I consider the first 20 games a good measure for what the season may hold. The NHL schedule is 1/4 fulfilled, teams have seen enough home and road games, leaders have risen to the occasion or failed to do so, offseason acquisitions and rookies with “potential” have shown sufficient merit or lack thereof and the team’s personnel “needs” have gained clarity. While the cliché “it’s a long season” applies, games 1 – 20 offers a fair opportunity to evaluate team performance and projections.
The LA Kings sit at 10-7-3 (23 points), 6th in the Western Conference and 3rd in the division behind San Jose and Phoenix who share the same 23 point total but have 3 and 2 games in hand, respectively. Minnesota and Chicago lead the Conference with 27 points. Anaheim Ducks and Columbus Blue Jackets and their rapidly diminishing fan base bring up the rear.
The Kings’ season has seen three streaks – a 4 game win, a 5 game loss followed by a 3 game win.
Our offense continues to languish at 2.40 goals per game although that is an improvement over October. Our goals against is still in the top 10 (7th) at 2.30. Two unexpected surprises are the powerplay at 19% (9th in the league) while the L.A. Kings’ normally top PK has struggled at 81.2% (16th). I don’t have the numbers but I question how many of those PK goals against are surrendered by our second kill unit. As for the powerplay, at the risk of bringing rhyme to this article, Ethan Moreau must go.
Let’s look at a few categories
Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards. This 1-2 punch at center has met expectations. Mike Richards, captain hustle, is exactly as advertised. Skilled, hard-working, chalk full of leadership by action and fiercely competitive. Before his arrival, I was a little surprised how near iconic he had become in Philadelphia at such a young age. I kept waiting for the horrible surprise to come along. We gave up a lot for him in Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. To date, Mike Richards has shown himself worth the cost.
Anze Kopitar (pbuh) is simply a hockey God. When I started the Kopitarian Faith his rookie season, I knew he would live up to the deity status which, even back then, was self-evident. 5 on 5, powerplay, penalty kill, score, shut down, play physical, open it up, doesn’t matter. He not only rises to the occasion, he exemplifies each and every one. He is also 6th in the NHL in scoring with 23 points, tied with Marian Hossa. The fact I see Joffrey Lupul’s name ahead of Kopitar annoys me to a frightening level.
As for Jonathan Quick, it’s his net. Our brilliant coach, Terry Murray, has apparently decided that he is riding Quick until he breaks. Stupid? Pretty much and willfully so given the lesson that should have been learned two seasons ago. At this pace, Quick will play 70 games. Perhaps Murray is saving the month of December for all Bernier, all the time.
1. 5 on 5 production but, then again, Terry Murray still coaches this team. If it wasn’t for the powerplay (shocked I am even writing that), we may find ourselves near the bottom of the standings.
2. Dustin Penner. At this point, it’s just piling on. Between the injuries to his head, heart and now finger, this very charming and personable left wing is either the most tragic example of a Terry Murray coached team (Ted Purcell says hello with a waving middle finger) or one whose young career is coming to an end.
3. Kyle Clifford. This Big Red Dog has lost his bite. Perhaps he needs to fight every other game to keep his edge. I hope not. If he does, his NHL career will be a short one.
4. Jarret Stoll. Miscast as a second line center, we all heard and believed that he would fit perfectly on the third line. Here we are. 1 goal and 5 assists. He does win faceoffs but is he even near the top of the league in that department? I would be surprised if he is. At this rate, could Stoll be packaged in a trade? Andrei Loktionov looks every bit ready to take on that third line center role so long as Terry Murray doesn’t put Ethan Moreau, Trevor Lewis, Kevin Westgarth or Trent Hunter on his wing. Personally, I want to see Stoll moved to 2nd line left wing although Loktionov has looked damn good there so far.
5. The bottom 6 in general. Scoring depth? Not so much. I see a bunch of disconnected players with little to no chemistry. To quote Tin Cup, they all look like an unfolded lawn chair.
6. I am not going to put anyone from the defense on here because, as a whole, they have played well. I want more, much more, from Drew Doughty but I am willing to wait until the end of the year to see if he brings it.
Bravo, Dean Lombardi. Mike Richards and Simon Gagne have “fit”. The first line left wing question has been answered for now, until Zach Parise of course arrives.
Rookies with potential
God, how I love Slava Voynov. He has been more a joy to watch. We kept hearing how his defensive acumen is not there and that he is a one-dimensional player. I think he has elevated his game. He may have been a bit of a defensive liability in Manchester but some players simply rise higher when expectations fall on their shoulders and our Russian sensation appears ready to handle full-time NHL duty.
As for Andrei Loktionov, it’s difficult to look at him as a rookie. I feel like he never left, although I missed him something fierce after the preseason – I know, that makes no sense. Will he stick? Sure, if we trade or waive someone.
1. Top 6 left wing. Lokti fills the void for now but what happens when Dustin Penner returns?
2. A bottom 6 that doesn’t suck. This one has me confounded. I didn’t expect much from Trent Hunter and Ethan Moreau and not much is exactly what we have received. Trevor Lewis is Trevor Lewis – a hard-working defensive center with no hands. If we are looking at Colin Fraser to score goals, we are fucked. Brad Richardson, Jarret Stoll and Kyle Clifford have been the offensive disappointments although I question how much of that falls on the system versus those three players.
3. Drew Doughty to get better. Self-explanatory.
4. A new coach. What? My opinion of Terry Murray has not changed. Right team, wrong coach for reasons previously stated ad nauseum. However, I recognize absent a melt down or the LA Kings missing the playoffs, Terry isn’t going anywhere.
Looking ahead, we have a nice test. The next four games are against the resurgent St. Louis Blues who lost a Davis Payne and gained a Ken Hitchcock (their sudden success being total coincidence I am sure), the Dallas Stars who have abruptly lost 5 in a row (we can relate), the Chicago Blackhawks who, despite having their ass handed to them by the Oilers 9-2, are a Stanley Cup contender and the San Jose Sharks who regularly give us fits.
At game 20, what are your thoughts on this team’s current state and prognosis?