The Los Angeles Kings had their season ended on Sunday by the Edmonton Oilers.
It was a hard-fought series but the Kings came up short once again versus Edmonton.
The loss stings and players were, obviously, upset in the room. But there seemed to be a hint of optimism surrounding their play.
"Little things, obviously," said Anze Kopitar on what went wrong for the Kings Sunday. "Effort certainly was there, energy was there, can’t fault any of the guys for not bringing the energy and the intensity. It was just small things that didn’t quite connect throughout the game. Obviously, they played a solid game and they were the better team in the series. It’s a hard pill to swallow right now, but I’m sure we’re going to take away something from this one, learn and move forward."
After playing Edmonton last season, there were always going to be comparisons between this series and the one last season. And despite falling in one fewer game, it seemed like the Kings closed the gap between them and the best teams in the division.
They weren't blown out in multiple games like they were last season and on an individual level, some less experienced players showed improvement.
"Yeah. I mean last year, a lot of the guys didn’t know what the playoffs were all about," said Kopitar on the differences between this year and last year. "This year, we had guys that had experience, not a ton of it, but at least a little bit. This is a step again towards the right direction. Learning from last year’s series, this year’s series, and like I said, keep moving forward and keep building the team chemistry, the momentum, the whatever you want to call it and obviously look into next year."
Focusing in on Game Six, Kopitar told the media what the team needed to do if they wanted to extend the series. He highlighted playing with desperation and possessing the puck more as keys. But did the Kings deliver in those areas?
"I think we had it," said Kopitar. "We did score four goals, so normally, that's enough. But they're a high-scoring team over there. In order to win in the playoffs you have to prevent pucks going into your net. Very rarely are you going to outscore a team in the playoffs. Like I said, a learning curve, something we're going to take away from it and move forward."
Kopitar mentioned players who gained their first taste of the postseason last year and their ability to bring that experience into this season.
Sean Durzi is one of those players and was able to learn even more this time around.
"Of course, I had a little bit of a different role this year," said Durzi on learning new things about playoff hockey this year. "Obviously, having that, whether it was standing up on the bench when I wasn't getting those minutes and having a different impact on the game. Trying to leave your mark in any way you can. This time of year the only thing that matters is wins. And I think that's what's so special is, you can have a group of guys like this, guys who maybe haven't played a lot, and guys who've played a ton. And everyone's kind of bonded together and no matter what it takes to win. It was a different experience this year, obviously. Going to the games I think it was a little more mature maybe like Kopi said. We just have to take it and learn. As tough as it is to say right now, it's a heartbreaking game, a heartbreaking series. Obviously, you want to come out on the other end. You have to, maybe not today, but tomorrow kind of look at where you can learn and stuff."
It can be difficult to look at the positives after an elimination game loss. But the Kings had a few and Adrian Kempe was certainly one of those positives coming out of this series.
"Well, it was a roller coaster really, I can give different names every night and that’s probably why we didn’t win, is that as guys took it up, they kind of fell off a little bit," said Todd McLellan when asked about specific standout players. "I think when you look at Adrian Kempe, where he’s come from and what he’s doing now, he can play in any type of game. You want to be big, heavy, physical, fast, skilled, he’s an all-around player that can play in any type of series. For me, he had an impact. I thought Alex Iafallo played a real good series on both sides of the puck. Then there’s some others at the back end but I’m not sharing that with you guys, I’ve got to talk to them."
When at their best, the Kings are one of the best defensive teams in hockey. Teams can struggle to create chances against them and are often limited in shot attempts.
This makes a game like Sunday, where the Kings were blitzed for five goals all the more frustrating. It's so difficult to win games when you can't implement your game plan.
"It’s rare that we give up four even-strength goals, it’s rare that we do that as a team and to do it in a game that meant that much," said McLellan on his frustration with the team's defensive play. "The situations that arose, on their first goal, they scored off a faceoff play. It’s a little bit later and we’re prepared for that play. The 2-on-2, our gap is horrendous, but that also tells me the opposition is prepared to take advantage of mistakes and when we made them, they capitalized. That’s an area that we have to continue to work on. That’s who we are, we’re good defensively, we’re committed to it but we didn’t get the job done."
The penalty kill was an obvious sore spot for the Kings, but there were other areas that they faltered. The Kings didn't execute in a multitude of areas and that's what ultimately cost them this series.
"Well we talk about the penalty kill and the power play, when it's all said and done we had three games of two power-play goals ourselves," said McLellan on where the team did and didn't execute. "And that wasn't enough to get us two wins. Yes, their power play is extremely dangerous and it's going to continue to be that way. The players they have and they experience they have to roll out. They're going to beat teams consistently. If you can build in maybe one a night you're okay, but two a night isn't good enough. So, we have to improve in that area. Like I said, there's some coaching things, some structure things, some systematic things that we all can improve on. There's construction of different lines, but we're in the infancy stage. Remember two years ago, we were tearing this thing down. Four years ago a lot of these teams were making runs and we're the youthful team in the playoffs that has to learn lessons. And the quicker we can learn them and adjust the better off we're going to be moving forward."