Tuesday, March 1, 2011

L.A. Kings February Recap

Overall Record: 35-24-4
Month Record: 8-2-3
Division Rank: 3
Conference Rank: 6
Goals For: 171 (Rank18)
Goals Against: 154 (Rank 6)
Powerplay: 39 for 226 (17.3%, Rank 18)
Penalty Kill: 186 for 222 (83.8%, Rank 9)
Scoring Leaders: Anze Kopitar (20-42-62), Justin Williams (20-29-49), Dustin Brown (21-23-44), Jack Johnson (5-35-40), Ryan Smyth (20-19-39), Jarret Stoll (17-20-37), Drew Doughty (10-24-34). Note: Dustin Penner (21-18-39).
Goaltender Stats: Jonathan Quick (28-16-2, 2.23 GAA, .917 SVG, 6 SO). Jonathan Bernier (7-8-2, 2.70 GAA, .904 SVG, 1 SO).

Trade Deadline News: There was a ton of activity leading up to the trade deadline this year, but very little of it actually happened on deadline day itself. The biggest move was obviously by the Kings, who traded prospect Colten Teubert, their 2011 First Round Pick and a conditional pick from 2012 to the Edmonton Oilers for Dustin Penner. I have to admit I was wrong – I didn’t think Dean Lombardi would make a major move this year, and clearly he did. In my defense, I thought the price to get Penner would be too high for Lombardi to pay – meaning a lot higher than what the Kings gave up. With the Kings depth in defensive prospects, combined with what has been by all accounts a disappointing season for Teubert in the AHL (don’t worry Oiler fans – he is 20, and this is his first year out of Jr. – growing pains are to be expected, and I think he will grow into a decent defensemen). In Penner, the Kings have finally solved their Line 1 Left Wing problem, by acquiring a proven 25-30 goal man, who plays the Kings style – puck possession and cycling, but has the ability to get more goals than anyone Kopitar has played with before. There is risk of course that Penner will not work out, but he is signed to a reasonable deal for next year as well, so things look good. The other big news was that the Kings signed their one UFA that they are likely to keep – Justin Williams – to a reasonable extension as well. The other UFAs, Michael Handzus, Alexi Ponikarvosky and Peter Harrold are likely not to be back – Handzus because he has slowed down, and the Kings will want to give Loktinov and Schenn a chance to play center for them next season, and Poni because he never worked out well in LA – although he has picked up his play in the last month. Harrold is currently our 8th d-man, so whether they sign him or not doesn’t matter. This has the potential to be a great deal for the Kings.

Overall: After a horrid January, that had Kings Fans practically slitting their wrists, the team came on in a HUGE way in February. They had to start the month on a season long 10 game road trip, and went 6-1-3 on it – beating some really tough teams like Washington, Philadelphia, Anaheim and Calgary. They then came home, and won two straight, before dropping their final game of the month against Detroit. Truly, I think the Kings only had one really bad game in February – against the Islanders where they were flat and slow, and never generated anything. Even though they lost 7-4 to Detroit to end the month, they didn’t play horrible in that game – the Wings got a couple of lucky bounces in the first period, and Quick had what was probably only his second really poor game this season. If there is reason to be nervous it’s that the last three months, the Kings seem to start a streak with their last game of the month – coming out of the horrid slide at the end of November, going into the horrid slide at the end of December, and coming out of that slide at the end of January. Every point matters right now and the Kings did a great job in February of getting points. They have to put the loss to Detroit behind them, and move on as things don’t get much easier.

Injuries: When Marco Sturm was claimed off waivers by Washington, the Kings lost an oft-injured played who never really worked out. The only person injured right now is Scott Parse, and since he has only played 4 games this season, it’s easy to forget about him. If he does come back, I have no idea where the Kings would play him. He most likely will have to earn his spot at next year’s training camp.

Offense: Despite how well the Kings played in February, they actually dropped five places – from 13th to 18th overall – in terms of offensive production. The Kings mainly won because of their defensive play and their goaltending. Things did get better as the month moved along though – with Kopitar and Brown ending scoring droughts, along with increased production from Wayne Simmonds and especially Drew Doughty who had four goals at the end of January and has ten at the of February. He has look like the Doughty of old. But this was obviously an area of concern, which is why Lombardi picked up Dustin Penner. Hopefully, it means the Kings score more going forward.

Defense: On defense, this was the first month where everyone was healthy for the entire month this season – and the results speak for themselves. They were 8th in goals against at the beginning of the month, and improved to 6th by the end. The Kings are set with their top five – Doughty, Mitchell, Johnson, Scuderi and Greene, and the play of rookie Alec Martinez has mostly been strong. They have started to produce more offensively as well. In short, I still think the Kings have one of the best d-cores in the league.

Goaltending: Despite the last game of the month, Jonathan Quick continued to have a season that should garner him some Vezina consideration – although it really hasn’t. Look at his stats though – they measure up to any other goalies in the league in wins, shut outs, save percentage and goals against average. Jonathan Bernier continue to improve this month – he didn’t lose in regulation once and his numbers all came up – and I think he has proven he can be trusted in big games. There will probably be a goalie conflict for the Kings at some point – like Price and Halak in Montreal – but for now, everything seems fine.

Powerplay: The powerplay woes continued to haunt the Kings in February. Yes, they did better than they had in previous months, and looked better much of the time in terms of cycling and getting chances – but at some point effort is not enough, and you need to produce results, which so far this powerplay hasn’t. Penner has been effective on the powerplay for the Oilers this year, so let’s hope he can help out there as well.

Penalty Kill: I’ve talked about the Jekyll and Hyde nature of the Kings Penalty kill before – but thankfully, up until the final two games of the month, in February it was almost all Jekyll. They took away time and space from the opponents, cleared the pick nicely, and got big saves from their goalies. There were even several long 5-3 kills that the Kings handled. The key will be to keep this up, and not let it slide as they have in the past.

Looking Ahead: With only 19 games left in the season, the Kings are in a dogfight for a playoff spot. They are currently tied for 5th with Chicago with 74 points apiece – just two points back of 4th place Phoenix and four points back of 3rd place San Jose. So obviously, winning the division is still a possibility for the Kings. Having said that, they are only one point up on 7th place Calgary, two points up on 8th, 9th and 10th places Dallas, Minnesota and Nashville, 3 points up on 11th place Anaheim and six points up on 12th place Columbus (who has two games in hand). So realistically speaking the Kings could finish as high as third in the West, and as low as 12th – that is how ridiculously close it remains in the Western Conference. The Kings have played good now for over a month (remember, despite how awful January was, they did win their last three games), and they need to continue to do that. The addition of Dustin Penner will certainly help – but I would caution expecting too much from Penner. He isn’t a Kovulchuk – a guaranteed sniper – but he is a solid 25-30 goal man, with size and skill who should give the Kings offense a boost. If the Kings get into the playoffs – and I fully expect that they will – then I think at least they will be a tough out for any team. If they manage to come above the 7th position (which would mean they avoid Vancouver or Detroit in the first round), then I think it would be realistic to expect them to win at least one round this year. But obviously, that is a long way off. There are 19 games left – all against conference rivals- and 14 in the month of March. To make the playoffs, you’ll need around 95 points – which means the minimum goal has to be to go 10-8-1 in the last 19 games. If they can get those 10 wins in March, even better.

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