Alex Iafallo’s goal production halted as abruptly and completely as if someone had twisted a faucet and jammed it in the “off” position.
He had enjoyed a solid start on the left side on the Kings’ top line, scoring six goals and 13 points in his first 13 games, but his success didn’t last. He went seven games without a goal, scored three goals in two games, and then went scoreless in eight games. He had 13 goals at the halfway point of the season and scored another three games later, leaving him primed to easily surpass the career-best 17 goals he had scored in the 2019-20 season.
And then … nothing. Zero. Zilch. He couldn’t put the puck in the ocean if he were standing at the end of the Santa Monica pier.
Iafallo went an unfathomable 23 games without scoring a goal, eventually dropping off the No. 1 line while trying to rediscover his game. Coach Todd McLellan offered help and encouragement and remained patient because he appreciated that Iafallo wasn’t allowing his scoring woes to drag down his defensive game.
“There’s some scorers in the league that when they’re not scoring, sometimes there’s not much else going on. We believe that when Al wasn’t scoring there was still other things going on that we valued and that his teammates valued,” McLellan said. “He hung on to those traits and eventually found his scoring again.”
Transplanted to the third line with Phillip Danault and Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore for the Kings’ playoff opener against Edmonton on Monday after winger Viktor Arvidsson sat out for undisclosed reasons, Iafallo recorded his first multipoint game since Jan. 13. He contributed a goal and an assist to the Kings’ 4-3 victory at Rogers Place and made the winning goal by Danault possible by intercepting an intended stretch pass by goaltender Mike Smith that triggered a chaotic and decisive sequence in the Oilers’ zone.
Danault can make any winger look good, and he had meshed with Iafallo early in the season. “We have good support, and I feel like he’s always in the right spot. To rekindle that and stay hungry on the forecheck, he’s fun to play with,” Iafallo said of their effectiveness. “I feel like just communication too. It’s what we talk about on the bench and between periods, in every zone too. Just support each other and make the right play.”
But Iafallo, who finished with 17 goals and 37 points in 79 games, also deserves credit for not giving up on himself, in part because he said his teammates never gave up on him while he tried to turn the faucet back on.
“I feel like our team’s very close, so everybody’s kind of pushing each other,” he said Tuesday, after the Kings had practiced in advance of Game 2 on Wednesday night at Rogers Center. “Somebody’s down, everybody kind of chips in and picks everybody up. So that’s what’s really nice about this team this year.”
Iafallo set up the Kings’ first goal, a snap shot by Moore from inside the right circle at the 11-minute mark of the first period, and scored their second goal, taking a nifty backhand pass from Moore and snapping the puck past Smith from his spot near the left post at 16:48 of the first period.
An alert play by Iafallo turned the game in the Kings’ favor. Smith, whose puck-handling skills might not be as good as he thinks, tried to make a pass to Leon Draisaitl, but Iafallo intercepted it and took a shot. Smith made a sprawling save, but Moore pursued the puck and dug it out behind the net. He passed to defenseman Sean Durzi, whose long shot was deflected into the net by Danault at 14:46 of the third period.
“I was just trying to just forecheck, and luckily it popped out to me,” Iafallo said. “I was trying to be above. I thought he was going to rim it [around the boards], so I just kind of went to the middle and luckily I was able to grab it and get a shot off.”
Jonathan Quick took care of the rest, finishing with 36 saves as the Kings — whose lineup included eight players making their postseason debut — outscored Edmonton 4-1 in five-on-five play.
McLellan offered little information on Arvidsson, true to the absurd tradition of being close-mouthed about injuries during the postseason. “Obviously, it’s not a good sign if he’s not on the ice today, but it doesn’t mean he won’t be available for us,” McLellan said. Edmonton coach Jay Woodcroft wouldn’t say whether he will start Smith again in Game 2, though he defended Smith’s puck-handling. “The one play you’re referencing is one he’d like to have back, but it’s a real asset of his,” Woodcroft said.
Iafallo played in three postseason games in 2018 as the Kings were swept by Vegas. They’re a new team, and he has confidence goals will flow again.
“I know we haven’t been here for a while, but our goals stay the same — work as a team and battle it out every shift, every period,” he said. “We’re pumped to be here, and we’re going to keep going.”