The St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings each have three games remaining in the regular season, but that’s where the parallels end heading into the teams’ final meeting on Monday night in Los Angeles.
The Blues (24-20-9, 57 points) clinched fourth place in the West Division on Friday, sending them to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the ninth time in the past 10 seasons.
The Kings, meanwhile, were officially eliminated from postseason contention last week, leaving them home from the playoffs for a third straight season. Los Angeles (21-26-6, 48 points) has one playoff victory since winning its second Stanley Cup title in three years in 2014.
St. Louis coach Craig Berube is faced with the task of deciding how much ice time to give his regulars in the final three games. He won’t be asking their advice, however.
“If I let my players decide it, they won’t want a night off,” Berube said. “They’ll want to play the rest of the games, the rest of the season. It’s tough to let those players make that decision. I think, at times, you’ve got to make it for them. They’re hockey players, they want to play the games.”
Tyler Bozak is one of eight regulars for St. Louis who is age 30 and over. Even though his legs probably could use some extra down time before the playoffs, the 35-year-old cautioned about losing momentum.
“We’ve still got to keep building,” he said. “I know we clinched, but these last however many games we have are important to keep our good habits, keep building our game and go into the playoffs on a strong note.”
Kings coach Todd McLellan said he doesn’t plan to give any players time off, either.
In fact, he plans to use the final three games to evaluate his team, top to bottom.
“We’re looking for the character part, and that is as important right now, at this time of the year, as structure, passing, skills, all those types of things,” he said. “We’ll probably remember the last five games a lot more than we’ll remember the first five, so without putting pressure on a whole bunch of players, that’s just how it is.”
McLellan asked his players to focus on their forecheck on Saturday night against the visiting Colorado Avalanche, and they executed it well in a 3-2 loss.
He said he wants to focus on other areas in the coming games, such as special teams and 5-on-5 play.
“There’s some targets that we need to hit,” McLellan said. “Goals that we want to achieve down the stretch.”
McLellan said much of the attention will be on the younger players, but now’s not the time for the veterans to have a relaxed approach, either.
“Next year, another crop comes in and it challenges,” he said. “Attrition is a good thing for every team in the league, and we’re getting younger and we’re moving forward. If you’re not along for the ride, if you’re not getting better, we’re going past you. A great challenge for some of the guys that have been here for a little while, keep your job.”
–Field Level Media