Will LA Kings Sink or Swim On Upcoming Six-Game Road Swing?

EL SEGUNDO, CA — It is certainly no secret that a major factor in the Los Angeles Kings being 29th in the 31-team National Hockey League’s overall standings, besides the fact that they are in the midst of rebuilding their roster, is because they are the worst team in the league on the road (2-12-1).

The Kings have not won a road game since a 3-2 victory on October 22 at Winnipeg. Their other road win was in their season opener, a 4-3 overtime victory at Calgary on October 8.

The Kings are currently in the midst of an 11-game road winless streak (0-10-1).

Under those circumstances, one would understand if they preferred to remain in the friendly confines of Staples Center here in Los Angeles. It would not be because they would rather sleep in their own beds and eat home-cooked meals. Rather, it would more likely be about the fact that they embark on a six-game road swing tonight at Anaheim before heading into the Eastern Time Zone.

Indeed, conventional wisdom dictates that the Kings should be terribly worried about digging the deep hole they are already in much, much deeper, and in rather short order. But instead, they are saying, “Bah humbug” to conventional wisdom.

A reason for this optimism is their performance in their last two road games, at Edmonton and Calgary—they saw progress in their play, despite losing both games.

“I thought the last two road games, we gave ourselves a chance,” said left wing Kyle Clifford. “We played with a lot of determination. We played a good 120 minutes. It’s just a matter of getting the job done and getting over that extra hump. It just takes a little bit more and guys need to find it.”

“If we play the way we have been [in recent games], we’ve got a good chance to win some games on the road here,” said forward Trevor Lewis.

One of the glaring issues on the road has been failing to get off to a good start, time and time again.

“The two games we won on the road this season, our start was what won those games for us in Winnipeg and Calgary,” Lewis noted. “On the last road trip to Edmonton and Calgary, we started good in Edmonton, but the penalty-kill hurt us. In Calgary, we got off to a good start. We just have to continue with that.”

“I don’t think our game is too different when we’re on the road,” said defenseman Sean Walker. “I think we play our game pretty well. If you look at our last couple of road games, they’ve been one-goal games. We just have to focus on our starts a little more. I don’t know if that’s a home or road thing. We’ve been starting well at home. That helps, obviously. But we can’t put a finger on it. Hopefully, we can figure it out on this road trip.”

The Kings believe that being more aggressive to start games could be a big help.

“We had a long meeting last week about the road games, trying to find areas in which we can improve,” said Clifford. “It hasn’t always been the start, but that’s been it quite a few times.”

“[During the meeting], we looked at an analogy of a boxer,” added Clifford. “Do you come out swinging, or do you start by being defensive? During the Calgary game, that’s what we did [started aggressively]. We just didn’t get the job done.”

Some contend that this year’s Kings team is having greater difficulty with the matchups they are seeing on the road because the home team gets the last line change at each stoppage. But for the most part, the players don’t buy that.

“For the most part, [center Anze] Kopitar’s line is going to match up against the same line for the other team, and [the opposing team] will try to do the same thing,” said Walker. “There may be some defensive pairings that get mixed up a bit. But for the most part, when teams look at each other, they want the same lines matching up.”

“It’s a little bit of an edge,” added Walker. “But as soon as we get a chance to change lines and get the matchups we want, we’re going to do that, so I don’t think it’s a huge difference.”

“If you look at our team, we’ve got four lines that we put out there that can play against just about anyone,” Clifford noted. “Sure, if you have the opportunity, you’d like to get the matchups you want. But I don’t put a lot of stock into it. It doesn’t matter who you’re going out there against, whether it’s [Edmonton Oilers superstar] Connor McDavid or whomever you’re out there against. You’ve got to play the same way and check the same way. Obviously, there’s some special talent out there. But we have some special talent in here, too. You’d like to have them on the ice against each other, sure. But it’s not as important as a lot of people think.”

Both Lewis and head coach Todd McLellan pointed to their 3-1 win over the New York Rangers at Staples Center on December 10 as another reason to be optimistic about their current road trip;

“On [Tuesday] night, we took a big step forward in our structure and in shutting them down,” Lewis observed. “I thought that was a good team win.”

“I just think we extended our games from Edmonton and Calgary [in the win over the Rangers],” said McLellan. “Maybe not so much [the Calgary game] because of the fatigue factor and some errors late. Everyone’s talking about taking that game on the road. But for the most part, we brought that game home.”

“We need to get some breaks,” added McLellan. “We need special teams to be on the plus side. If we can play that type of game on the road, we’ll give ourselves a chance.”

“There’s guys who have [won consistently on the road] in this room,” said Clifford. “Others are learning how to do it. As a group, we’ve just got to pull together and get the job done.”

LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar (foreground left) with defenseman Kurtis McDermid (foreground right) during practice drill in front goaltender Jonathan Quick’s net. December 12, 2019 at the Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo, California. Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.

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