ROYAL REPORT CARD, PART IV: TEAM PERFORMANCE, COACHES AND MANAGEMENT
Harry Halkidis brings you part IV of his Royal Report Card. The final chapter concludes with an overall team assessment of the Kings’ offense, defense, special teams, coaches, and management.
Team Offense (C): Only five other NHL clubs averaged less goals than the Kings, with all five of those clubs failing to qualify for the playoffs, making the Kings to lowest scoring playoff team in 2011 with the team scoring an average of 2.55 goals per game. Mysteriously, the Kings’ goals per game average improved in their the six game series loss against the San Jose Sharks, despite the loss of Kopitar.
Although the Kings had five skaters score 20 or more goals, only three others scored 10 or more goals. At even strength, the Kings’ offense did not improve much, as they scored three more goals than the 145 even strength goals the team netted in 2009-10. During the offseason, Terry Murray and Dean Lombardi discussed the importance of improving the Kings’ offense, but the team did not deliver offensively, whether it be at even strength or with the man-advantage.
The Kings are a team that is lacking in foot speed, but their inability to connect with tape-to-tape passes negates the team from building up speed in zone entries and offensive rushes. The strategy the team mostly employs is generating shots from the point while creating traffic in front of the net. Most of their play with the puck is kept along the outside boards with the team being dependent on a cycle.
The anemic offense was the Kings’ Achilles heel and will remain a hot topic during the offseason. What will the Kings do to improve their offense? Can the team’s goal scoring woes be improved internally? Or will Dean Lombardi have to shop aggressively for the ever elusive impact player who is capable of generating offense? These questions have been lingering the Kings over the past three seasons and it is a significant organizational concern that has yet to be addressed.
Team Defense (A): During the regular season, the Kings were one of the stingiest teams throughout the league, possessing the sixth best goals against average per game along with the third best shots against average per game. The Kings’ blueline and goaltending were the driving forces behind the team’s strong defensive play, but the Kings’ forwards also provided a lot of support, with Kopitar, Stoll and Handzus all being well rounded, two-way centers.
Oddly enough, the Kings’ defense became problematic during the playoffs when it did a complete 180 and allowed 3.33 goals per game against San Jose and surrendered an alarmingly high 38.2 shots against per game. This display of sloppy play was uncharacteristic of a defensive-oriented team. A lack of composure and mental toughness could be attributed to the team’s complete defensive meltdown and collapse in the first round.
Power Play (C): The Kings went from having the seventh best power play unit in 2009-10 (with a 20.8-percent success rate) to having the 10th worst power play in 2010-11 (with a 16.1-percent conversion rate). What caused the Kings to go from having one of the best power play units to one of the worst? They became too predictable. A lack of puck movement and their insistence to generate point shots led to many failed power play opportunities for the Kings.
A majority of the Kings’ power play time was belabored by their inability to enter the offensive zone with the puck. With the man-advantage, the Kings would often struggle to gain the blueline, thus forcing the team to employ a dump and chase strategy. Once the team settled down and gained possession of the puck inside the offensive zone, they would constantly move the puck in a strict pattern.
The lack of movement and stationary positioning on the power play was easily scouted by opposing teams. With the man-advantage, the Kings would have two forwards and two defensemen form a semi-circle formation along the perimeter. The playmaking forward would be stationed along the half-wall, atop the offensive zone faceoff circle. Another forward would be positioned below the same offensive zone faceoff circle, with the third forward while setting up shop in front of the net as the screen. Their go-to strategy was to get the puck the point shot through, but this strategy was scouted well by opposing teams and it eliminated LA’s biggest threat on the power play.
During the playoffs, the Kings’ power play improved to 20.8-percent, as Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty led the power play with five combined points. The Kings need more creativity and movement and must attempt to get shots through the middle of the ice. Teams are more aware of what Doughty and Johnson are capable of and they are going to zero in on them to take away their shots.
For the power play to improve, the Kings must stray from working the puck along the outside perimeter and attempt to make more lateral, cross-ice passes. If the Kings generate more movement and penetrate the middle of the ice, it is possible for the team to improve its quality of shots and scoring opportunities with the man-advantage. The Kings need to utilize all five players on the ice rather than relying on three or four players to do all the work.
Penalty Killing (A): The Kings’ penalty killing improved drastically last season. In 2009-10, the Kings’ penalty killing unit was ranked 20th (80.3-percent). This season, the Kings had one of the best penalty killing units, killing 85.5-percent of their penalties, and fourth best in the NHL.
The emphasis on defense by the coaching staff along with the addition of Willie Mitchell were critical to the improvement of the penalty killing unit as Mitchell led all Kings players in shorthanded ice time. The penalty killing also gained a lot of support from the forwards as their active sticks clogged passing lanes and reduced options for the opposition’s power play unit.
There is an old saying that the goaltender is a team’s best penalty killer, and the last line of defense is the goaltender. The performance from the Kings’ duo of Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier proved to be one of the best in the NHL, which is another reason why the Kings’ penalty killing saw a significant improvement in its performance.
Coaches (B): The Kings saw some slight improvements and had moments throughout the season where they appeared to be transitioning into one of the upper echelon clubs within the Pacific Division and Western Conference. However, the inconsistent performance of the team coupled with the inept power play held the team back from advancing further.
In November, the team went through an eight game stretch where they won one and lost seven in regulation. Then in late December through January, the Kings went through a twelve game stretch in which they won only two games and lost 10 in regulation. At that point of the season, the team had played its way out of a playoff spot, but the team took control of its fate and went on an 11-game streak of eight wins and no regulation losses.
The biggest critique of the current coaching staff is that they constantly shuffled players and found no stability from their offensive lines. It was the lack of consistency that resulted in the constant line shuffling. The one position that remained fairly consistent throughout the season was on defense as Terry Murray and his staff usually kept the same pairings together for most of the season. Up front was another story as the Kings went through many changes in order to find consistent offense. Anze Kopitar had a new left wing audition for him every other week. The coaches and players have to find the right chemistry to get the offense and power play clicking.
While the players are ultimately the ones responsible for what happens on the ice, the coach’s share of responsibility comes in the direction they give the players. If the players fail to execute, it is the coaching staff’s responsibility to revise their strategy or to make changes that will benefit the team and place players in a position where they will help the team. But did the Kings get the best results from their players? At certain points of the season they did, but the overall, this Kings team was capable of accomplishing more than what they achieved this season.
Management (B): The summer of 2010 will forever be remembered by Kings fans for the drama stirred by Kovalchuk’s decision of where to sign. His options seemed to be limited to two destinations; Los Angeles or New Jersey. Kovalchuk followed the dollars that Kings management was reluctant to offer, and rightfully so. However, the amount of time Kings management dedicated to a player whose top priority was to have the richest contract in the NHL prevented the organization from being proactive in pursuing other options on offense. For the past three seasons, Dean Lombardi has been shopping for a capable goal scorer to play with Kopitar. Unfortunately, the market has been dry of any goal scorers, and the best option and opportunity the Kings had to land one was too rich for their liking. The dry market for goal scorers was prevalent at this year’s trade deadline, as the biggest name to be dealt on deadline day turned out to be Dustin Penner. Although Penner appeared to click with Kopitar and Williams on the top scoring line, he contributed little after his first seven games with the Kings.
Lombardi’s most significant transaction was to sign Willie Mitchell to a two-year deal, beating out a number of other attractive teams to lure Mitchell to sign with the Kings. While Lombardi has had an eye for acquiring the right defensemen, he has yet to find that right forward who is going to help provide some much needed offense.
The biggest strength that the current management regime possesses is its ability to draft and develop players. Their ability to compile a number of assets will help the organization to make trades without sacrificing any of their core players from the roster.
The Kings face a big challenge heading into the summer and Dean Lombardi has limited options to consider in terms of adding impact players. The most significant name on the free agent market this summer will be Brad Richards, but will the Kings be prepared to enter into a bidding war against Dallas, New York and Toronto, who are all rumored to be in the hunt for Richards? Will Lombardi pursue Zach Parise, who is due to become a restricted free agent? Will New Jersey even consider trading Zach Parise due to cap implications, and will they be able to afford to re-sign Parise? Or will Lombardi make another attempt to trade for Ales Hemsky who has one year remaining on his contract?
These are all questions on the minds of Kings fans as they wait with anticipation to see what Dean Lombardi will do to improve the Kings in 2011-12.
OVERALL GRADE (B)