I said earlier the Kings have some questions surrounding them heading into this season. It was only one game, but the answers to those questions are a little bit clearer after a 2-1 shootout victory against Vancouver.
Let’s take a look at those questions and what has developed after the Kings’ first win of the season:
1. Can the kids hang? It was only one game, but so far the answer is ‘yes.’ On defense, Muzzin wasn’t very noticeable, in a good way. He never had his youth and inexperience taken advantage of and he made solid, safe, and intelligent plays. On the 4th line, Westgarth did an excellent job of bringing some bite and physicality without taking penalties. Clifford drew a penalty (albeit a hit to the head) and was a part of the 4th line that wasn’t victimized, nor was it limited to playing in the defensive zone. As for Schenn, he took advantage of a great opportunity. With Kopitar in the locker room to get stitches after being cut with a follow-through, Schenn stepped in and showed he can play with the big boys. He logged time on the top power play unit and had at least one impressive drive to the net. If he keeps playing like he did tonight the points will come.
2. How much scoring support will Kopitar have? I guess the question itself is a bit presumptuous, that Kopitar will without question be a scoring force. Assuming he is, a 2-1 win in a shootout isn’t the greatest indicator of how scoring support will be. A low scoring affair is not a surprise when you’re playing one of the best goaltenders in the league and a seriously stacked defense corps. However, the guy I brought up in the earlier post was the guy to get the tally. Despite injuries and not having the biggest stature, Justin Williams parked himself in front of the net and notched himself a power play goal on the second unit. Williams was very active and had another grade-A chance in the slot that Luongo managed to get a piece of. If they continue to play this way, the goals will come for the Kings.
3. Is 5-on-5 scoring improved? Well, like I said before, it’s hard to tell after such a low scoring affair. However, it looks promising considering the caliber of talent the Kings were up against and the way that the Kings went to the net. Yet, if I was a betting man, I would bet the Kings will have another scoring winger before the end of the season.
4. Is this Jack Johnson’s year? I’m not big on predictions, but if I were to go out on a limb I would say yes. Based on his play tonight, he looked like a defenseman who is comfortable in his style of play and confident in his teammates. Being paired with Scuderi will give Johnson more opportunities to join the rush, which he did successfully and at the right times tonight. His skating is really strong and his power play abilities are right up there. Johnson scored in the shootout, showing he’s an offensive threat, but it’s his improved defensive play that really stands out. His decision making and positioning is much improved.
5. Will Quick hold onto the job? After his late season flop last year Quick lost a lot of supporters. Those people need to remember that last season was his first full season as a starter. Not to mention that Quick is just 24 years old. His play tonight, as it was during the pre-season, indicates he has improved in his areas of weakness and become a better goaltender. It’s easy to see why Terry Murray would say ad nauseum that Quick is the guy. His rebound control is much improved, he seems more confident in his vision, and his positioning is better. He doesn’t appear to be fighting the puck, nor did he end up on the seat of his pants like he would so often last season. Quick is a better goaltender. His two stops in the shootout showed strong positioning, flexibility, and great anticipation.
Some new questions:
1. Will Poni find his groove? Ponikarovsky had a rough first game. He took 3 minor penalties, including the one that led to Vancouver’s goal. He did make up for it by drawing a penalty later in the period, but he has some edges to smooth out. Other than those mistakes, he has the look of a guy that can contribute to both depth scoring and shutdown defensive play. However, if he is going to be a part of a solid shutdown line along with Handzus and Simmonds, he has to limit the penalties.
2. Is 5-on-5 scoring improved? So, not a new question, but one that still begs to be answered. The Kings came up blanks 5-on-5 (as did Vancouver). If there is an observation to be made after this game, it’s that the Kings need to take more shots. While 26 shots in regulation isn’t terrible, it isn’t great. There were at least half a dozen instances in which one too many passes were made (this was so evident that I could clearly read Handzus’ lips after a failed play saying “I should have shot” to Wayne Simmonds). The Kings aren’t a team of super skilled finesse guys, they have plenty of big bodies to take to the net though. If they put those pucks on net and crash the crease, the result will be goals. The Kings average height is around 6’2″ for forwards.
-Kopitar did return to the game with a serious stitched up upper lip and a missing tooth. The injury didn’t prevent him from beating Luongo in the shootout, then calling Sean O’Donnell old in his post game interview (in jest, of course).
-The Canucks are a very tough opponent and coming out on top bodes very well for the Kings. It’s the type of confidence boost that can tell a team they aren’t pretenders, they’re the real deal. The first game isn’t the world, nor is a win or loss, but it’s a good way to start.
-The throwback jerseys look awesome and I wouldn’t bat an eyelash if the Kings threw their current primary jersey in the scrap heap and adopted the old school forum blue and gold for good. I know it won’t happen, but I can dream…
-With Brayden Schenn’s strong play in tonight’s game, coupled with Terry Murray’s propensity to juggle lines, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Richardson and Schenn swap places at some time in the future. It’s in Schenn’s best interest to see top-6 minutes since that is where his future lies. Richardson, although a valuable asset and versatile player, projects lower than Schenn and playing him on the 4th line wouldn’t be squandering his talent.
-In terms of centers, the Kings have Kopitar, Stoll, Handzus, Schenn, Richardson, Loktionov, Lewis, and Moller. It’s reasonable to think that their depth at center and need for a scoring winger will work itself out over the course of the season. Kopitar is the undisputed #1 and Handzus has the 3rd line job well in hand. That leaves Stoll, Schenn, Loktionov, Richardson, and Moller who are all capable of top-9, possibly top-6 minutes. Based solely on deductive reasoning, one might think Moller could be the odd man out by virtue of his high value as a future top-6 player and his position on the depth chart below Schenn and Loktionov.
-The Kings won 30 and lost 26 faceoffs tonight. It was an area I pointed out that needed improvement in the preseason and obviously the Kings have stepped up. 3 of the Kings 4 centers had losing percentages, but Jarret Stoll was 9 for 11 or just over %81.
The Kings play again on Sunday at 5pm PT in Calgary. No word yet on whether Murray will give Bernier a shot, but Tuesday in Atlanta is a better bet for the youngster’s first start of the year. Update 11:48pm PT: According to Rich Hammond over at L.A. Kings Insider, Bernier will get the nod in goal tomorrow night.
About the Author
Written by Eric Cooney
Eric Cooney was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He shares his thoughts on the NHL as one man who is a northerner, southerner, east coaster, and west coaster. Follow him on Twitter @EricCooney