The debut of Carl Grundstrom was all that needed to be talked about in another Kings loss.
The former and the latter are actually good for the Kings. They wish for Grundstrom to be a valuable return piece, considering they gave up arguably their best defenseman this season, Jake Muzzin, for him in the January transaction. The loss to Arizona continues to give the Kings, in theory, better odds at securing the top pick in June’s draft.
The 4-2 loss to the Coyotes was the Kings’ 13th defeat in 14 games. The Kings showed admirable fight in the third period but ultimately succumbed to another Western Conference team pushing for the postseason. However, this has long been about preparing for the future, even if Saturday was a painful reminder of the present.
Here’s what we learned
The Swedish connection is promising. Grundstrom was reunited with Adrian Kempe on the third line. Kempe said the two were linemates briefly for famed MODO Ornskoldsvik in Sweden, and it will be interesting to see if they can rekindle chemistry with Kempe at center and Grundstrom on his left wing.
“He’s got a lot of skill and he plays very hard, and you could see that tonight,” said Kempe, who scored his 11th goal on a drive to the net.
Grundstrom is at least getting ample opportunity. Coach Willie Desjardins played him more than 13 minutes, much more than what Matt Luff saw in his last stay with the Kings.
“He played simple and hard,” Kempe said, “and that’s what we need from him.”
Grundstrom is the 19th Kings player to score a goal in his NHL debut and the first since Tanner Pearson in November 2013 against the New York Islanders. (Pearson’s actual first NHL game was in the 2013 playoffs, but postseason records are separate from the regular season.)
Jack Campbell showed no rust. In his first start since Feb.25, Campbell turned aside 14 shots in the second period to keep the score 2-1. One of those was a jaw-dropping left leg stop on Clayton Keller.
Campbell could be seen cursing to himself after a shorthanded goal by Michael Grabner, but Campbell couldn’t be blamed when he faced a two-on-one in which Drew Doughty went to take away the pass and Grabner took advantage of the open options.
It doesn’t need to be underlined further, but it’s alarming to think where the Kings would be without their goaltending. Campbell is tied for fifth in the NHL with a .924 save percentage and is seventh with 2.32 goals-against average, mostly in backup duty to Jonathan Quick. If this is a time for the Kings’ forwards and defensemen to state their cases for next year, Campbell is making a statement in goal.
This is still a chippy rivalry. The Coyotes might not be considered the Kings’ biggest foes, but they do have history. The Kings eliminated Arizona in the 2012 Western Conference Final, and the Coyotes have always seemed to give the Kings fits at Gila River Arena.
The bad blood surfaced Saturday when Nick Cousins was penalized for an illegal check to the head on Kyle Clifford, an uncomfortable-looking play near the boards that spurred Clifford to cross check a prone Cousins. Both were penalized. There were also the occasional post-whistle scrums.
Proximity plays a part in the rivalry. Kings fans don’t mind traveling to Glendale, particularly during baseball’s spring training, and they made themselves heard with chants of “Go Kings Go!” here and there, to the derision of Coyotes fans.
Arizona will have the last laugh, though, if it makes the postseason. Its win Saturday was its sixth in a seven-game run at home, reportedly the most ever for the club in a single home stand.