the first five. So, without putting pressure on a whole bunch of players, that’s just how it is. And next year, another crop comes in and challenges. Attrition’s a good thing for every team in the league. We’re getting younger, we’re moving forward and if you’re not along for the ride, if you’re not getting better, we’re going past you. So, a great challenge for some of the guys that have been here for a little while: keep your job.”
As for Saturday’s game, while the end result was a loss, McLellan was impressed with his club’s effort overall.
“I liked our game tonight,” he said. “There were moments where I thought we were, especially early, maybe a little bit intimidated. They are a very good team. But, I thought once we started to play, we were aggressive. Our forecheck was much better than it was [on Friday], and I liked our game. We made a few mistakes, and against teams like [the Avalanche] with their ability to score, they make you pay. But, the character and the drive was– there’s nothing there to question. Our guys showed up with it tonight and they pushed, they played hard, to a man, right through the whole lineup. So, while it’s disappointing losing, there are some positive signs, especially playing in that type of game. That third period was as fast a period as we played in a long time.”
For those fans hoping for instant results, the 2020-21 season was unpleasant. However, for those with more patience, this season was a work-in-progress. So, regardless of whether you lean towards the former or the latter, the 2020-21 campaign was necessary for the LA Kings in their quest to become a playoff team once again, and then some.
The remaining four games should give the more patient fans some good incentive to tune in, but no one can help but not look past the summer. After all, with the Entry Draft, the Expansion Draft, and free agency all looming, it is a guessing game at this juncture in determining which Kings players will stay, who will go, and, of course, which new faces will arrive.
In the big picture, though, this is an important step in the rebuild of the LA Kings and you can be certain that head coach Todd McLellan will do everything in his power to make sure that the silver-and-black will be seriously competing for a playoff spot in 2022.