Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Underachieving Except In Goal

Quick, name the NHL leader in shutouts. If you're reading between the lines and looking at the goaltender to the left, you'd be correct in saying Jonathan Quick. The Los Angeles Kings goaltender recorded his fifth shutout after shutting the door on the Chicago Blackhawks tonight, and it came as a bit of a surprise to me that Quick had the most doughnuts this season considering how the Kings seem to be underachieving to new heights thus far. The 18-14-5 Kings are currently platooned in ninth-place in the Western Conference, and they look nothing like the team that scared the San Jose Sharks in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. After adding Mike Richards this summer, it was expected the Kings would move up from their seventh-place finish last season, but all we've seen this year is the spinning of tires in La-La-Land. What happened?

It's pretty easy to see that Anze Kopitar has been clicking on all cylinders as his 34 points leads the team. Kopitar was impressive last season as well, so it's clear that he is a star on this young Kings squad. With the majority of the offence running through Kopitar, the Kings seem to go as Kopitar goes.

Mike Richards and Justin Williams are next in scoring as both players have 22 points. Richards leads the Kings with 13 goals - a total that puts him in the middle of the pack when it comes to goal scoring. The Kings seemingly have no one that jumps out at you as a pure sniper, the finisher that will make playmakers like Kopitar look like magicians. Richards is that player right now by default it seems, but I'm not sure that the sniper role is the best fit for a player like Richards.

Williams' point total is somewhere around what was expected, but there's no doubt that the Kings were hoping he could build on his torrid start to end up with somewhere around 80 points this season. Currently, he's on pace for approximately 50 points, and that's a total that needs to be higher for a top-six forward on a talented squad like the Kings.

Dustin Brown has 20 points, but that total needs to move upwards in a hurry. Brown has far too much talent to be scoring in every second game, and I can't believe that he's happy with his production thus far. Brown should be a feared power forward, hut he's nothing more than a fringe scorer right now as he contributes one point every two games. That's not the production he's capable of, and I'm quite certain he knows it. His five game-winners show how valuable he can be, but the Kings need more out of their tenacious captain.

Simon Gagne has 17 points, and that is a total that simply isn't synonymous with a player of Gagne's talent or salary. Factor in another concussion suffered earlier this week, and Gagne's point total will most likely plateau somewhere around the 30-35 point mark this season. This would be the fourth concussion in the last couple of years for Gagne, and it might be time for him to walk away from hockey before his brains are truly scrambled.

The players that are currently weighing down this team are many. Jarret Stoll has a pathetic ten points. Ethan Moreau has just four points. Dustin Penner has a brutal eight points. Besides having all of these players suit up for the Edmonton Oilers at one time, the only other common bond these players have is that they are earning millions of dollars for little-to-no production offensively.

The major concern has to be the lack of production offensively as a team. The Kings are dead last in the NHL in goals-per-game with just 2.08 goals-per-game registered thus far. That's a full 0.15 goals-per-game lower than the offensively-anemic New York Islanders, and a ridiculous 1.39 goals-per-game less than NHL-leading Boston. The powerplay is horrific at 25th in the NHL with a 14.2% conversion rate, and that's disappointing considering the talent above. Clearly, filling the net is a tough job for these Los Angeles Kings.

But where the Kings seemingly have fallen off the wagon offensively, they have shown that they can grind out wins defensively. Only one player is in double-digits as a minus player, and that's Jack Johnson with a -10. No one else is below a -6, and the entire set of blueliners is just -4. That's pretty good for a team that isn't in a playoff position.

Los Angeles is also sixth-best in goals-allowed-per-game. The Kings are only giving up 2.26 goals-per-game, and that shows that they are getting great defensive performances as well as superb goaltending. Los Angeles also sports the fourth-best penalty killing percentage as they are killing off 88.0% of the powerplays they give up. If goaltenders are your best penalty killers, there's a very good reason why the Kings have a great penalty kill.

Which brings us back to Quick. Jonathan Quick is a solid 16-10-4 thus far, and his five shutouts lead the NHL. He sports a 2.08 GAA - seventh for goalies who have played in at least 15 games - and has a sparkling .930 save percentage - sixth for goalies who have played in at least 15 games. If the Kings could provide him any offence, they would be a powerful team.

After tonight's game against the Blackhawks in which the Kings only scored two goals, Quick and the defence had to be sharp. The 2-0 victory gave Quick his fifth shutout, but this lack of offence will catch up to the Kings quickly as the season progresses. The fact that the Kings are pushing for a playoff spot right now while having the worst offence in the league shows how valuable Jonathan Quick has been.

While Tim Thomas is having himself another stellar season, Jonathan Quick is quietly making himself a case for the Vezina Trophy. While I doubt that Thomas will lose in the voting, there's probably a good case for Quick to be considered for the Ted Lindsay Award if he can push his offensively-challenged team into the playoffs.

The Kings arrive in Winnipeg on Thursday, and there will be some stiff competition awaiting them as the Jets are playing some of the best hockey seen in the NHL right now. Jonathan Quick may have to pitch another shutout on consecutive nights if the Kings want to down the Jets.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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