21 games down and the Kings are in pretty good position, 4th in the Western Conference. However, as per usual, the West is very tight with just 6 points separating 1st place and 11th place. Though the Kings entered the season with praise from pundits, they haven’t looked quite like the dominant force they’re supposed to be just yet. It could be a chemistry thing with a few new faces and injuries affecting the lineup. It could be a pressure thing with so many sources saying “the time is now” for the Kings. It could be a coach thing…
Offense: Goal scoring for the Kings has been an issue the past few seasons. As of now, 21 teams have scored more goals than the Kings. Depth scoring continues to be a problem for the Kings. Kopitar, Richards and Gagne are all pulling their weigh as far as goal scoring. Williams and Brown, while not setting the world on fire, are providing offense with a few goals and a lot of assists. However, Penner, Parse and Stoll are all coming up short. As for offense from defense, Johnson and Voynov have been the biggest weapons. Doughty’s 7 points in 16 games isn’t bad, but the Kings expect more offense from him. Grade: C-. For the Kings to be considered elite, they have to be more of an offensive threat.
Defense: Unlike the offense, defensively the Kings have been strong the past few seasons. That trend has continued into this season with just 6 teams allowing less goals than the Kings so far. The Kings are a collective plus-4, not great but not bad either. The minus rated players are fairly spread out, with the biggest surprise being Doughty’s minus-2. A minus-2 isn’t something to cry in the corner about, but as with the offense the Kings expect more from him. Jack Johnson has been solid on the back end for the Kings, which the Kings have been waiting for since he entered the league. The biggest minus is Brad Richardson who holds a minus-4. If Doughty returns to form, plus a strong Jack Johnson the Kings will be a defensive powerhouse. Grade: B. They can improve, but even without improvement they’re one of the best defensive teams in the league.
Powerplay: The Kings are middle of the road when it comes to the man-advantage, with 9 teams ahead of them on the powerplay. Their powerplay % is 18.9, which isn’t too shabby. However, if you think of it as they are converting on less than 1 in 5 of their chances, it doesn’t sound so good. Only 3 teams draw more penalties than the Kings, so with an increased conversion rate, the Kings will greatly increase their chances of winning. An improved Doughty will mean an improved powerplay. Oh, and where is Alec Martinez (2 goals, 0 assists in 16 games)? More on that later. Grade: B+. Ticking at this rate, the Kings are just fine but improvement with be another push toward elite status.
Penalty Kill: The Kings are smack in the center, 14th in penalty killing. With just over 82% on the kill, the King score on the powerplay just barely over their kill %. It would probably help if the Kings took less penalties though; they have been short-handed more often than 24 other teams. Most Kings fans won’t have to think twice to come up with big offenders in this category; Moreau and Penner. You might look at the stats and see Clifford and Brown are in the same category, but remember that Clifford has more because he drops the gloves and Brown’s ice-time plus his physical style of play will lead to PIMs. Moreau plays physical but will take unnecessary penalties and Penner, well, he’s Penner. Grade: B. The Kings were stellar on the kill last season. It would be nice for them to get back to that place.
Goaltending: If I told you Jonathan Quick was putting up a .930 save % and 2.08 GAA would you believe it? Quick has been lights-out this season and continues to dominate the Jonathan vs. Jonathan conversation. At this point there isn’t even a question, Quick is the guy. The only thing that could do him in is continued failure in the playoffs, something that is hardly his fault, not to mention is way off in the future. Quick broke the Kings record for consecutive shutouts, notching 3 in a row. As for Bernier, it has been another rocky start, but he seems to have steadied the ship earlier than last season. His save percentage and goals-allowed average leave something to be desired, but he showed up big in last night’s contest with St. Louis. Grade: A. A stellar #1 and a solid backup are a boon to the kings, and honestly, necessary if they continue to struggle on offense.
Coaching: I’m not going to pretend that I know how well Murray is doing in this department. I’m not at practice, I’m not in the dressing room, and I can’t read stoic facial cues. Murray has turned this team into a winner, so I’m not ready to doubt him just yet. However, everyone knows he works a defensive system, which could be why the Kings are offensive underachievers (outside of Kopitar and Richards). Unless the Kings suffer a major collapse, Murray’s job is safe until the playoffs. However, another playoff misstep and we’ll likely see the hook. Grade: B. As I’ve said repeatedly, the Kings have yet to get over the hump into elite status. If Terry Murray isn’t the driving force, Lombardi will have to find a new driver.
Management: Not really much to assess here except for off season acquisitions. Who knows where this team would be without Mike Richards. Penner has been a disaster, Hunter has been fine as a role player, Moreau provides some grit and experience, and Fraser provides some gristle as well. Grade: B+. The big one here is Richards. The little pieces here and there aren’t what concerns me. From my perspective, Lombardi is taking the steps needed to make this team a top contender and so far I approve of more of his moves than naught.
Team Goat: Without a doubt it’s Penner. He just hasn’t done anything to impress really. I don’t know what he was doing in Edmonton that worked for him, but he just can’t find his groove in L.A. and I don’t blame the team. He’s got to step up or else he’s going to join the ranks of overpaid NHLers in the minors.
Best Player So Far: I’d say it’s a dead heat between Kopitar, Richards, and Quick. Kopitar is on the verge of elite status, Richards is a special teams threat and a face-off maniac, and Quick has been top-notch between the pipes.
Biggest Surprise: Slava Voynov. When Doughty went down to injury for a few games, Slava stepped up in a big way. He’s making the case to stay with the big club, which would mean Martinez would likely be out.
Season Outlook: The keyword today is “elite.” If the Kings continue to play as they have so far this season they will probably be in the same boat as the last two seasons; a low seed in the playoffs and a first round exit. However, if they find that extra gear, they can really add the Kings to the list of legitimate contenders.
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