Thursday, January 27, 2011

Los Angelses Kings January Recap

Overall Record: 27-22-1
Month Record: 5-8-0
Division Rank: 5
Conference Rank: 11
Goals For: 138 (Rank13)
Goals Against: 124 (Rank 8)
Powerplay: 31 for 184 (16.8%, Rank 20)
Penalty Kill: 148 for 179 (82.7%, Rank 12)
Scoring Leaders: Anze Kopitar (16-33-49), Justin Williams (18-21-39), Dustin Brown (17-20-37), Ryan Smyth (19-14-33), Jack Johnson (4-29-33), Jarret Stoll (14-18-32), Drew Doughty (4-22-26).
Goaltender Stats: Jonathan Quick (22-14-1, 2.15 GAA, .920 SVG). Jonathan Bernier (5-8-0, 3.08 GAA, .893 SVG).

Overall: In January, the King continued their inconsistent play that has haunted them all season. It seems like at any given moment, the Kings are either one of the best teams in the league – like in their first 15 games where they went 12-3 – or one of the worst teams – like the stretch from late December to late January where they went 2-10 – before recovering and winning their last three games of the month. The Kings seem to have the talent and the work ethic to compete with anyone in the league – but it doesn’t show up every night. The offense is the main culprit, the anemic powerplay not helping anything – but the truth is the Kings need to find a way to win consistently. Even though they are currently last in their division, and 11th in the Conference, the season is far from over. They are actually tied in points with the 10th place team (Minnesota) just one point back of the teams from 7-9 (Chicago, San Jose and Colorado), four points back from 6th (Phoenix) and five points back of 4th and 5th (Nashville and Anaheim). Yes, it appears like the division leading Dallas Stars are out of reach for now (10 points up), and the Kings are just one point up on the surging Flames, and four points clear of Columbus and St. Louis, but the Kings destiny is really in their hands with 32 games to go. They play solid, consistent hockey for the entire rest of the season, and avoid another losing streak, and the Kings can not only make the playoffs, but perhaps even improve on the 6th place finish last year. If they don’t however, they could drop as low as 14th in the Conference. This is how close things are in the West.

Injuries: Currently, only Marco Sturm and Scott Parse are out of the lineup with injuries. Sturm has a minor knee problem, and should probably be back after the All Star break. Parse, who has been out most of the year, probably won’t be back until late February.

Offense: The Kings problem is January was mainly offense. They got shutout twice, and managed only 1 goal in several other games. Most of their losses were scores like 2-1 or 3-2, where the Kings struggled to find the back of the net. The Kings really need their best players to start producing – Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown only had one goal apiece in the month of January, which is simply not good enough. Justin Williams only managed three. Most of the heavy lifting was done by Jarret Stoll and Ryan Smuth, so if they can keep things going, and Kopitar, Brown and Williams step up to where they were in December, the Kings should be okay.

Defense: In terms of Defense, the Kings have been fairly good this past month. It certainly helped them when Willie Mitchell came back, and became a calming influence on the back end. Drew Doughty has become the Doughty we remember from last year – great in his own zone, but also a legitimate offensive threat. Jack Johnson continues to improve his game and has become solid in his own zone. Scuderi is still probably the most consistent Kings blue liner, and Matt Greene has been solid as well. Alec Martinez continues a strong rookie season – meaning I think Davis Drewiskie’s days with the Kings are numbered. In short, defense was not the problem in the month of January.

Goaltending: Jonathan Quick has always been capable of being one of the best goalies in the entire NHL – and his stats this year prove it, as he is in the top 5 for all major categories. He still, I think, has some confidence issues though, and can be shaken after a bad game or a bad goal. For the most part though, Quick was solid for the Kings – and sometimes downright brilliant in net for the Kings. When you lose 2-1 and both goals come on the powerplay, you really cannot blame the goalie can you? Jonathan Bernier, I think, has shown steady progression all year, even if it doesn’t always show up on the stats sheet. If the Kings need to provide more goal support to Quick, they really need to do the same for Bernier. Once again, it was not goaltending that was the problem when the Kings were losing.

Powerplay: The Kings powerplay was downright horrid in the month of January – going 5 for 40, which is about 12%. This included an awful game against Phoenix where the Kings lost 2-0 and went 0-6 with the man advantage. At times the Kings powerplay looks solid – like they just cannot catch a break as they are cycling the puck well, getting quality chances, but not having the bounces go their way. But more often than not, they aren’t even getting set up and cannot gain the zone. If the Kings want to start scoring, they need to get the powerplay rolling. They are now in the bottom third of the league in terms of Power Play efficiency, and they need to bring that up.

Penalty Kill: I mentioned last month that the Kings Penalty Kill has been very Jekyll and Hyde this year, and that remains the case. In some games, they let the opposition net two or more Powerplay markers, and then in the final game of the month they are able to effortlessly kill off a four minute double minor with 6 minutes to go in a tied hockey game against San Jose, who have any number of players who can burn you. Like with the team itself, the Penalty Kill needs to become more consistent.

Looking Ahead: The Kings season probably hinges on the 10 game road trip they have to start the month of February. Important games against Minnesota, Edmonton and Calgary are followed by a tour of the Eastern Conference with stops in Pittsburgh, Washington, Philadelphia and both New York teams (the final five games the Kings have against Eastern Conference opponents this season), with Columbus and Anaheim thrown into the mix as well. If the Kings have a great road trip – 7-3 or better – then they will most likely be in a playoff spot and looking up – if they have a bad road trip 3-7 or worse – they can probably write off this season, and if they play somewhere in between, then they’ll stay right where they are. The big question right now is whether or not GM Dean Lombardi decides to make a trade or stand pat. We’ve known for two seasons now that Anze Kopitar desperately needs a scoring left winger to play alongside, as the Kings have tried everyone you can think of in that slot and it hasn’t really worked yet. If an opportunity opens up, Lombardi will have to seriously consider it – even if that means giving up someone he doesn’t want to. But Lombardi is not the boldest of GMs – he believes in building through the draft and adding a piece of two here and there, and it has done the Kings well. So while I think Lombardi will be looking to improve the team, I’m not holding my breath.

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