Friday, 9 October 2015

These Aren't The Kings You're Looking For

For a team that was a perennial Stanley Cup favorite, there was lots of hope in Los Angeles that the Kings would bounce back from an uncharacteristic playoff miss to being the contender most believe they are. There were moves in the off-season that were necessary, moves that may be questioned, and moves that caught the team off-guard, and some are wondering if the house of cards built by GM Dean Lombardi may be falling. That question is certainly valid after the Kings dropped another game to a team that's supposed to finish below them in the standings tonight.

After the Kings opened the season with a 5-1 loss to the San Jose Sharks, they looked like a flaming tire fire once more in dropping their second-straight game to the Arizona Coyotes by a 4-1 count. Things looked like they were going to be off to a fast start when Nick Shore scored on the Kings' first shot of the season in the San Jose game, but it didn't take long for the Sharks to take over the game by out-skating and out-chancing the Kings. The Kings let their frustration bubble over, and the Sharks laid another opening season loss on the Kings just as they did one season earlier.

It's an 82-game season, though, and this was just one bad game, right? The Kings' line of Milan Lucic-Anze Kopitar-Marian Gaborik were a combined minus-six and had just four shots on net, but they're better than that, right? The defence seemed slow-footed and confused by the Sharks at times, but they're shaking off rust, right?

That rust, particularly at the face-off dot, resulted in two San Jose power-play goals, and special teams will win and lose you games in the NHL. Kopitar lost a draw in the first period in the Kings' zone that saw Joe Pavelski pot a power-play goal seconds later, and Jeff Carter's loss at the dot led to the Tomas Hertl power-play goal shortly after that.

"Both of them are just clear faceoff losses," head coach Darryl Sutter said to reporters. "You've got to do better job. A big part of penalty-killing is winning faceoffs."

San Jose, to their credit, seemed to get under LA's skin a little with an increased forechecking presence, more body-on-body play, and a general in-you-face style. The Kings never found a way to counteract this increased pressure, and it led to some lazy penalties and some of the stars playing less of Darryl Sutter's game.

"You don't check, you don"t score," Sutter noted, adding that a lot of the "top guys" were "not interested in that part of the game." That is highly uncharacteristic of this Kings squad, and it was expected that Sutter would use Thursday's practice to re-engage those players for the Arizona game tonight.

And then they didn't.

Arizona built a 4-0 lead before Tyler Toffoli found some room behind Mike Smith, and the Coyotes skated to the 4-1 victory. While the Kings looked a little more like the Kings of old, there were still serious issues with their defensive play and their discipline that hurt their efforts on this night. While they controlled the play in the first period and outshot the Coyotes, the Kings found themselves down 2-0 after the opening frame.

"A couple of those goals tonight were kind of unfortunate," Toffoli told Lisa Dallman of the Los Angeles Times. "The first one kind of bounces up. I didn't see it. It might have bounced over Quickie. It's not just the way a game should start I thought we played well, thought we worked hard and stuck to the way we wanted to play. We didn't get the bounces we needed tonight."

A quick note to all readers: anytime a team talks about "not getting the bounces" means they usually didn't put the work in that is needed for a win. Hard-working teams never talk about needing bounces. They go out and make them happen. Both Toffoli and Doughty referenced the bounces after the game, and it's clear that the Kings need to rediscover that hard work never needs luck when it comes to success.

The one thing that has plagued the Kings, though, is that Jonathan Quick has looked more like Gary Laskoski than his Stanley Cup-winning self. Quick has not be anything close to the elite goaltender he's established himself to be over the last few years, and you can begin to understand why the Kings are struggling early on. Combine the horrific goaltending with a clear case of offensive anemia, and the Los Angeles Kings are going to struggle against most teams if Quick doesn't keep the goals-against to one or fewer.

Quick allowed four goals on 14 shots through the first two periods, yet Los Angeles controlled the possession numbers for that 40 minutes. That's not even close to being the regular Jonathan Quick we know. While the sample size is just two games, his 4.50 GAA and .833 save percentage are miles away from his career statistics right now. That puts him dead-last for GAA and save percentage after two games. Those are hardly Quick-like numbers.

If you're a fantasy hockey entrant, you may want to hold on to your Los Angeles Kings by keeping them on the bench. If you don't have a bench option, it might be time to drop the Kings until they discover how to score and stop pucks again. Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Milan Lucic, Marian Gaborik, Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, and Jonathan Quick are just along for the ride right now and until they start showing some consistency in doing what they do best, it might be best that one avoids the Kings for fantasy options.

No, these are certainly not the Kings for which one was searching.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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