Saturday, January 1, 2011

Los Angeles Kings December Recap

Overall Record: 22-14-1
Month Record: 9-4-1
Division Rank: 2
Conference Rank: 4
Goals For: 109(Rank12)
Goals Against: 91 (Rank 4)
Powerplay: 26 for 144 (18.1%, Rank 13)
Penalty Kill: 117 for 139 (84.2%, Rank 10)
Scoring Leaders: Anze Kopitar (15-26-41), Dustin Brown (16-17-33), Justin Williams (15-17-32), Jack Johnson (4-22-26), Ryan Smyth (14-9-23), Jarret Stoll (8-15-23), Drew Doughty (2-18-20).
Goaltender Stats: Jonathan Quick (18-8-1, 2.05 GAA, .924 SVG). Jonathan Bernier (4-6-0, 3.09 GAA, .894 SVG).

Overall: If you cut out the final two games of the month of December, the Kings had quite a good month. They started out with a three game winning streak, which snapped them out of the funk that was the 1-7-0 stint that ended November, and late in the month they had a four game winning streak. The middle part of the month was pretty much a stretch where the Kings went back and forth between wins and losses. Until the final two games they had not lost two in a row the entire month. It was a very strong month for the Kings - where for the most part they were quite good. It was only the last two games of the where the Kings truly played horrible - they allowed 13 goals in two games. They were back to back games, and the final two games in four games in five nights. Hopefully this is a blip, because the Kings have a busy January ahead, and if they fall back into a rut like they were in late November, they could be in trouble. But right now, the Kings are looking good - right behind the Dallas Stars for first in their extremely tight division, and fourth in the Conference. They are a winning streak away from being in the top three - but a losing streak away from being out of the playoffs. That is how tight the Western Conference is.

Injuries: The Kings have struggled with injuries all season. In December, Matt Greene was out for a little while, but is back and healthy again, so that’s good. Scott Parse is still out until February. Alexi Ponikarovsky has struggled to stay healthy this season, and is currently out with a minor injury - and when he does get back in the lineup he may have lost his spot on the third line, and end up on the fourth line. Willie Mitchell continues to have injury issues - the Kings need him healthy, and he should be back soon. The good news is that the injuries are not concussions - just a string of freak accidents.

Offense: The good news is that the Kings offense really came alive this month - jumping for 18th in the NHL to 12th. It was the best month yet for Anze Kopitar, who finally took over his rightful place as team leader in scoring, and Dustin Brown, who responded well after a bad November. The addition of Marco Sturm to this line will continue to improve as he starts to feel more comfortable. He already looks good, and I think he will get better. Justin Williams continues to produce no matter what line he is on - but I do think that Jarrett Stoll and to a lesser extent Ryan Smyth need to step up a little bit. The third line has continued to do okay - with Wayne Simmonds finally hitting his groove, and Kyle Clifford playing with more confidence around the net. Handzus has played well, but for whatever reason isn’t scoring. The fourth line of Ponikarovsky, Richardon and Lewis (and sometimes Westgarth) has finally stepped up as well. The biggest difference though is scoring from the back end - Jack Johnson and especially Drew Doughty stepped up in December and are finally producing the types of numbers everyone expected them to.

Defense: Despite several weak games - six goals allowed against St. Louis and Phoenix, seven against Philidelphia - the Kings continue to be one of the best defensive teams in the league - actually rising two spots to 4th overall in goals allowed during the month of December. Obviously missing Willie Mitchell is hurting the Kings, who after allowing 13 goals in their final two games, need his calming presence on the back end. Doughty has improved his game defensively, as has Jack Johnson - although I would argue that these two talented defensemen should not be paired together. Scuderi has been in fine form, and Greene, Drewiskie, Harrold and Martinez have for the most part been good. The problem is when things go wrong - they go really wrong. It will be interesting to see what happens when Mitchell comes back - that will back 8 healthy defensemen the Kings are carrying, and that is one too many.

Goaltending: Jonathan Quick had a few bumps in December, but for the most part was brilliant - going 7-3-1 over that stretch, and shutting out great teams like Detroit (in the goaltending performance of the year so far stopping over 50 shots), Colorado and San Jose. If he continues to play this way, he should be considered as a potential nominee for the Vezina trophy. After struggling for most of the season, Jonathan Bernier did pretty good in December as well - although he only started three games, he went 2-1, brought down his GAA, and brought up his Save percentage. Both goalies are coming off of what were perhaps the worst starts of the year for them - both goalies were pulled in their last starts of the month - and will look to bounce back in January.

Powerplay: December was the month the powerplay finally started to click - moving up to 13th in the NHL from 20th at the start of the month. Anze Kopitar is leading the way, but Dustin Brown, Justin Williams, Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty are also huge reasons why it is doing so well. When the powerplay is clicking, they move the puck with the best of them, and Johnson and Doughty are finally getting shots to the net. Hopefully they can keep this up.

Penalty Kill: The Penalty kill for the Kings is very Jekyll and Hyde this season. It took a significant hit in December, dropping from 4th at the beginning of the month to 10th at the end. Most of the games this month, the penalty kill was still excellent - aggressive and able to shut down their opponents. But when it didn’t work, sweet Jesus, was it awful and they would often give up multiple powerplay goals a game (especially the last two of the month). Consistency is needed from the penalty kill for the Kings - but like many things I mentioned this month, this should get better when Mitchell is back in the lineup - and Ponikarovsky for that matter as he is one of the best penalty killing forwards on the team.

Looking Ahead: For the most part the Kings had a good December - they rose up through the standings, and are now in a very good position moving forward. They need to get past their final two games of December - which were arguably the worst the team has played all season.

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