The shortened 2013 NHL season is already one-third of the way through for the Los Angeles Kings, who sport a 8-6-2 record through 16 games. A three-game winning streak has the team one point out of a playoff spot, a more promising position for a team that was languishing below .500 until this week. Here are my grades for the Kings positions – Forwards, Defense, and Goaltending – as the second month of the season winds down.
The basic numbers tell the story for Los Angeles’ offense so far this year: the Kings are 21st in the NHL in goals per game with 2.4, 23rd in the league in power play percentage at 14.1%, and only have three players with double-digit point totals. This is well below the standard set during its playoff run last spring, where it seemed the Kings were always the hungrier, more opportunistic group offensively. Clearly, the lockout impacted the team’s ability to prepare heading into this season. With the exception of Jeff Carter, whose team-leading nine goals have kept the Kings afloat, no one has provided consistency on the offensive end. Key players Simon Gagne, Dwight King, and Dustin Penner are all without a goal 16 games in. If the team wants to compete with the conference’s top teams, it will need more chemistry and production throughout the lineup. Having said that, the Kings’ 3-0-0 week provided signs of optimism. The Kings potted 10 goals and put together quality 60-minute efforts in each contest.
The Kings’ defense looks nothing like the group that dominated the league’s top teams in 2012. Veteran leader Willie Mitchell has yet to play a game following an offseason knee injury, and third-pair stalwart Matt Greene is likely out for the year after an injury sustained in the team’s opening game. Alec Martinez is currently out of the lineup as well. The inexperience on the backend has shown, with Jake Muzzin, Keaton Ellerby, and Davis Drewiske all playing the most NHL-minutes of their young careers. The Kings are much less effective on the penalty-kill than they have been before (19th in the NHL – 81.4%), and superstar Drew Doughty has yet to record a goal. Much like the offense, though, the Kings’ defense has gelled recently. The team needed to get comfortable with three new defensive pairings. After allowing three goals in its last three games, the backend appears more stable now. The return of Martinez and Mitchell, coupled with a surge in production for Doughty, will get the Kings back to last season’s form.
Expectations were high for the Kings in goal after Jonathan Quick’s 2011-2012 season, in which the Milford, CT native won the Conn Smythe Trophy and finished second in Vezina Trophy voting. Likely affected by an offseason back procedure, Quick struggled mightily out of the gate. His positioning was sloppy and his timing seemed out of sync. Only this week did his save percentage rise above .900. His 2.45 GAA is a full half-goal above his total from last year, and the Kings are just 5-6-2 in games that he has started. However, his recent play resembles last year’s form. He has won his last two decisions – only allowing one goal in each – and nearly stole a game in Chicago in which the Blackhawks peppered him with 37 shots. A further sign of the strength between the pipes for Los Angeles, backup Jonathan Bernier has shined thus far in 2013. After a poor performance in relief of Quick in Anaheim, Bernier has won in every appearance. His statistics (3-1-0, 1.80, .916%) reflect his steady play this season. Head Coach Darryl Sutter commented this week that competition between Quick and Bernier has been beneficial for both of their games. With the compressed schedule, expect the team to continue to rely on both goaltenders going forward.