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    Despite an uncertain future, Kings think they have ‘the perfect team’
    • May 4, 2024

    EL SEGUNDO — On some alternate plane of reality, the Kings would have had a skate before Game 6 of their first-round playoff series against the Edmonton Oilers on Friday morning.

    In the here and now, they were taking physicals while soaking in the gloom of being eliminated by the same opponent for a third straight season, leaving them adrift in a sea of uncertainty.

    “I fully expected to be playing in a game today again, and we’re not. Now I’m going to go home, my kids are at school, and I basically have nothing to do,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “It’s crap, I hate it and I don’t want this feeling anymore. I want to be continuing in the playoffs, and not sitting at home watching the playoffs.”

    If Doughty’s tone sounded testy, it was probably because the Kings have endured this fate or worse for the entire decade that has elapsed since their second Stanley Cup triumph in three seasons back in 2014. They’ve made five playoff appearances since, winning just seven games and not a single series.

    “You’ve got to build a culture, for sure. The turnaround of players, now, it’s a completely different team than it was 10 years ago,” team captain Anže Kopitar said. “It’s about building it, we had to build it 15 years ago and we’re going to have to build it now.”

    Now, more than this week’s schedule and some player personnel might change for the Kings. They made one coaching swap in February and might very well make another – after letting go of Todd McLellan they applied the precarious “interim” tag to his successor Jim Hiller – and could next turn their attention to the front office. General Manager Rob Blake acknowledged at his last media availability, in early February, that his own job was on the line.

    “There’s a little bit of concern because you’re not sure what’s really going to happen,” said leading goal-scorer Trevor Moore, who added that he would focus on summer training and that “the rest of the stuff will get sorted out.”

    Beyond the bench and the executive suite, there might be yet another even more fundamental change: a diminishing or an outright nixing of the 1-3-1 neutral-zone trap that the Kings have employed to the chagrin of some opposing players as well as some paying customers.

    Even Kopitar, who said he believed the team could continue to enjoy success with the 1-3-1 system, described it in unflattering terms.

    “Yeah, it’s boring, but we’ve proved it and shown that it can work,” Kopitar said.

    Although Moore said the stodgy configuration got “a bad rap,” he also recognized that mixing in more aggressive alignments such as the 1-2-2 and 2-1-2 might enliven the Kings’ forecheck and lead to more frequent as well as better-quality scoring opportunities.

    Other Kings forwards were more forcefully in favor of taking an eraser to the whiteboard, including last year’s team scoring leader on a per-game basis, Kevin Fiala, and this year’s most prolific producer, Adrian Kempe.

    Kempe said systemic familiarity and the 11th-hour timing of the coaching change precluded an in-season reconfiguration, but that the offseason might be a period ample enough to implement something fresh.

    “Moving forward, I would maybe like to, you know we tried some 1-2-2 here in the playoffs when we were chasing games, and for me it’s more fun to play a 1-2-2,” Kempe said. “You get a little bit more aggressive in the neutral zone, you can create more turnovers and I think we have a lot of offensive players who can capitalize.”

    Fiala concurred, calling Kempe’s “the perfect answer,” but instead of dismissing the discussion, he steered it into a more analytical realm.

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    “We could create something on the forecheck. Right now, we kind of have to break out. In my opinion, the 1-3-1 is very effective when they try to go through you. Then there’s turnovers happening and we can go the other way,” Fiala said.

    “But if they’re going to rim it or chip it every time, that means one guy has to sprint back and we have to get the puck out,” he continued. “When there’s guys coming at us with structure and they rim it from the right side and two guys are coming with full heat on the left side against our standing-still right winger, it’s not very easy to break it out. So, I feel like, obviously, it would be fun to try something else.”

    Even with a potential tectonic shift that could include coaching, management, overall system, some combination thereof or even all three, the Kings felt they had foundational elements and potential to succeed at a higher level with most of their current group.

    “We have everything,” Fiala said. “We have skill, we have grit and I think we have the perfect team, also, inside the room, where everybody loves each other. It’s a big family here.”

    ​ Orange County Register