Yes, I know it’s early, and drawing any conclusions from what we are seeing is a fool’s errand, but I just want to make a few observations.
Is it just me, or has Jack Johnson become a true number one defenseman? I swear, the guy skates as well as Doughty, is a terror with the puck on his stick and makes big plays when it counts. He is even a +6 in a statistic that has always shown him in a less than flattering light. Doughty holding out and then getting injured may have been the best thing to happen to the Kings as it has allowed Johnson to emerge. As in the Olympics, Jack seems to play his best when the pressure is on his shoulders. Teams become champions because players rise up to another level. So far this season, no one has taken greater strides than Johnson.
When Philadelphia traded Richards and Carter the same day, the Flyer fans had an informal poll on one of their team boards as to who would be missed more. It wasn’t even close with Richards coming out far ahead. Now, Kings’ fans are seeing why. Not only is Richards scoring at a point per game pace, he is also being regularly matched up against the opposition’s top line. As importantly, Mike seems to do all the ‘little things’ that are mostly unnoticed yet are keys to victory such always being in the passing lanes and blocking shots. I can’t help but feel that getting this guy at age 26 with a favorable contract to boot may turn out to be quite a steal. Brayden who?
How long will it be before Alec Martinez is traded? I am not going to criticize his play although he has not stood out like he did last season. But, let’s be honest, Slava Voynov needs to play every night. With Voynov, Doughty and Johnson, the Kings will have three scary puck moving defencemen to match with stoppers Mitchell, Scuderi and Greene. Plus, the team will have an even complement of right and left-handed shooters. I don’t know if any team in the NHL is as strong on the blue line. Since Martinez can’t be sent down without exposing him to waivers, a trade for a draft pick seems likely.
On the downside, what the heck is the matter with Dustin Penner? I swear, the guy looks like he wants to be lying on a beach sipping a Mai Tai rather than playing hockey. Everyone has different things that motivate them in life. For most players it is the thrill of victory and the dollars. Perhaps, Penner has enough of the latter and his one Cup with the Ducks satisfies his need for the former. If you can’t be motivated in a contract year playing for a team with a legitimate chance to win a championship (yes, I just said that), maybe it’s time to find something else to do. Just remember. Dustin, there aren’t a hell of a lot of jobs out there for guys without an education to make millions of dollars a year. And, you aren’t getting any younger so the window to do so is rapidly closing. It’s high time to get your shit together. Kyle Clifford is doing everything he can to take your job, and, in my opinion, deserves a shot if you still haven’t scored a goal by your 10th game.
Finally, I must point out the dismal attendance at some games this season. The crowds we saw at Dallas and Phoenix were below 9,000, and New Jersey was not much better. Particularly disappointing was Dallas, a franchise that used to sell out every game with a young, exciting team playing well. Yes, I know Texas was in the World Series last night (what a classic game), but now we know why the Stars are bankrupt. With Hockey’s TV ratings improving and a new television deal, the sport’s future may be brighter than ever, but one wonders if there are 30 legitimate markets in North America. It is too bad the trip across the Atlantic is so grueling because the NHL likely has a future in Europe. But, that is a story best left for another day. In the meantime, we can all celebrate an awesome start to the season and dream what may be possible in May and June.