“We will be what we will be.”
Kind of subtle sounding, isn’t it?
It was Todd McLellan after last night’s game when he was asked – again – about the high-score nature of the Kings’ win. Last night’s margin was 5-4, the same margin we saw in the win over Detroit earlier this season, with not quite close to the 7-6 score we saw in Minnesota. The Kings have played, by far, the most scoring hockey of any team in the NHL this season. With a total of 102 goals, no team has seen more goals scored in their matches this season than the Kings. There’s a bit of a caveat there, as the Kings are tied for top spot in the games played, but even so, Los Angeles is one of only four teams averaging at least 3.4 goals for and against on a per game basis.
“I said in the summer – I actually said in Edmonton after Game Seven – that we have to work ahead and every year is different,” McClellan added. “Are we going to be a big event team every night? It’s better if we keep scoring five goals. If we are going to be a big event team and we don’t put four or five on the board, then we have to fix some things.”
The Kings have maintained throughout all of this that despite their high-score start to the season, it’s not necessarily the way they want to play, it’s the way they are currently playing. At 7-6-1, he didn’t burn them to the point of an awful start to the season in any way. The Kings are two points behind where the team was in 14 games last season, although in Game 14 last year, the Kings were riding a seven-game winning streak. The 15-22 game featured seven losses and only five points overall as the roller coaster that was the first three months of last season went through its ups and downs.
This past year, though.
This year, this year’s team will be this year’s team.
“We’re trying to rein it in a little bit more and be better defensive, but at the same time, at the same time, we’re scoring more,” McClellan said. “We’ll see. We’re our own team now, and we’re thinking about it.”
While Kings sort out exactly who they want to be, and are constantly working to do so, there is still an element of risk to the way they play.
Speaking to Adrian Quimby last week, he smiled slightly as he corrected himself when discussing the element of risk after the Toronto game. He talked about how a team like Toronto plays at a little more risk than the Kings but quickly adjusted himself to saying how the Kings want to play, acknowledging that there is more risk involved in playing for the team than they want it to be.
This is not to say that the risk did not pay off at times, with the kings outperforming the puck mode in the net, with the full participation of players. After last night’s game, Trevor Moore highlighted the internal growth shown by some of the younger players, as well as team depth, as reasons for the offensive production early in the season.
“I think we have a lot of youngsters who get that confidence and we have good depth, we have four streaks that can score now,” he said. “When you have four lines that can score, they can roll and you’ll have a more sustainable time in the zone.”
It’s hard to pick a better sample than the Florida win.
Gabi Velardi scored the winning goal in the third half, giving the first line a much-needed attacking contribution. The second streak scored two goals, including Moore’s swerve in the second half. The third streak opened the scoring, with a highlight reel feeding from Kevin Viala to Rasmus Kopari and the fourth streak bouncing with a solo effort by Blake Lizout, showing determination to stay with play and return the rebounding ball into the net.
Are the Kings the only team experiencing these difficulties? Not necessarily, and the sample size is relatively small at this point.
Last season saw a slight uptick in goals per game across the league not seen since 1996. Teams averaged 3.14 goals per game, matching the 1995-96 season mark, with the 1993-94 season last. The season is over. It’s still very early days, but teams around the NHL are currently averaging 3.22 goals per game, with slightly more goals scored than teams covered from last season to the beginnings of this season.
It’s not necessarily surprising to see a goal early in the season. Nor is it necessarily an indicator of what will happen during the entire 82 league games, nor is it necessarily an indicator of what will ultimately characterize the teams in the post-season. McClellan admitted he sees a lot of number four when he checks results across the league, but despite that in the early games, he believes it will be the number three that remains important as the season progresses.
“I’ve looked at the scores and four seems to be a common number,” McClellan added. “Personally I think it’s going to be the race to the three again, at some point, because I think everyone is going to tighten things up, but I’ve been wrong many times before. Four teams are showing up everywhere, so the team that can get to four and do well has a chance In the tournament, I think, now if it stays that way.”
Could the Kings be this team, the team that can score four goals on any night but also check in effectively and efficiently? The victories over Tampa Bay and Toronto last home, arguably the East’s biggest contenders, showed that exact formula. A pair of 4-2 wins limit the chances of an elite talent with reaching the four-goal mark. That’s 2 of 14. For a team that has built a lot of its pre-season success on structure, predictability and responsibility, the Kings still want these elements to be central to their play, even though we’ve seen the team win matches with a different format here early on. Could the spike in offensive production continue, as the Bolt Kings tighten up at the other end of the ice? remains to be seen.
If possible, the Kings could be on the verge of building something that is not only different from what was built last season but with the potential to be even better. And this, if it pays off, will be a great sign of progress.