The Los Angeles Kings dropped their third straight game on Saturday to the Colorado Avalanche.
Despite outshooting and out chancing the Avalanche and a stellar performance from Adrian Kempe, the Kings couldn't get back into the win column.
A lot of the postgame conversation revolved around a questionable hit by Andrew Cogliano. Kempe, Quinton Byfield and Todd McLellan offered their thoughts on the hit postgame.
"I think he (Cogliano) got me in the head. Second time in a couple years he got me, he got Kevin (Fiala) last game, so, obviously frustrated. And he better stand up for what he did next game we play against them."
"I think it's a little bit dirty. I think he's (Cogliano) come after some of our players before, so yeah, there's not much else I can say about that. But yeah, it's not a great play."
"There's people in the league that look at that stuff, not me."
Taking a dirty hit late was far from Kempe's only contribution Saturday. He finished the game with two goals and a primary assist, giving him a primary point on each of the Kings' goals.
Kempe's managed to improve on his career year last season and his ability to step up at this time of the year is a testament to that.
"I think our lines playing well, maybe haven't been rewarded (the) last couple games," said Kempe on his play down the stretch. "But tonight we got a couple so that was pretty nice, but it felt like our line was really going pretty much every shift we were out there. We had some good looks, probably could have tied it up late too with the chances we had, but that's something we have to keep building on."
Saturday follows a trend of late, with the Kings coming out on the losing end of tightly contested games. These are the kinds of games you have to win at this time of the year, but the Kings can't get over the line.
"A couple unlucky bounces in the beginning, down two goals, not much we can do about that," said Kempe on what the difference between the two teams was. "But I think we battled back, played a pretty good game I think. Obviously fell short again, so that sucks, have to go back tomorrow and look at the things we could have done better. But yeah, really tight game that could have gone either way."
One positive about Saturday's game was the Kings' start. After a terrible first period against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday, the Kings looked to come out of the gates strong Saturday. And they did just that.
"I think everyone was going," said Kempe on the Kings' start. "We have four lines, three d-pairings going. Won a lot of puck battles, get the puck to the net, play well in the d-zone. Obviously, as I said, two unlucky bounces on the goals. But other than that, the start was much better than the last game."
It's been a tough stretch since the Kings clinched a playoff spot with their win against the Vancouver Canucks. Losing all three games, two of which came against division rivals and the frustration is mounting for the Kings.
"We're not happy about it at all," said Byfield. "We clinched which is a good thing, but you definitely want to go into the playoffs with some wins and we had a lot of big games that we lost. So, we're definitely upset in the room."
Kempe's been hot over the last few months and Byfield's had a front row seat for that run. Kempe's been one of the most dangerous scorers in hockey and is especially deadly off the rush.
"Yeah, his first goal was really nice, he used his speed and his shot, well placed low blocker there." said Byfield on Kempe's shooting threat. "And then, the second goal, just patience, patience and went up stairs. His shot and speed are a lethal combination."
Saturday's loss was very different to Thursday's. The Kings put together a strong 60 minutes on Saturday but couldn't come away with two points. It's been a tough stretch of three games against three teams at, or near the top of their division.
"My opinion, a really good effort," said McLellan on the Kings' performance. "A little bit of bad luck, obviously on the first one. Some opportunities to bury pucks early in the game, some really good looks at the goaltender and some guys have been snake bitten for a while and maybe there’s a reason for that, but you’ve got to bear down and finish on those opportunities, get the lead and not play from behind against this team. We never did do that. I thought we were a little bit slow out of the gate in the third period, but even then we found our legs and started to play again. Pretty evenly played game, disappointing that we lost. Offense from Kopi’s line, not enough from other lines and if you’re not scoring, you’ve got to end up at least on the even side of the ledger and we had a couple of lines that didn’t."
Despite acknowledging that it was a good effort from the team, McLellan acknowledged that it wasn't enough to win at this time of the year. And especially not enough to win in the postseason.
"No, if it’s not good enough to win right now, it won’t be good enough in the postseason," said McLellan. "Now, there’s two different things, there’s the effort that goes into the game and the outcome of the game. I think we can do a better job of affecting the outcome of the game. I think the effort is there. The effort in Vegas, maybe not so much, but the last month or the two months we’ve played, I haven’t had many complaints about work ethic or effort. We’re making some mistakes right now that are costing us, some of them are reads and reacts, sometimes we’re getting pushed off a puck or whatever, but that’s not effort based in my opinion."
Like everyone, McLellan was impressed with Kempe's game. But it's not just the points from Kempe that standout. It's the ability to take control of games when the team needs their stars to step up.
Great players elevate their play at this time of the year and Kempe did that Saturday.
"We obviously want him on our team, that’s for sure," said McLellan. "It’s a mentality, but he also has the skill set and the drive to go with it. You know, there are others that have that mentality, but they’re not gifted that skillset and they have to provide input into the game in different ways. Everybody has something they do well, they’ve got to bring it."
Rasmus Kupari was on the other side of the production coin on Saturday. He had two-three grade-A chances he failed to capitalize on. And while getting those chances is a positive sign, eventually you have to score.
"Well, you’ve got to be in the right spot to get those chances, so that’s the first step, but you got to finish some of them," said McLellan on the chances Kupari created. "We need some of our players to evolve into that. You can’t go 40 games without a goal in the NHL and we’ve had some good, young prospects, some players that we’re counting on to do that and they have to take some of the pressure away from Kempe, Kopitar and some of those other players. Now, Phil Danault has to score a goal too, don’t get me wrong, I’m not just laying it on the hands of some of the younger players, but those guys have had a lot of opportunities and it’s got to go in eventually. That’s what you’re here for."