May 18, 2024

The Kings were at a disadvantage before they took to the ice for their season opener Wednesday at Arena, and it wasn’t the kind of situation they could negate with a good penalty-killing effort.

This disadvantage likely will hang over them all season, and they’ll have to learn to live with it or risk being derailed by it.

The growth in the Kings’ talent level over the last few seasons triggered a growth in their payroll and a collision with the unforgiving limit of a hard salary cap that hasn’t grown much since COVID-19 put a dent in the NHL’s revenues. Cap concerns, a suspension to forward Arthur Kaliyev, and an injury that will keep winger Viktor Arvidsson out “a little bit,” according to coach Todd McLellan, meant the Kings dressed only 11 forwards and six defensemen — one skater short of the limit — in addition to two goaltenders for their opener.

Those who made the lineup were under pressure to do their jobs well, and that didn’t always happen. The Kings were scoreless on five power plays covering a full 10 minutes and weren’t getting enough shots through, prime causes of their 5-2 loss to the energetic, opportunistic, shot-blocking Colorado Avalanche.

Worries about waiver rules and the salary cap and whether they’ll be able to put out the best possible lineup each game will be a constant for the Kings. “It’s something that we are learning to deal with,” McLellan said. “This is the difference between where we are and where we’ve been: In the past, we’ve had cap space. We’ve had extra players around. We gave a lot of people an opportunity.

“Now, we’re at the crunch time as we need to evolve and we have to learn to handle different types of ice time, even in practice. There’s a lot that we’ll have to juggle as we go along but we’ll get it done.”

They fell behind 3-0 Wednesday before Carl Grundstrom redirected a centering feed from Phillip Danault into the net at 6:18 of the second period. Fans came alive when Quinton Byfield’s attempted pass to Adrian Kempe struck a Colorado player and got past Alexandar Georgiev with 4.6 seconds left in the period to cut Colorado’s lead to 3-2.

But Miko Rantanen’s tip from the slot got past Kings goaltender Cam Talbot and gave Colorado a 4-2 lead early in the third period, and Miles Wood completed the scoring into an empty net.

The Kings weren’t bad. But they weren’t good enough to withstand Rantanen’s two-goal, two-assist performance.

“Maybe things didn’t fall, maybe didn’t bounce our way,” Anze Kopitar said, “but then again, I think we could have done a better job of directing everything more towards the net versus trying to find the perfect play. Obviously the power play was oh-for tonight. We’re going to look to improve that going forward and obviously try and win some games.”

Byfield’s goal was a plus. Long touted as a potential franchise player and given first-line minutes, he hasn’t yet produced first-line numbers. He’s among the youngsters who must step up in order for the Kings to make the kind of postseason noise they believe they can make.

McLellan called Byfield’s performance “maybe his best game as a King.”

“I thought he was all over the ice,” McLellan said. “He looked confident. He made plays, not only offensively but defensively. Nice to see him score a goal for all the hard work he did, but I thought he had a really strong night and something to build on as he goes forward.”

The NHL debut of Alex Laferriere, a 2020 third-round pick who excelled during training camp, was another consolation for the Kings in defeat. He didn’t look out of place alongside veterans Kevin Fiala and Pierre-Luc Dubois, and he won over the home fans when he got into a scrap with Logan O’Connor at 10:54 of the second period. The resulting five-minute fighting major got him on the scoresheet, but he had already won a spot in his coach’s good graces.

“I thought he had a tremendous night. He looked like he’d played in the league for a long time,” McLellan said. “That’s pretty exciting for our organization and for him.”

Laferriere, a New Jersey native who played two seasons of college hockey at Harvard, took the traditional solo lap during warmups before his debut. After some initial butterflies, he settled in nicely. “Nothing was surprising,” he said. “I’ve watched hockey my whole life but it’s definitely a little faster up close.”

McLellan said after the game he wasn’t sure if he’d have the team skate Thursday or merely watch video and instead practice Friday in advance of their game against Carolina at home Saturday. “We’ll have a plan,” he said. They’ll need smart, careful plans all season to overcome their built-in disadvantages.

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