Images by Colleen De Neve/Calgary Herald.
The Los Angeles Kings will not have the opportunity to defend their title.
After a season full of ups and downs, the Calgary Flames 3-1 victory over the Kings effectively eliminated them from playoff contention, while simultaneously securing the Flames a playoff spot in the form of third-place in the Pacific Division.
It’s a disappointment, certainly, for the reigning Stanley Cup Champions to miss the playoffs, but after having played through the first two weeks of June last season, at least this tired group of players will have the chance to rest and prepare for next year.
The Kings knew what was at stake when they left L.A. for a three-game road trip with stops in Vancouver, Edmonton, and finally, Calgary. Los Angeles’ road trip struggles got the best of them during their visit to Western Canada. The Kings suffered a 2-1 loss in a shootout against the Canucks, followed by a frustrating 4-2 loss to the Oilers and finally tonight’s 3-1 loss against the Flames.
A lot of things could have gone better for the Kings this year, leaving head coach Darryl Sutter and general manager Dean Lombardi with a lot to think about over the extended offseason.
The problems on the road that may have contributed to the Kings losing three must-win games have also had a larger impact on the season as a whole. With only one game left to play in the regular season, the Kings road record stands at 15-18-8, which, compared to their home record (24-9-7), ended up hurting L.A. down the stretch. Sutter has spoken about the impact that playing through the postseason has had on his team, namely that his group was experiencing some fatigue toward the last third of the season, but they couldn’t seem to get over that hurdle when it came to away games.
The resurgence of the Calgary Flames was not something that the Kings had expected necessarily. The Flames were consistently playing good hockey in the first half, and then they got hot at the right time. Calgary head coach Bob Hartley’s focus on endurance helped them to stay hot through the final stretch of the season. L.A. simply couldn’t count on the Flames to lose crucial games.
A midseason slump also had a lasting impact on the Los Angeles Kings. The Kings had a rough December and January. While it would be unreasonable to say that the Kings weren’t allowed to slump at all (after all, all teams struggle at some point or another), the caliber of the teams in the Pacific Division and Western Conference just didn’t allow for that kind of prolonged losing streak.
The Kings have a talented group — the same group that won the Cup last season, but they had a tired core group. There were times when it seemed as if the roster was missing the depth it had last season, especially with injuries to players like Alec Martinez, who only returned to the line-up on March 20th. However, there was also a lot of promise that shone through, like in the month of February for instance when the Kings returned to their postseason form, winning eight-games straight. Lombardi didn’t make a mistake by bringing back most of the same guys who were on the 2013-14 roster, but the exhaustion took its toll on the L.A. Kings and made it harder to adapt to and bounce back from unpredictable circumstances.
Lombardi will have a lot to consider after Saturday’s final matchup against the visiting San Jose Sharks. Justin Williams (18G, 22A) and Jarret Stoll (6G, 10A) , two key players for the Kings, will enter the free-agent market at the end of the regular season, as will Tyler Toffoli (as a restricted free agent) and Jonathan Quick’s back-up goaltender, Martin Jones. It would be wrong to blame any individual guy for the Kings missing the playoffs, but it would be misleading and unreasonable to place the blame L.A.’s current predicament purely on circumstances as well.
The Los Angeles Kings have captured the Stanley Cup twice in the past four years, both times defying some incredible odds to get there. Kings fans may be disappointed, but they have a lot to be proud of, too.