LA Kings: Team should consider breaking up second line for Wild series

LA Kings (Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports)
LA Kings (Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports) /

Andreas Athanasiou has been a positive addition to the LA Kings. It’s difficult to imagine where the team would be right now had they not signed him so late into the offseason. In his first three games, the 26-year-old scored three goals – on only three shots, to boot.

But over the last three games, Athanasiou, and the Kings’ second line, haven’t done much in the way of producing. Jeff Carter looked like a younger version of himself in the first few games, but like his fellow winger, he hasn’t done much since.

Is Blake Lizotte the problem?

Lizotte surprised a lot of folks last training camp, making the team and tallying six goals and 23 points in 65 games. While he split time between second and third-line centerman duties last season, a full-time promotion to the second line may not have been the best solution.

Should the LA Kings break up the Lizotte line?

The 23-year-old St. Cloud State product received high praise from head coach Todd McLellan in training camp and the early goings of the 2021 season. Lizotte is not afraid to go into the ugly areas of the ice, using his tenacity to make a play on the puck. The issue is that Loizotte has just two assists and a -3 rating on the young season.

Advanced metrics indicate he’s hurting the team playing with Carter and Athanasiou. Per Natural Stat Trick, the duo of Lizotte and Athanasiou has a 23.5 expected-goals-for percentage; Carter and Lizotte, 21.7 percent. Both are over 50 minutes of on-ice sample sizes, but there is some support in breaking up the team’s second line.

While the sample sizes are small, as in just under ten minutes small, Carter without Lizotte has a 93.7 expected-goals-for percentage. Similarly, Athanasiou has a 53.9 expected-goals-for percentage. The former Edmonton Oiler and Detroit Red Wing has not been as bad as advertised, defensively.

And while [Todd] McLellan spoke highly of him early on, the LA Kings head coach put the pressure on Lizotte’s line to produce.

“We weren’t particularly happy with Lizotte’s line last night, and we were very honest with him,” McLellan said after Sunday night’s game. “We told him that, and we started them. They gave us a great first shift and a very aggressive first shift. And then the group followed that, so that was a good sign. I liked the way we broke pucks out of our and against a really strong forechecking team.”

Gabe Vilardi likely makes the most sense as the one due for a promotion, but he has played very well alongside Dustin Brown on the third line. The duo has accounted for a 51.0 expected-goals-for percentage, as Vilardi has two goals in his last three games. Assuming he stays put, Lias Andersson should be promoted to 2C, with Lizotte dropping to the fourth line in place of Michael Amadio.

Andersson was plugged into the fourth line center in the first game against the Colorado Avalanche, and he ignited the group’s production.

Last year, the duo of Trevor Moore and Lizotte accounted for a 44.4 expected-goals-for percentage in over 100 minutes on-ice. It’s a significant leap from Lizotte’s expected production on the second line.

Iafallo – Kopitar – Kempe

Athanasiou – Andersson – Carter

Wagner – Vilardi – Brown

Grundstrom – Lizotte – Moore

The third line combination also leaves the door open for a healthy Martin Frk to slide in at the right-wing, with Brown moving to the left side.

Of course, a strong argument can be made that no adjustments need to be made to the lineup, given the LA Kings lead the West Division with 20 goals scored. They’ve also allowed 20 goals in 2021, suggesting improvements on the back end are needed. Still, as the team progresses through the season, Todd McLellan and the Kings coaching staff will have to make the difficult decision of who ultimately deserves playing time.

“It’s been hard on our staff because it’s hard to tell individuals, they’re not playing and we’ve got a lot of extra people around,” McLellan explained. “I think Jaret Anderson-Dolan – he’s worked his butt off in practice. He’s been one of the best practice players, but we just feel that the lineup we’re putting on the ice gives us the best chance right now.”