Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Los Angeles Kings October Recap

Record: 8-3-0
Division Rank: 1
Conference Rank: 1
Goals For: 32(Rank14)
Goals Against: 25 (Rank 5)
Powerplay: 7 for 42 (16.7%, Rank 13)
Penalty Kill: 43 for 48 (89.6%, Rank 5)
Scoring Leaders: Justin Williams (5-6-11), Jarret Stoll (4-6-10), Anze Kopitar (3-6-9), Jack Johnson (0-8-8), Dustin Brown (5-2-7), Ryan Smyth (3-4-7).
Goaltender Stats: Jonathan Quick (7-1-0, 1.84 GAA, .936 SVG). Jonathan Bernier (1-2-0, 2.68 GAA, .910 SVG).

Overall: The Month of October couldn’t have gone much better for the L.A. Kings. At the end of the month their record was 8-3-0 for a total of 16 points, which was good enough to make them the best team in the league at the end of one month of play. Now, I highly doubt that the Kings will remain on top throughout the season – for one thing, keeping up this pace will be next to impossible for them, and for another other teams are going to break out of their mini-slumps and seriously challenge them. I said at the beginning of the season I think the Kings were hoping for second in their division and fourth or fifth overall in the Western Conference – and I still thinks that holds true. The good thing about getting off to such a rapid start is that they won’t have to dig themselves out of a hole. The win-loss record is even more impressive when you consider that two of those losses came on the second half of back to back games, and the third came in the middle of a long road trip against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. When you also consider that the Kings had a chance to win all of those games – they have yet to be blown out this season – it gives more reason for optimism.

Injuries: The lone bad spot for the Kings this season has been injuries. Matt Greene started the year on the IR, but has returned from shoulder surgery, ahead of schedule I might add, and hasn’t missed a beat. He is still a tower of strength on the blue line for the Kings. The other preseason injury was to Scott Parse, who was supposed to be a top 6 forward this year. He isn’t back yet, but should be shortly – and will be given an opportunity to prove he belongs, as I think it’s safe to say he’ll be given an opportunity alongside Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. The biggest injury, of course, was to Drew Doughty who went out with a concussion in the first period of the fifth game of the season, and hasn’t played since. The word is he’ll be back any game now – perhaps as early as this Thursday versus the Lightning, which will be good. The good news is that the Kings looked great without him in the lineup – so imagine how good they’ll be with him.

Offense: The big question mark around this team in the off season was offense – would the Kings be able to generate enough goals. The answer, for now, seems to be yes. The second line of Smyth-Stoll-Williams has been one of the best second lines in the league, and the third line of Ponikarovsky-Handzus-Simmonds has added much needed support. The question mark remains the top line of ?-Kopitar-Brown. I put that ? there, because no one has stuck with the pair of gifted forwards yet. They started with Ryan Smyth, but he has looked great on the second line, so they likely won’t get him back. They played a few games with youngster Andrei Lotkinov, who looked strong, but he is still only 20, and whether he remains with the Kings or heads back to Manchester remains up in the air. The last few games, they have played alongside Brad Richardson, who has done a decent job – but he just isn’t skilled enough to make it his permanent home. Kopitar and Brown have still produced consistently this season – but they need a regular, skilled winger on their side. Hopefully when he returns from injury, Scott Parse can add some skill to their line. The fourth line remains up in the air. I suspect Brad Richardson will find himself back there when Parse comes back if not before. I also suspect that tough guy Kevin Westgarth (who in my mind has done nothing this season, and shouldn’t be playing) and Trevor Lewis will continue to cycle in on the right side. The big question is whether Kyle Clifford or Brayden Schenn (who got off to a great start, even without scoring, but has slowed a bit, whereas Clifford seems to be improving each game) will stick with the Kings, or be sent back to the CHL. If Parse comes back, at least one of them have to go back down, and I suspect so will Lotkinov. If I had to guess, I’d say you’re looking at a fourth line of Richardson-Schenn-Westgarth/Lewis for most of this season – but I really don’t know. The biggest thing is to find a winger to play with Kopitar and Brown – so I expect if Scott Parse either doesn’t return soon, or returns and doesn’t work out, for the rumors to continue to fly every time a gifted offensive player is apparently available.

Defense: The defense has been rock solid this year. New acquisition Willie Mitchell doesn’t seem like he has missed a beat since sitting out the entire second half of last season with concussion problems. He is a solid D-man, who rarely makes mistakes in his own zone, and is difficult to get around. Strangely, he has the Kings lone goal from a defenseman, but that was a fluke. Since Doughty has been out, Matt Greene has stepped in alongside Mitchell – and performed quite well as noted above. Jack Johnson got off to a rough start, but has really stepped up since Doughty has been hurt – his 8 assists lead the team, and although he hasn’t scored yet, it’s only a matter of time. His defensive play has gotten better the last few games as well. Rob Scuderi has been a good partner for him – allowing him to rush, and not worry so much, because like Mitchell, Scuderi is always responsible and hard to beat in his own zone. Davis Drewiskie is a defenseman who has had a hard time sticking with the Kings the past few years – but he seems to have finally come into his own – and will make a great sixth man when Doughty returns. Both Jake Muzzin, who is bound for the AHL when Doughty gets back, and Peter Harrold, have stepped up admirably with injuries, but will see little time if the defense gets back to healthy. For his part, Doughty got off to a slow start offensively – only registering 1 assist in 5 games, but his play was rock solid before he went out, and he remains their best defenseman. When he gets healthy, the Kings will get even better on the back end.

Goaltending: I think a lot of people expected Jonathan Bernier to quickly step up and make himself the number 1 goalie ahead of Jonathan Quick – but that hasn’t happened yet. Bernier has been pretty solid in three starts – despite the 1-2-0 record – but Quick has been great in his 8 games. He leads the league in wins, and has a great GAA and Save Percentage. If he keeps up this play, than Bernier will spend the entire year as the unquestioned number 2 goalie. Quick has been the MVP of many games – including the last two of the month, where the Kings easily could have lost if he hadn’t been great.

Powerplay: The powerplay was awful to start the season - 1 for 20 to be exact. Since then, they have obviously improved quite a bit, although there are still times when it looks lost. Part of the reason is not having Doughty – part of the reason is the rookies Lotkitnov and Schenn who have cycled through the lineup. But overall, they are getting much better. They are ranked 13th, but I expect them to rise to the top 10 at some point this season.

Penalty Kill: The Penalty kill has been great all season – which is why they are ranked 5th. It would be even better, except one of those 5 powerplay goals went into an empty net as the Kings tried to tie a game late. The defense has been great, the shot blocking from the forwards amazing (especially by Poni), and the goalies are making smart plays. I suspect this will be a strength for the Kings all year.

Looking Ahead: The Kings had a busy October – 11 games in 23 days to be exact. Things will be less hectic in November – 12 games in 30 days. But it shouldn’t get any easier. They start off the month against Tampa Bay and Nashville – two of the best teams in the league so far this year. They also face their first game against San Jose – who will surely be the Kings chief rival in the Pacific Division. The good news is they only have to go back to back once all month – whereas they did it three times in October. I think the Kings will look to go 8-4-0 in the month of November, but because they got off to such a rapid start, if they don’t meet that it won’t be deadly. But the Kings will want to keep things rolling – getting off to a great start means nothing if you can’t follow through on it.

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