Summer is almost here.
On Monday night at Staples Center, the visiting St. Louis Blues downed the Kings 2-1 in overtime, bringing a close to the home portion of LA’s 2021 season. All that remains on the schedule are two games in Colorado later this week. Quinton Byfield will be taking a taxi back to AHL Ontario in the coming hours, while Anze Kopitar and his squad head off to the Rocky Mountains.
After the final horn on Monday, McLellan had this to share:
On if he liked how the team played defensively, particularly in the first two periods
I did. We were, for the most part, responsible. Broke the puck out of our end quite well tonight, which was a good thing. The first goal they scored on, we missed on a back-check that we should have picked somebody up. Other than that, there weren’t a lot of mistakes defensively. In overtime, a puck jumped over [Adrian] Kempe’s stick and they took advantage of it. Defensively, fairly satisfied with the game. Offensively, for a team that really has to work hard to score, we got cute. We wanted to make plays when we should have been shooting the puck and it probably cost us a game. When we play direct, when we play north-south, when we play to the paint, we have a better chance of winning. When we play east-west, we play through the slot from one side of the other, I don’t think it favors our team. We’re still trying to figure that out and eventually we’ll get it.
On how the team was able to limit shots throughout the game
We broke the puck out fairly well tonight — our neutral zone set-up, our breakouts, and we were able to come out of our zone. We weren’t under siege for very many shifts and, therefore, they didn’t get that shoot-and-get-it-back mentality. St. Louis isn’t a volume shooting team to begin with, they like to hold on to the puck and set up for one really good shot, and we defended well against it. The big part was the breakout part, we’ve been stressing that here lately working into position and moving the puck quick enough. We did a good job and that helped us with our defensive play.
On what it meant to him to have fans back in the building
For us, as an organization, it meant a lot. A messed up year for everybody outside of sports, but for us in particular here, with hockey having to play in front of empty buildings and empty arenas over and over again, finally getting people back into the building made a huge difference. You could feel the energy. As the days went on, our fanbase seemed to grow, or else it became more active in the games. Maybe we gave them more to cheer about. The last game, we could really feel it, and tonight it grew even more. I thank our fans for showing up, I wish them a healthy summer, and hopefully when we get back in here, we’ll have 20,000 people on Opening Night and it just feels incredibly different, because that lift that they can give us, we’ve missed for a long time.
On the pressure that a late-game penalty can put on a team
We took a penalty late and it put some stress on our penalty killers. Their power play has been one of the best in the league over the last two months. We did a good job of killing that penalty. It did put stress on our team. We don’t want to be in that situation, but our killers did a good job. A lot of blocked shots tonight in that situation and we kept a really good power play off the board, which gives us a chance to win. It’s been that way all year.
On his confidence in the progression of the team’s offense as they develop more goal-scorers
We have work to do. We have to sit down and evaluate the players that we have here. I know they’re not all gonna be back. We have to go out and recruit and find some other players that can help us. We have a lot of work to do still. We have to keep the veteran players, [Jonathan Quick] and [Dustin Brown] haven’t been playing in these games because of injury, but we have to keep them at a high level and get them back there when the season starts next year. Our younger players that have been in the league now for a year or two must show improvement, they have to begin to carry more of the load both offensively, defensively, and game management. It’s a must that they graduate and move on to the next level, breakthrough. That’ll be a big challenge for us, as a team. If we get that breakthrough and we augment the team a little bit with some players, then we’ll be okay. If we don’t get the push through, and to the next level, from a lot of players, it’ll take us more time. We need it from them, and they’ll be directed that way heading into the summer.
Postgame comments from Gabe Vilardi can be found here.
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