The Kings were arguably the hottest team to start the season, storming out to a 12-3-0 record and looking like a team that took a step toward being elite. Yet, after winning their first 4 games in November, the Kings have lost 6 of 7 and have slipped out of the top-8 in the West. Their once sterling record is now a decent 13-9-0. The Kings currently sit 3rd in the Pacific Division.
Obviously, it’s still early in the season. Rich Hammond posted a quote from Terry Murray that held onto a positive tone, saying if it’s that easy to slip out of the top-8, it can just as easily swing the other direction. However, it’s hard to see the positives when things are in such a slide.
Still, 22 games into the season and we have an idea of what is working for the Kings and what is not. Let’s take a look.
-The Penalty Kill. The Kings have one of the best kills in the league and the best kill at home. Kings fans have yet to witness a power play goal against at Staples Center this season, which certainly contributes to the 8-2-0 record at home. When Willie Mitchell returns it should bolster the PK unit even more. The Kings will need to rely on this strength to keep them in games as long as their other special teams unit remains so poor… more on that later…
-Jonathan Quick. Quick has taken a firm grip of the Kings’ starter position and sports some impressive numbers; 1.91 GAA, .930 save %, 11-4-0 record. Most of all, Quick showed he can improve from last season, shoring up his rebound control and economy of movement. The question is; with the Kings backup goaltender playing so poorly, will Quick be overplayed again this season?
-The 2nd Line. Ryan Smyth, Jarret Stoll, and Justin Williams have been the Kings best combo so far this season. The trio have combined for 53 points in 22 games. Justin Williams is the team leader in goals and points. The line has done so well that Coach Terry Murray has refused to break it up, despite the problems with the first line. If the Kings can create other lines as successful at their roles as the 2nd line, they’ll be in good shape.
What’s Not Working:
-The Power Play. the Kings don’t have the worst power play in the league, but it’s not very good. Everything seems to be deliberate, slow, and telegraphed. Passes as obvious, shots are obvious, and gaining the zone is a chore. Kopitar owned the right circle last season, firing from that spot to score or to set up juicy rebounds. Either the opposition has learned that or Kopitar just isn’t getting the same looks that he was last season. With such a talented bunch on both the blue line and up front, it’s vexing that their power play is so miserable.
-Jonathan Bernier. It seemed like everyone, including myself, was prepared for Quick to falter and Bernier to step in and take over as starter. After all, Bernier was the future Kings keeper from the time he was drafted. He went on to have a great junior career, a great AHL showing, and a stellar step-in last season. However, whatever mojo Bernier had last season has evaporated and his numbers don’t look great. Bernier has won 2 games and lost 5. While he is positionally sound, Bernier seems to offer up too many rebounds and hasn’t been strong playing the puck. Of course Bernier needs more support in front of him, but he’ll need to up his game if he wants to help this team return to the post-season, let alone challenge for starter.
-The 1st Line. Kopitar has been fine. He’s nearly a point per game and he is a plus player. Brown has acquitted himself well too. Many were skeptical of Brown’s return to Kopitar’s wing, but his plus-8 and 9 goals in 22 games is impressive indeed. The problem is the gaping void on the left wing. 7 or so players have been test at left wing and none were terribly convincing. The best would be Scott Parse who managed 4 points in 5 games before he left due to injury, again.
The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the Kings have to fill another left wing void on the 3rd line due to Ponikarovsky’s injury. Dustin Brown was tested at left wing against the Hawks and Wayne Simmonds was moved to 1st line right wing. The move wasn’t instant success, but it wasn’t a terrible failure either. If I were to guess, I would think they would get another shot before the Kings try plan #8 or 9. What that plan is, I don’t know, but I can’t imagine this going on much longer before Lombardi steps in and makes a move. Speculation is that Brayden Schenn is being kept around to be dealt for a top line left winger. I personally doubt that is the case, but with the way things are going, something’s got to give.
The Kings head into unfriendly territory tonight, facing off against the Ducks @ Anaheim. Puck drops at 7pm PT.
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