Wednesday, December 1, 2010

L.A. Kings - November Month in Review

Overall Record: 13-10-0
Month Record: 5-7-0
Division Rank: 4
Conference Rank: 11
Goals For: 60(Rank18)
Goals Against: 57 (Rank 6)
Powerplay: 14 for 90 (15.2%, Rank 20)
Penalty Kill: 79 for 92 (85.9%, Rank 6)
Scoring Leaders: Justin Williams (9-13-22), Anze Kopitar (8-13-21), Jarret Stoll (7-10-17), Jack Johnson (1-14-15), Dustin Brown (9-5-14), Ryan Smyth (7-7-14).
Goaltender Stats: Jonathan Quick (11-5-0, 1.92 GAA, .928 SVG). Jonathan Bernier (2-5-0, 3.29 GAA, .889 SVG).

Overall: What a difference a month makes! When I did the October month in review, the Kings were 8-3-0, and first in their Division and the Western Conference. While November started off amazingly well – winning four straight (carrying over from October, it was a 6 game winning streak), the Kings ended the monthly horribly – winning only 1 of their last 8 games! They have dropped to second last in their division, and 11 in the Western Conference. Having said that, the West is so tight, that a couple of wins, and they are right back near the top. The problem has been that the Kings have played so poorly over the last 8 games that they do not even appear to be on the verge of breaking out of this slump. The Kings have a busy December – playing 14 games – and all except for the first one, against Florida on Thursday, are against Conference Opponents. If they have another month like November, they will be in a deep hole, from which they may not be able to dig their way out of by the end of the season.

Injuries: Injuries certainly hurt the Kings in November. Their best Defensive Defenseman, Willie Mitchell, a key off season acquisition, has been out for most of the month with a broken bone in his arm. He should be back early in December, but he has been sorely missed on the backend, especially with the number of defensive zone breakdowns resulting in goals there has been. Alexi Ponikarovsky, the Kings other big move this off season, has been out for the same length of time with a broken finger. He isn’t a big offensive guy, but he’s better than what the Kings have out there right now, and he has been sorely missed on the PK – especially on the road – that hasn’t been quite as good this month. Scott Parse, who was the Kings “backup” plan for a top six forward when they failed to sign Kovulchuk, missed all of October with an injury, and had just started to get into the swing of things in November, before getting injured again – this time he’ll be out until February. I wonder if he’ll have a job when he gets healthy, as I think the Kings will make a trade well before then.

Offense: When things got bad, it was the offense that really let the team down. Defensively, there have been breakdowns, yes, but the Kings have shown very little ability to bounce back and get big goals. In the last three games of the month, the Kings only scored two goals total. They problem I think stems from the injuries to Parse and Poni, and the fact that the Kings lack scoring depth. Coach Terry Murray seems to be content to play Brown on his off wing alongside Kopitar and Simmonds, but they haven’t really clicked yet. The line of Smyth-Stoll-Williams, which had been so good at the beginning of the season, has gone cold. Poor Michael Handzus is playing alongside Kyle Clifford and Trevor Lewis, who are decent players, but have combined for 0 goals this season. And night in, night out, the Kings never get that bonus offense from their fourth line. Everyone knew heading into this season that offense, specifically 5 on 5 scoring, would be a problem for the Kings – and this month they showed you why. You can see the Kings deflate every time they go down 1-0 in a game, thinking, correctly it seems, that they will not be able to tie it up. They need help here, and barring that, they need their leaders to step up – not just the forwards, but also the defense, who have combined for only 4 goals this season (with the shots they have, they need more than 1 goal a piece from Doughty and Johnson in particular).

Defense: The Kings defense has, statistically anyway, remained fairly strong. They ranked 5th in goals against at the end of October, and even with all the losses have only dropped to the 6th at the end of November. This is even with Willie Mitchell out, as Jake Muzzin, Peter Harrold and recently Alec Martinez have all been pretty good. But what is happening more and more often are defensive zone breakdowns and giveaways. Jack Johnson seems to be the main culprit – rarely a game goes by when he doesn’t give the team at least one quality scoring chance because of a giveaway – and most of the time it ends up in the back of the net. Matt Greene and Davis Drewiskie have been caught flat footed more than once though, allowing the opposing team to go right around them. Drew Doughty has been mainly solid, but even he has had breakdowns, and needs to get better.. Rob Scuderi has been pretty much error free in his own zone though.

Goaltending: If there is one player on the Kings who does not need to improve his game right now, it’s Jonathan Quick, who has been a shining star in an otherwise bleak month. The one game the Kings won in their 1-7-0 streak, was pretty much solely because of him, as he played great against the Bruins in regulation and overtime, and then stoned all their shooters in the shoot out. Even though he has lost his last three starts – he has been solid in all three games, giving the team a chance to win – which is all you can ask of your goalie. But when they give him no goal support, he can’t do much. Jonathan Bernier on the other hand, has struggled all season. True, Terry Murray should not have put him in against elite teams like the Sharks and the Habs, and when you look at the goals he has given up, most of them are not bad. And yet, Bernier has struggled to make the “big save” all season. Every time the Kings claw themselves back into a game, it seems like Bernier gave up a goal on the next shift. True, not all the goals have been weak – but he has made few great saves either. The Kings had been going with 2-1 ratio of starts with Quick playing twice, and then Bernier once. I think that is going to change going forward. The Kings only play back to back games once in December, so it would surprise me if Bernier plays more than once or twice all month. You need to ride a hot goalie sometimes, and right now, Quick is all the Kings have going for them.

Powerplay: Ugh. Even when things were going well, the Powerplay for the Kings was off. Give other teams credit – they realized that a lot of the offense from the powerplay for the Kings comes from shots from the point from Doughty and Johnson, and they have done everything possible to limit those shots. But Terry Murray and the Kings have got to make an adjustment here. What they are doing is not working. This is a team that struggles to score 5 on 5, which means if you cannot score on the powerplay, you’re in serious trouble. And the Kings are in serious trouble. The system is not working, but the Kings seem to keep trying it just the same. It’s getting ugly.

Penalty Kill: The Penalty Kill for the Kings has been one of the bright spots all season – they still have not allowed a power play goal against at home this season at all, although during the slump, it has taken a hit on the road. I’m not overly concerned about that – Willie Mitchell and Alexi Ponikarovsky are two of the Kings best penalty killers, so not having them in the lineup has certainly hurt the Kings on the road on the PK during this downturn. But with so many other things going wrong right now, the PK would be the least of my concerns.

Looking Ahead: The Month of December will be the Kings busiest yet. They played 11 games in October, 12 in November and will play 14 times this month – all but two of those games (the first one and the last one) are against Conference opponents, although there are only three Division games (all in a row near the end of the month) coming up. The Kings cannot afford another month like November. Yes, it looks bad when in just over two weeks you go from first in your division to second last, and first in the Conference to 11th. Yet, the Kings have not really put themselves behind the 8 ball yet. A couple of wins, and they are right near the top again – as always, their division and the Western Conference as a whole is so damned close, that streaks like this hurt more than they do in the far weaker Eastern Conference. The biggest question facing the Kings right now is whether or not they make a trade for a top 6 left winger to play alongside Kopitar and Brown. This is a hole the Kings have had for a while. Hell, its hard to say that you targeted Ilya Kovulchuk, one of the premier left wingers in the league, if you didn’t see that as a hole. The Kings wanted to give Parse a chance – and felt that with the addition of Mitchell and Ponikarovsky filling two of their three holes – the risk was worth it. But now with Parse out, the Kings cannot afford not to fill that hole. That will require difficult decisions on the part of GM Dean Lombardi. There isn’t a team in the league who will give you a top six forward for nothing more than prospects – unless one of them is Brayden Schenn which I don’t see happening. Which means Lombardi is going to have to look at his own roster and find players to move – something he does not want to do, and of course, the end result of that could be simply filling one hole and creating another. Time will tell what the Kings do – but if the Kings don’t snap out of this losing streak soon, it won’t matter much – as they could sink so far behind that they may not be able to get back into the race for a playoff spot.

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