The Kings haven’t had much horsepower or torque during their seven-game winless slump, their longest in almost five years, but their engines might be better tuned Saturday in the Motor City, where they’ll face the Detroit Red Wings.
Once the NHL’s most potent offense, the Kings have squeezed out just 14 goals in their seven losses.
Their scoring futility has been remarkably consistent, with just two three-goal efforts during the funk. One came in a defeat by these same Red Wings. The other was a 4-3 loss to the Washington Capitals that went awry in the dying gasps of regulation, much as their 3-2 loss to the Florida Panthers did Thursday. In that affair, they had their hearts torn out by Sam Reinhart’s power-play goal with less than a full second to play in overtime.
In five of their past six losses, they’ve retroceded at least one lead, including stumbles that came twice in overtime and twice more in a shootout. They were shut out in the sixth defeat, and their inability to find the back of the net has persisted across situations.
“We’re not scoring goals easily right now, whether it’s five-on-five, four-on-four, three-on-three or in the shootout. So, those have to come eventually,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said.
Team captain Anze Kopitar’s outlook was similar, hopeful while maintaining a realistic view of a tailspin that has already helped the Edmonton Oilers narrow a 13-point gap behind the Kings to just three.
“Right now, it feels like we’ve got to play a perfect game. Good or pretty good is not good enough right now, so it’ll take a team effort to get out of it,” Kopitar said. “We’re getting better, we’re not as sloppy, we’re playing faster, we’re playing more physical, winning more battles, but we’ve got to find another gear to get out of this.”
While they may not have come up with the perfect game just yet, the Kings have enjoyed almost perfect health, losing very few man games to injury and maintaining lineup continuity, even through their current slog.
There was fright when Phillip Danault exited the match in the first period Thursday but he was able to return and finish the game, albeit while “banged up,” he said. Pierre-Luc Dubois, who dinged the iron with a potential game-winner for a second consecutive game Thursday, surmounted a scare earlier this season when it was his leg rather than the puck that banged hard into a goalpost. He was out for only the remainder of that same match Nov. 16. Vladislav Gavrikov endured a stint on injured reserve, but returned in relatively short order. He missed five games and Blake Lizotte missed six, while Arthur Kaliyev was absent once due to illness (he missed two other games while suspended and was scratched for another).
Otherwise, the Kings’ scratches have been healthy ones, apart from winger Viktor Arvidsson, who has yet to play this season after undergoing back surgery. Even with Arvidsson’s 38 games off the ice, the Kings were the seventh least-injured team in the NHL, and if one were to exclude Arvidsson’s man games lost, the Kings would have the second-fewest man games lost in the league behind St. Louis, per NHL Injury Viz.
By contrast, Detroit has had just six players play in all their games and sits closer to the NHL median in man games lost. Among those who have dressed in every game for Detroit are leading scorer Alex DeBrincat and workhorse defenseman Moritz Seider, their top minute muncher.
Though he wasn’t healthy to start the campaign after undergoing a hip resurfacing procedure, former Chicago Blackhawks dynamo Patrick Kane signed with Detroit during this season and has laced up in all 17 games since his Dec. 7 debut. He has posted 14 points, including an assist against the Kings in a 4-3 win on Jan. 4 in which he nailed their coffin shut with a shootout-clinching goal.
KINGS AT DETROIT
When: Saturday, 4 p.m. PT
Where: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit
How to watch: Bally Sports West