After a lopsided defeat in Colorado, the Kings’ outlook had become so bleak that even their beacon of positivity Phillip Danault –– “always progression, never regression” is his stated ethos –– remained at a loss for inspiration.
“It’s getting hard to get our pace and our confidence going into the game. We have to get back to trusting each other, and, I don’t know, we’re running out of solutions,” Danault said.
“I think the guys are working hard, I don’t know, it just doesn’t work,” he added.
“It” may be construed to mean just about anything since apart from the Kings’ penalty kill, little has functioned since the close of 2023. When the Kings get a reprieve, the first month of 2024 will be over. In the month leading up to a showdown with the Blues in St. Louis, they’ve won just two games, the fewest in the NHL.
They are hanging by a thread to a postseason berth and could be out of the picture heading into a pause that theoretically could help them get healthier –– physically in some cases and also mentally –– but could also see them return with an even more significant deficit in the standings behind the West’s top teams.
On a positive note, Quinton Byfield, who missed Friday’s flop with an illness, was back on the ice at practice per Kings blogger Zach Dooley. He’s been remarkably consistent in terms of effort and production alike, drawing high praise during low moments from Coach Todd McLellan after a blown lead against Buffalo brought out the boo birds.
There have been so many rapid recalculations as the Kings metamorphosize from lions into mice that it could even impact their late-season outlook. ESPN’s Greg Wyshinski reported that an Eastern Conference GM told him that this prolonged plummet for the Kings might “change the math” at the trade deadline.
Math hasn’t been the Kings’ forte this season, as they’ve carried short rosters and even short lineups. That was even after scraping the barrel and skimping on their most blaring and glaring need, goaltending (all-star Cam Talbot’s numbers have ballooned of late), while eschewing depth, talent and favorable contracts to bring in Pierre-Luc Dubois at crippling costs. Dubois reprised his role as The Invisible Man on Friday, registering one shot on goal and a minus-one rating in a match where malaise reigned across the lines and pairings.
Even Drew Doughty, whose surly remarks dominated the narrative after the loss to Buffalo, got in on the tragicomedy with a turnover that led to a goal. His pal Trevor Lewis has resembled a bald tire playing in place of the injured Blake Lizotte on an utterly inept fourth line that desperately misses the Kings’ smallest but most effortful player.
There’s little that can be pointed to as going swimmingly for the Kings as even Danault’s second line has slipped, leaving what was once a four-line team predicated on depth and balance by the brass’s own admission to feed on whatever scraps its mostly healthy but still tattered lineup can provide each night.
The recall of Alex Turcotte on Saturday might inject some new blood into the room, though it seems beyond unfair to expect greatness from a player with just 12 games of NHL experience who sustained two concussions and a multitude of maladies over the course of his brief career.
He was to be the crown jewel in a draft that the Kings heralded. Turcotte was the fifth overall selection in 2019 and one of four picks the Kings’ had in Rounds 1 and 2 after finishing with the NHL’s second worst record. Of those four, Turcotte has lost significant development time to injuries; Tobias Bjornfot was waived and claimed by rival Vegas; Samuel Fagemo was waived, claimed and then returned to the Kings only to languish on the fourth line lately; and Arthur Kaliyev has found himself the subject of countless trade rumors amid inconsistent performance and deployment.
The Forum Report’s Jon Rosen reported that General Manager Rob Blake overruled his own scouting department to select Turcotte –– who was by most external measures a bankable pick with a high floor and a star’s ceiling –– and perhaps under the influence of former teammate Tony Granato (he coached Turcotte at the University of Wisconsin).
This year in the minors, Turcotte has amassed 23 points in 28 games with a plus-8 rating.
Assuming he draws in, Turcotte will make his NHL season debut against the Blues, who are led in scoring by Robert Thomas. They’re winners of four straight contests after sweeping a three-game Northwestern road trip. Since Drew Bannister took over coaching duties from 2019 Stanley Cup winner Craig Berube, the Blues have gone 12-6-1 following a tepid 13-14-2 start.