On paper, the 2012-2013 Kings will look identical to the team that raised the Stanley Cup last June. Of course, as every sports fan knows, games, and certainly league titles, are not won on paper. How will the performances of this year’s Kings compare to those of the Cup winners a year ago?
If asked to describe the Kings’ offense last year with one word, I would probably use offensive. As in, offensively bad. Despite immense talent up front, for the better part of the regular season, the Kings were anemic. League stars Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Mike Richards propelled Los Angeles to 29th in the NHL in offensive output. It was only after the acquisition of Jeff Carter that the Kings showed signs of their true capability. The forwards’ underachievement statistics-wise last year was an aberration, not a reflection of their ability. I believe the Kings offense will show drastic improvements this year, given the success and chemistry it displayed in the playoffs.
By the end of this year’s playoffs, it was abundantly clear that Los Angeles possessed the most balanced defensive corps in the NHL. Each pairing (Drew Doughty-Rob Scuderi; Slava Voynov-Willie Mitchell; Alec Martinez-Matt Greene) featured a puck-mover with a stay-at-home defender, creating a consistent backline. Coach Darryl Sutter had confidence in all groups in all situations. Despite this, Kings superstar Drew Doughty, at least in the regular season, did not perform up to the standard set in his second season in the league, for which he earned a Norris Trophy nomination. Voynov was a surprise in his rookie campaign, and arguably an improvement over Jack Johnson once he was traded. I believe the biggest concerns next season will come due to lack of health. Both Scuderi and Mitchell are past their primes and play a punishing brand of hockey. They are critical components of a Kings penalty-killing unit that always ranks near the top of the league. I would be surprised if both were able to play a full season like they did last year. This might create a void on the back end because the Kings are not prospect-heavy in shutdown defensemen. However, to begin with, the Kings defense should be solid once again.
To a Kings fan, it was a crime that Jonathan Quick did not win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender last year. He singlehandedly led the Kings into the postseason and then set modern-era records for playoff statistics. Nonetheless, the Kings have a stud between the pipes in Quick, and a more-than-capable backup in Jonathan Bernier. While expecting the same numbers would be a stretch, Quick will not need to steal as many games, as the team should provide more of a scoring cushion for the American netminder. The back procedure Quick had last month does raise some question marks about his durability to start the year, but if he recovers fully, I do not see a reason why Quick’s play should dip appreciably in 2012-2013.