You can't win them all.
On paper, losing to a New Jersey Devils team tied for the second most wins in hockey isn't a bad loss. But, for the Los Angeles Kings, there's an air of frustration in how the game was lost. Another poor performance in net and not finishing on a few big chances killed the Kings.
You take the good with the bad, so it's time to look at some pluses and minuses from the Devil's game.
+ Adrian Kempe
Adrian Kempe was fantastic in this game. It's well-established now that he is a high-level goalscorer in the NHL, but he showed off a different element in Saturday's game, setting up teammates with nice passing plays on multiple occasions.
The standout example was his assist for Kevin Fiala's game-opening goal. With Fiala swinging around the net and creeping back door, Kempe fired a pass from the right wall to Fiala backdoor for an easy tap-in. Then in the second, Kempe came out of the corner and fed Gabe Vilardi backdoor, giving him an empty net. The puck jumped on Vilardi and wasn't put in, but it was another nice feed from Kempe. According to Kempe, he used to be a passer and still has the element in his game.
"I used to be a passer and not more of a shooter, but that's definitely changed in the last few years," said Kempe. "I still have that in my game, but definitely, if I have my own chance I just try to bury it myself usually. But when you have good players playing with you sometimes you have to get your head up too."
He also had a few chances to bury himself that he put just wide. Even though he didn't bury these chances, setting up teammates regularly and getting chances of your own usually indicates a good game.
– Jonathan Quick
This was the big glaring minus from Saturday's game. It's never easy for fans to watch a club legend fall off so drastically, but it appears that time has come for Jonathan Quick. In so many ways this game was a microcosm of Quick's season. Unable to produce a timely save to help his team and allowing a backbreaking goal that takes the wind out the Kings' sails.
Erik Haula's two-on-one goal is a prime example of Quick not making a big save when his team needs him. Yes, it was a bad pinch from Alex Edler and yes it was a two-on-one, but that was a savable shot. Haula didn't pick a corner, nor overpower Quick with a heavy shot. He put it under Quick's arm, in a place where it could have, and probably should have, been saved.
But, if you don't want to place too much blame on Quick for a two-on-one goal, that's fair. The third goal was just not acceptable for an NHL goalie. The goal itself was bad enough, but the timing makes it so much worse.
Not even a minute after the Kings tied the game at two, Devils defensemen Nikita Okhotiuk threw a puck on net from a bad angle that somehow squeezed past Quick into the net. After the Kings took all of the momentum with a power-play goal, it was all back with New Jersey after this goal. The Kings looked like a different team after this goal, one without the confidence we've seen from them in recent weeks.
The situation in net for Los Angeles, outside of Pheonix Copley, continues to get worse. Rob Blake will have his work cut out for him this summer trying to figure out how to fix this problem.
– Quinton Byfield
It wasn't all bad for Quinton Byfield in this game. There were a few good moments, instances where he created offense and used his frame to win battles, but the bad came too often in this game. After one of his best games in a Kings jersey Wednesday, he was fighting the puck on Saturday.
The glaring issue was defensive zone turnovers. Far too many times Byfield received the puck along the wall in his own zone and turned it over. He looked panicked and started throwing the puck away as the game went on. Errant passes, or simply losing the puck to a forechecker became a frequent part of his game as the night went on.
He was eventually moved off the first line, swapping with Fiala in the third period. This was partly because the Kings were chasing this game and partly because Byfield didn't have it on Saturday.
It's not the end of the world for him, but he needs to find consistency at the NHL level.
+ The Power Play
Another big plus from this game was the power play, particularly the top unit. Both King's goals came from this unit, and both displayed a movement of both player and the puck that we hadn't seen before this season.
Fiala's game-opening goal from Kempe was the first example. Then came Anze Kopitar's deflection in front. A goal that highlighted the fluidity of the Kings' power play right now.
Kempe, who's normally the one-time threat, ends up below the goal line. He hits Fiala in the bumper spot, he usually plays the left flank. The puck then moves from Vilardi to Doughty, who were both playing their normal spot, before Doughty's shot is tipped by Kopitar in front. Kopitar, who normally plays the bumper.
Anyone on that unit can play anywhere and it makes them difficult to handle. Kempe touched on what's working for that unit postgame.
"We’re moving the puck well, I think, the breakout’s been good, everybody’s playing, it doesn’t matter where they end up.," Kempe said. "I think we’re moving and shooting a lot more and I think when we pre-scout teams, we take the information and do it in the games. Tonight, I think we did a good job, we could have had another one too. It’s something we can build on."
Last season the power play was a big point of concern for the Kings, this season, it's been a big strength. Especially in the last few months. Jim Hiller's impact is certainly being felt.