Hockey emulates life. Positive and forward momentum often wins games. Against the Sabres, Luke Adams’ goals within 3 minutes built an energy the L.A. Kings never reversed. In the previous game against the Rangers, the first period domination dictated the match’s pace and, even though the game went into overtime, the L.A. Kings never surrendered control. Just like life, if you build that positive and forward momentum, its force carries you through the unexpected turns and bumps.
In two games, I saw an encouraging rhythm. I saw a team that played with confidence, that managed its time on the ice well and, even in the game two loss, never surrendered.
What stood out? A team that looked faster. I don’t refer to skating speed but decisions with the puck. Once in the zone, the passes were quicker and tape to tape, what last season was a glaring weakness in many games.
Though, as an inclusive offensive system, I begrudge the shot mentality approach as short-sighted and outdated, the Kings didn’t rely on it within a vacuum. The forwards held the puck long enough to draw defenders and find the open man. There is tremendous room for improvement within this area but Terry Murray’s structure invariably places a low ceiling on same.
Mike Richards and Simon Gagne are dangerous each time they are on the ice. Both bring a sound defensive game and, on offense, each is willing to drive to the net. Richards especially wants the puck on his stick and, when received, has a one track shooting mind from the high percentage scoring areas. Last season, Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams were it in this regard.
Anze Kopitar has freedom to roam. Though it was frustrating as all hell watching Terry Murray sometimes unwilling to match lines against the Sabres to maximize Kopitar’s ice time against Buffalo’s lesser lines, this problem sometimes took care of itself because the Sabres were forced to make adjustments due to the skill set on the second line. In other words, unlike last season, “shut down Kopitar” wasn’t enough. Consider how this will pay dividends throughout the season.
Defensively, game two was out of character. While some credit goes to the Sabres’ relentless attack, they had puck luck on their side. It was frustrating to watch the bouncing biscuit land right on their sticks and by ours.
The powerplay? This is a team built to score with the man advantage. I have hope (one that, for now, springs eternal) our coaching staff has to eventually open its collective eyes and recognize the powerplay needs a balanced attack – imagine the consistency if our wingers looked for the lateral pass to the center at the dots or to a defenseman below the top of the circle, for the one time shot. Goals have to come from high percentage areas as much as they do from the good fortune of shots that find their way through sticks and bodies. Will this happen? It has to.
Forward progress. This is a better team. It’s ready for better things. We have transitioned from a group of players with potential, to a team with the skill set, confidence and character to contend for the Cup.